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Laurel Park OKs 129-unit senior living development

LAUREL PARK — The Laurel Park Town Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to annex property on U.S. 64 for a 129-unit senior living development, disappointing a room full of homeowners who opposed the plan with often hostile and personal attacks on the elected leaders.

Curry Investments LLC, a Bend, Oregon, based developer of senior communities, proposes the retirement living development of 129 senior apartments and a dining room on the 7.8 acre tract, which land records show Curry bought in December 2017 for $1.2 million.

Curry Investments sought the rezoning for the development and agreed to be annexed into the town of Laurel Park. The property is about 600 feet east of Laurel Park's boundary and meets the requirement for annexation under North Carolina law, which has greatly restricted annexation since 2010.

The meeting — moved to First Congregational United Church of Christ for space reasons — was a familiar scene for Henderson County. A roomful of people opposed to a higher density development on a road that residents said was already congested begged the elected leaders to say no.

From Etowah to Horse Shoe to the Fletcher area, neighboring homeowners have organized and successfully turned back disruptive land-use changes. In fact, neighbors had opposed development on this same piece of land two times successfully, once when the Hendersonville City Council refused a rezoning request in 2017 and again when the Laurel Park Planning Board recommended against a rezoning and annexation in 2018. This time the outcome was different. The elected leaders of the "Town on the Mountain" remained steadfast in support of the project, defending the senior living development as a beneficial addition in an area that is likely to see continued growth.

"The county is changing," Mayor Carey O'Cain said. "We have to keep in front of it and keep an eye on 20 to 40 years down the road. That's what we're trying to do."

Homeowners tried to persuade the council to turn it down.

“Who brings this turmoil to our community? An out-of-state developer,” said Ruth Englram. “The average density (in the area) is about 2-3 housing units per acre. This plan is for 18 units per acre. No one can say with straight face that that is compatible with what surrounds it.”

"What is your plan," Susane Brown asked the council, "to protect the neighbors on three sides from intense all-night lighting, delivery and garbage truck noise, smelly dumpsters, diminished privacy from a three-story building looking down on people and greatly increased traffic in and out of Highway 64? If you approve this application, what you set in motion is an ill-fitting monument to how Laurel Park Council treats its ETJ neighbors and residents alike with disdain."

While most of the 12 speakers opposed the project, several residents supported it.

"Even though it is not contiguous I think it's a good way to provide somewhat of a buffer for Laurel Park from other development along the way," said Mark Morse, a Timber Creek resident who has lived in Henderson County for 30 years. "The annexation as proposed I think would provide some tax revenue. I think in general the leadership does a really good job of protecting Laurel Park while looking to the future. Let's face it, change is coming along that corridor. There's no way to stop it."

U.S. 64 carries 35,000 cars a day now and is projected to carry 70,000 vehicles a day in 10 years, said Councilman Paul Hansen. "Growth is not going to stop, whether it's in Laurel Park or Horse Shoe or Etowah. It's going to continue and we as Laurel Park have to consider what's best for the citizens of Laurel Park. I love the area along 64 but it's going to change. It's not us. It's going to be somebody else that's going to come along and make changes along 64. It's a commercial corridor. I think it's going to be beneficial for Laurel Park so I would vote for annexation.

“I would rather Laurel Park have control over it vs. the county or the city,” said council member Nancy McKinley. “Our zoning requirement is higher than either one of those. What is proposed is a development that while high density would have more preservation of trees and we would be able to control that. I don't understand the hate that has been spewed from some of the people and on this Next Door Neighbor (website) that has been going on about us as board members. There has been transparency. We have followed every protocol.”

Council members said staff members, volunteers from the community and the council had devoted many meetings over the past several years to a comprehensive rewrite of the town's long-term land-use plan. A desirable development on U.S. 64 fits with what the revised comp plan envisions for a busy part of the gateway to the town.

"It's our responsibility as council memebrs to look not just at next year but it is to look out 20, 40, 50 years from now," he said. "That's why we put together a comprehensive plan and corridor study to figure out what was going to happen over next 30, 40, 50 years and plan for the growth that is going to take place."

The town as good services that make Laurel Park desirable and affordable, he said.

“We have snow removal that is comparable to no one," he said. "We get our trash removed, our brush removed and our leaves removed and our snow removed and you get down to the bottom of the mtn and you cross over the railroad tracks and you get snow. That is a huge benefit to the residents. I’m not saying it’s necessarily a good thing to be annexed into the town of Laurel Park or Hendersonville because you are getting a lot of the benefits that our residents are paying for.”

Property taxes from Sunshine Villas will help offset the town's expenses.

“Yes, this will help our tax base,” he said. “It will also help us keep from increasing taxes for our current residents.”