Land brought to conforming use opens possibility for daycare facility in the future

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Black Mountain alderman on June 12 rezoned a piece of Veterans Park in a move that some residents believe may bring more traffic to a busy intersection just west of downtown.

Aldermen voted unanimously to rezone 17 White Pine Drive, the southern part of the park, from Town Residential to Office Institutional so that its zoning matches that of the northern part of the park. Several residents opposed the idea at the June 12 public hearing, saying the rezoning would make possible uses such as breweries and day care centers that, if built, would bring a lot more cars to the Blue Ridge Road-White Pine Drive intersection.

The zoning issue first came up when the town began considering expanding the community garden, according to town manager Matt Settlemyer. John DeWitt, who sits on the Children and Friends Enrichment Center board, informally asked the town if it would lease a portion of the park, which includes Grey Eagle Arena and the disc golf course, in the future to the day care center.

But, he said, the day care center would formally ask to lease the property only if it receives a $1.8 million grant that it learned it could apply for in 18-24 months. The State Employees Credit Union Foundation grant would allow the preschool to move from its current location at the intersection of U.S. 70 and Blue Ridge Road and build a facility that would allow it to double in size.

"The town's position is that the board (of aldermen) would be willing to consider additions to the park that might include a day care if it (a day care center) could be shown that it's consistent with the design and vision of the park," Settlemyer said in an interview after the meeting. "I know people have said (a day care center) is not consistent with the (Veterans Park) master plan, and that's true. But the master plan is a guiding document. It's not binding."

Rezoning the property does not permit or deny any specific use of the rezoned land, Settlemyer noted.

Campbell Cauthen, a resident of Black Mountain, asked the board to consider public safety at the intersection of Blue Ridge Road and White Pine Drive.

"I hope each of you are carefully considering that rezoning (17 White Pine Drive) may change the quality of life for Black Mountain residents," he told the board. "I'm appealing to your good judgement and concerns regarding public safety."

Cauthern's concerns, echoed by others at the June 12 meeting, are legitimate, Settlemyer said.

“The traffic concern there is an issue that would have to be addressed and reviewed prior to moving forward with anything," as would how a day care center fits the existing uses of the property, Settlemyer said.

"Those are two scenarios that we don't have answers for right now," he said. "Once options are presented, the board will have something to review. But it just doesn't have that yet."

In a public hearing that preceded the vote to rezone the property, the board unanimously voted to allow parks and open spaces, as well as indoor and outdoor recreation areas, in all zoning districts. During that public hearing - a separate issue from the White Pine matter - several people spoke about the park rezoning, which confused some of the people at the meeting.

Allowing parks and open spaces in all zoning classifications permits the town to make upgrades to the community garden regardless of whatever zoning designation 17 White Pine Drive has.

Consequently, alderman Larry Harris moved to table the discussion about rezoning White Pine Drive. Mayor Michael Sobol noted that "time is not of the essence" regarding how the town property is - or isn't - zoned. Harris' motion failed, however, on a 3-1 vote (vice mayor Ryan Stone was absent, and under Black Mountain's form of government, the mayor casts votes only to break ties).

"This motion that we have in front of us right now has nothing to do with discussion of the day care (center)," alderman Don Collins told the audience just before he made a motion to approve the rezoning. "We're just making both sides of our park the same designation."

His motion passed unanimously.

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