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The Henderson County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday denied a rezoning application for a 900-unit subdivision on the Tap Root dairy farm property, ending a contentious debate over what would have been one of the biggest developments in the county. Commissioners who voted no said the proposed development was too dense and too close to the Asheville Regional Airport, that it would stress public infrastructure and would provide housing without preserving quality of life.

The proposed development of 891 townhomes and single-family homes on the Tap Root dairy farm property on Butler Bridge Road drew strong opposition from neighboring homeowners and officials from the Asheville Regional Airport, who said putting some 2,000 residents under the flight path less than a mile from the runway would inevitably lead to complaints about noise and related aviation issues.

The board's 2-2 vote meant that a motion to authorize the rezoning failed. Commissioners Bill Lapsley and Charlie Messer voted yes while Rebecca McCall and Michael Edney voted no. Chairman Grady Hawkins recused himself because his wife's sister is one of the property owners.

The vote to kill the project came despite weeks of behind-the-scenes negotiation between Lapsley and the developer that resulted in some 35 concessions to commissioners' demands. Those included changes to setbacks, the width of roads, parking and amenities including a swimming pool and playgrounds.

"I think there is a definite need in north Henderson County," Messer said. "The growth is phenomenal. I don't know where all these people are coming from. ... We've got to plan for the next 10 to 15 years and I think that's what we as county commissioners are trying to do. I think the conditions definitely have been met. This is a tough one but in my opinion the laws have been met."

McCall thanked the developer for working with the county but said the closeness to the airport, the density and the quality of life issue were more than she could overcome.

"One of the planning board members said he thought we could do better and I agree with that," she said. "I think they are still too close together."

The developer met one of her demands, eliminating townhomes that were close to I-26.

"However, they were providing a buffer for the noise and now that buffer is gone and the noise is still there," she said. "There are things beyond providing housing and one of those things is quality of life and I don't believe this development would provide quality of life and I think anybody that lives there would have to give that up."

The county make improvements and build new schools to accommodate a big development "but all that comes with a cost and are we willing to pay that cost and have the taxpayers pay that cost?" she said. "Henderson County residents wll be supportng the infrastructure but will get very little from it" because many of the occupants will work in Buncombe County.

So here we are with a potential development across the road from an existing residential area," he said. "If it is to be residential then is R-1 a reasonable classficiation?" He concluded that it was, because the topography made development less expensive, because it had water and sewer.

To no avail, Lapsley mounted an extended defense of the rezoning. The Johnston family, which has farmed and milked cows on the land for three generations, has provided jobs and valuable farm products, he said. And family members had cooperated when the county economic development recruiters asked them to zone the property for industrial use. The recruiters were unable to land a factory for the land, he said, despite persistent efforts for years.

"So here we are with a potential development across the road from an existing residential area," he said. "If it is to be residential then is R-1 a reasonable classficiation?" He concluded that it was, because the topography made development less expensive, because it had water and sewer and because it's across the road from another large R-1 zoned subdivision, River Stone.

"The toppgraphy is rare in our county," he said. "It's relatively flat and my experience has been that the cost of devloping infrastructure — roads, water, sewer all the things needed for a development of any kind — is dramatically impacted by the topography." That lowers the cost for the developer, which means homes would cost less. "A developer cannot do that on the side of the mountain," he said. "This site has public utilities readily available and that drives the cost of development."

The airport and potential problems with it "is an issue that the consumer, the buyer, must consider," he added. "I don't think it's this board's responsibility to effectively condemn a private property because of the airport without compensation to the property owner."

Lapsley said that for 44 years he and his family have lived 2 miles from the airport, at an elevation 500 to 700 feet higher than the Tap Root land. "The aircraft are so close to my house that I can read the serial numbers on the side of the plane," he said. The family has had "no health problems, no issues" related to the air traffic, he said. "My wife and I before our sons were born sat on the property for several days to see what the experience would be and we've had no regrets (living on property) with the flights close to our house."

Edney said the rezoning application fails to meet county comprehensive plan requirements that land-use changes should not worsen congestion, burden roads, water and sewer and public facilities like schools.