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203 people prepared to speak against asphalt plant

Michelle Tennant, holding one her free-range chickens, organized Friends of East Flat Rock to oppose an asphalt plant. More than 200 people are prepared to speak at a public hearing on a rezoning request for the plant Thursday night. [CONTRIBUTED PHOTO] Michelle Tennant, holding one her free-range chickens, organized Friends of East Flat Rock to oppose an asphalt plant. More than 200 people are prepared to speak at a public hearing on a rezoning request for the plant Thursday night. [CONTRIBUTED PHOTO]

Henderson County planners have worked out details of how some 200 people can comment on a proposed asphalt plant in East Flat Rock during a Planning Board meeting Thursday.


Moved to Blue Ridge Conference Hall at BRCC because of the intense interest in the rezoning request, the meeting will limit the number of people who can be in the hall and rotate others in as seats become available.
“They’ve got separation of the chairs,” Planning Board Chair Steve Dozier said. “Once the chairs are full, the meeting space is closed.”
John Mitchell, the county’s director of business and community development, said the Planning Board and staff have done everything they can think of to make the meeting as accessible as possible, given covid-19 restrictions.
“Seats are going to be set up at socially distanced six feet intervals, which provides about 100 seats,” Mitchell said. “The Planning Board will be up on the dais. We’re also going to be broadcasting it on YouTube to allow people to watch. … We’re going to require masks. Our purpose is to be as open as it’s possible to be while also trying to protect people.”
With the expectation that more than 100 people will show up to watch or speak, planners will ask speakers to sign up. Those who don’t get inside when the meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. will be asked to wait in their cars.
“We’ll send someone to bring them in” when space is freed up, Mitchell said. “Another point that gives me some comfort is that the number of seats is actually larger than the number that would be in Planning Board meeting room here on King Street.”
“Our purpose is going to be like it always is, to give the applicant his day in front of the Planning Board and also give the citizens their right to comment. … Another thing I want to make sure your readers understand is that the Planning Board does not make the final decision. This is a recommendation to the Board of Commissioners, who will hear this item.”

203 people are prepared to speak

Michelle Tennant, the organizer of the Friends of East Flat Rock, said that the grassroots group formed to oppose the plant is ready for the fight. The organization has received 10,900 signatures on a petition opposing the plant on Tuesday afternoon and 1,680 people “are actively on the Facebook page.”
A beekeeper and free-range chicken raiser who runs a public relations business out of her home, Tennant, 51, said the movement has surprised her with its size, diversity and intensity.
“We’ve got kayakers who want to protect the Green River,” she said. “We’ve got a lot of people who live out of state. Their parents still live here. When you talk to them, their reason is usually personal. They grew up here, they have family still living here. It’s a beloved area. The other thing that I think is really beautiful is we’re Republicans, Democrats and independents. I’m the Democratic precinct leader and then in Highland Hills Judy Williams is the Republican precinct leader. We’ve got unity against the asphalt plant when the rest of the country is struggling with unity.”
When Tennant was planning for Thursday’s public hearing, 203 plant opponents committed to speak. If all spoke and used the allowed time of three minutes, the public hearing would run for at least 10 hours. Beyond that, both the applicant, Southeastern Asphalt owner Jeff Shipman, and the Friends of East Flat Rock have attorneys, who will each get the opportunity on Thursday to present their cases for and against the rezoning application. Shipman is seeking a land-use change from community commercial to a conditional district to allow the plant on a 6½-acre tract on Spartanburg Highway at the U.S. 25 connector.

Homeowners fear property depreciation

Opponents have bombarded Planning Board members and county commissioners with hundreds of emails and phone calls imploring them to deny the rezoning request. The opponents, especially homeowners who live near the plant, have raised concerns about air pollution, water pollution, odor, noise, truck traffic, health concerns and depreciation of their home values. Tennant, who has been conducting interviews with opponents and posting them on YouTube, interviewed one homeowner who is moving from the area to care for her elderly parents.
The homeowner was not named because she feared jeopardizing the sale of her home.
“It sold in one day 2½ years ago,” she said, reading from a letter she sent to county commissioners. “In the last few weeks we have lost five sales because of the threat of the asphalt plant. This is a plant that doesn’t even begin to be compatible with our community. It is not wanted, welcomed or to say the very least, needed. In a nutshell I am asking you to please deny Mr. Shipman the ability to build this a plant and allow all of us to live our lives in peace and tranquility, knowing we won’t lose our health, the live savings we have invested in our homes, our environment or our minds due to the mental anguish created by the asphalt plant.”
Shipman did not respond to a request for an interview on Tuesday. In an advertisement that ran in the Hendersonville Lightning, he said he planned to shield the plant with a tree buffer, protect water quality and provide 20 new jobs. Under N.C. Division of Air Quality rules, “facilities are not allowed to emit pollutants that exceed any of the air toxics limits at or beyond their property lines,” the ad said, quoting state regulations. “Thus citizens living near plants that meet the air toxics rules should not be exposed to unhealthy levels of air pollution.”

What opponents are saying

In letters and emails, residents opposed to the plant have made the following points:
• The East Flat Rock Community Plan adopted in 2017 did not recommend industrial zoning. Instead it recommended that “we create gateway entrances at the entry points into our community located on Spartanburg Highway and Upward Road, and an asphalt plant at either of these entry points falls far short of that,” said Terri Reed, whose father, Ted Reed, developed Highland Hills.
• Opponents say the 891 homes within a one-miles radius of the site could lose a substantial portion of their equity if the plant is built.
• Several email writers said that the Nichols brothers, who run a maple nursery called that sells trees worldwide, have offered to buy the 6½-acre tract for their business and a retail operation, meaning the seller of the land would not be financially harmed if the county rejects the rezoning.
• Child psychiatrist Nick Ladd compiled a synopsis of 10 asphalt plant violations locally from 1992 to 2004. The proposed plant, a mile and quarter from Hillandale Elementary School and Flat Rock Middle School and 2½ miles from East Henderson High School, could endanger children’s health, he said. “Too often there is a hidden cost to pollution, such as the pollution that could come from this asphalt plant,” Ladd said. “This cost is the involuntary sacrifice that citizens must make to their health and to the health of their children.”

Dozier, the Planning Board chair, said he doesn’t know whether the board will be able to hear all the comments on Thursday night.
“They’ll have minutes to speak assuming we get to that point,” he said. “If you’re repeating the same thing that’s just been said, we appreciate your time and your thoughts buy we don’t need to be repeating the same thing in essence. … We will cut things off at 9 o’clock and have another meeting.
“How many different points can 203 people make?” he asked. “But they have the right to speak.”