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Time capsule shows benefits of gateway zoning

City Manager John Connet narrates a slideshow that highlights the consequences of Hendersonville’s gateway ordinance. City Manager John Connet narrates a slideshow that highlights the consequences of Hendersonville’s gateway ordinance.

From the mid-1980s through the mid-’90s, Hendersonville and Henderson County had endured more than a dozen controversies that centered on development, some of it unwanted.

The town had gotten used to the serpentine Main Street and the continued movement of retail trade to the big box stores in the suburbs. Henderson County was still the Wild West when it came to zoning and as a result new and unexpected problems popped up. Disruptive land uses that got people riled up included an asphalt plant in 1991, the Mountain Home incinerator in 1990, city annexation across I-26 in 1994, Ingles zoning application on N.C. 191 at North Rugby Road in 1995. Other topics that caused civic commotion included the fluoridation controversy in 1995, what to do with the Historic Courthouse once the Grove Street opened in 1995, cell tower regulations in 1997, a proposed speedway in Naples in 1998, even a proposed topless bar, in 1998 (didn’t happen).

Gateway ordinance

An entry corridor ordinance was on the table at City Hall. By today’s standards, the ordinance would not seem particularly burdensome. Back then, however, development interests viewed the regulations as a threat. On Aug. 2, 1998, the Times-News published a “Yes” and “No” feature on its business page, responding to the question: “Should city regulate, business signs, landscaping?” Architect Ken Gaylord wrote the Yes respond. Business leaders and landowners Dan Waddell and Bob Quattlebaum co-authored the No answer.
For the Hendersonville Rotary Club, the entry corridor ordinance seems to have represented a tipping point. The controversy led the club to convene a panel of wise and respected leaders, who would weigh in on the entry corridor ordinance, whether zoning could regulate esthetics, banning billboards citywide and preserving farmland and open space. Inspired by Dr. Ken Cosgrove, the club devoted two meetings, on Sept. 8 and 15, to the discussion.
Panel members were Kermit Edney, the WHKP “Good Morning Man,” who purportedly became so agitated after the first week that he quit and gave his spot to Dave Cooley; Rick Merrill, a Flat Rock Planning Board member and president of ECO; Frank Coiner, the longtime Hendersonville city attorney; Edneyville sod farmer Fred Pittillo; and civil engineer Bill Lapsley, who is now a county commissioner.
Times-News reporter Jim Wooldridge covered the Sept. 8 panel discussion that explored the tension between property rights and zoning.
Several panelists agreed that zoning requirements like signage and landscaping can be too restrictive, hurting property values. Merrill said that the city’s entry corridors were in bad shape and needed attention. Lapsley said that the issue had become an issue with the widening of Asheville Highway, which was under way then, while it had not been an issue on Spartanburg Highway or Four Seasons Boulevard.

‘Fear of the unknown’

A video of the panel discussion, news clips, Rotarians’ responses to questions on the future of Henderson County and a video of the city’s entry corridor were all tucked away in a time capsule. The Rotary Club opened the time capsule and last week presented a program on what it contained. “The thought was to open the ‘time capsule’ in 2018 to see how much the city has changed and if the change was for the good,” Matt Matteson, who was the club’s program director in 1998, wrote.
At the Rotary Club meeting last week, City Manager John Connet narrated a slide show that showed before and after photos of commercial development — old shopping centers like Sky City, now home to Harris Teeter, and Roses, now home to the Fresh Market.
“We took pictures of the corridor 20 years later,” he said. “Change is hard and the unknown change is super hard. I think that’s what we were dealing with. We had the same debate recently over the Balfour Parkway — the fear of the unknown. We had a lot of business people who were fearful of the unknown or the change and this is the result 20 years later.”
The photos showed how the entry corridor rules, which the City Council ultimately adopted, had resulted in lots of landscaping and flood control measures at shopping centers and retail stores at the city’s gateways.
“The biggest change in Hendersonville that you will see is the South Hendersonville area,” Connet said, showing a slide of the Walgreen’s on Spartanburg Highway at Greenville Highway. “That area flooded on a regular basis. Walgreen has been built up. We’re not only dealing with appearance, we’re also dealing with flooding issues in the South Main area. In the video you’ll hear Ken Cosgrove talk about the Rose’s shopping center, where Fresh Market is today. “A good example today is go to the Bi-Lo shopping center Four Seasons Boulevard, that would have been a pre-1998 ordinance. It didn’t have to make improvements” and lacks landscaping.
Side-by-side photos showed a barren parking lot at the old Sky City shopping center, and the Harris-Teeter in the same location.
“You can see the vegetation along the roadway, whereas before, the asphalt would have gone all the way to the street,” he said. At Walmart and Highland Square, photos showed smaller signs and landscaped roadways and parking lots. Twenty years ago, many Rotarians responding to the survey favored banning billboards. That hasn’t happened. Although the city adopted new billboard regulations, old ones can stay because they’re grandfathered.
“We still have many of the same billboards prior to 1998 but until they fall or are removed they can remain there,” Connet said. “Some signs are gone. We have a fewer number in our community now.”