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Zoning board continues treatment center case

The Henderson County Zonng Board of Adjustment is taking up an application for First Contact Ministries to build a residential drug treatment facility on Erkwood Drive, a center that dozens of neighboring homeowners oppose.

The regular meeting of the board was moved from the county building on King Street to the Historic Courthouse because of the expected size of the crowd. The crowd of people for and against First Contact's application filled the meeting room on the second floor of the courthouse.

Shortly before 6 p.m., the zoning board announced that it would continue the hearing after adjourning at around 6 p.m. When it closed the hearing at 6:04, the attorneys had questioned only three witnesses and the zoning board chair had called none of the people who had signed up to speak for and against the special-use permit.

When the meeting was gaveled to order at 4 p.m., Chair Ron Kauffman called on attorney Brian Gulden, who represents homeowners opposed to the treatment center, to present his request for a continuance of the case for at least two weeks. Opponents had only 28 days to study the case, retain expert witnesses and gather evidence.

"We’re asking to continue so our group can prepare and gather the facts and evidence necessary," he said.

The Zoning Board of Adjustment turned down the request and began hearing the case at 4:30.

When Chair Ron Kauffman asked those who were a party to the case or planned to testify to stand, around 40 stood up.

Gulden opened his case by challenging Toby Linville, the county zoning administrator, on the details of First Contact's application and on whether the proposed facility met the definition of an assisted living residence, under the county ordinance and state law. Linville said he forwarded the application to the Department of Social Services and the state Department of Health and Human Services, which would review the proposal for licensing purposes.

Gulden then asked a series of questions intended to show that zoning of the property — it's split zoned Residential One and Estate Residential (one-acre lots) — prohibits some of the uses First Contact proposes as part of the residential recovery center, such as parking and offices.

Is the use residential or commercial? Gulden asked.

"It's both," Linville said. "That's why it requires a special use permit."

Gulden's questions were intended to support his position that because the county land-use code does not allow the uses or the functions First Contact proposes.

Gulden asked what would happen if First Contact did not get state approval for the facility. Would there be an empty 20,000-square-foot building?

"No," Linville said. "They won't get their first permit until that question is answered."

Gulden asked Linville whether the facility would be compatible with surrounding zoning in the Flat Rock and Hendersonville jurisdictions. 

In his opening statement, Derek Jones, the attorney for First Contact Ministries, said that clients at the 42-bed facility would be detoxed before they entered treatment. Mud Creek Baptist and its 4,000 members support the mission of First Contact to help people recover from drug abuse.

Jared DeRidder, an engineer with WGLA, described the site plan for the facility, and said he had determined that the plans were in compliance with the county land development code. He worked with the county, the NCDOT and the city in preparing the application. The center is expected to draw 10 to 20 vehicle trips a day, he said. The NCDOT requires a traffic impact analysis if a use generates 3,000 trips a day. Henderson County's threshold is 1,000 trips a day, DeRidder said. The facility would comply with NCDOT requirements for a driveway permit and with county code requirements for landscaping, buffering and other.

In cross examination, Gulden asked DeRidder whether the residential treatment center was a commercial use. DeRidder confirmed that he had designed the site plan under the commercial requirements of the land-use code.

Jones next called James Senatore, the architect for the project. An architect for 48 years, Senatore said he had looked at neighboring residences and had designed something that would be compatible — using wood, stone, stucco and glass that are common in residential exteriors. "It fits in the community because of the nature of the exterior," he said.

Gulden asked about door locks and alarms. "It's not going to be an alarm that's going to be flashing through the neighborhood," Senatore said. A door alarm for an unauthorized exit would go off in a resident assistant's quarters.