Developer gets green light for Blue Ridge Road condo project

Paul Clark

Developer Lenny Weaver last week received a special use permit to build a 60-unit condo development on Blue Ridge Road that has concerned its neighbors.

The Black Mountain Zoning Board of Adjustment on July 20 unanimously approved Weaver’s request to build Sweet Birch Lane in pastureland on Blue Ridge Road at South Blue Ridge Road. The hearing drew so many people to Town Hall that the board reserved seating for those who live closest to the project. Others watched proceedings outside the room on closed circuit TV.

On July 20, neighbors speaking to the town adjustments board about a Blue Ridge Road development prepare to be sworn in before their comments.

The 10-acre site, currently a horse pasture, is zoned for residential use. Weaver wants to build 30 Arts & Craft-inspired duplexes in what the town zoning ordinance calls a planned unit development. As such, Weaver sought a permit for this “special use” of residentially zoned land.

The site is part of three areas that consultants J.M. Teague told Black Mountain aldermen in April could accommodate higher residential densities than exist in other parts of town. The consultants identified those areas – Blue Ridge Road, Walker Cove off North Cove Road and the northernmost section of Flat Creek Road – in suggestions that the town undertake a “small area plan” to guide growth in the Blue Ridge Road area.

Aldermen in April asked for more data on the area and postponed a vote to create a small area plan. Growth in the Blue Ridge Road area would seemingly fit the goals of the comprehensive development plan that the town updated in 2014. That plan calls for identifying areas where the town can grow.

Compounding concerns by Blue Ridge Road-area residents about development in their community is a planned Interstate 40 interchange and the additional traffic that the Avadim Technology’s $24 million expansion at Black Mountain Commerce Park will bring.

The development of Sweet Birch Lane anticipates the growth that Black Mountain will experience, said Joe Tyson, speaking July 20 on behalf of the partnership that owns the pastureland, in part because of the 551 jobs that Avadim, a life science company, is bringing by building its headquarters on the west side of town.

The “pocket neighborhood,” as Sweet Birch Lane’s designer called it at the meeting, will alleviate pressure on the limited housing available to young people who want to live in Black Mountain, Tyson said. The units would sell for $300,000-$350,000, a price point that would make them attractive to retirees moving here who are currently buying more affordable houses in town that younger people are having a hard time finding, he said.

The overflow crowd at the Sweet Birch Lane hearing filled the hallway before the adjustments board meeting began July 20.

Bolstering Tyson’s claims, Chip Craig of Greybeard Realty told the board that the housing market in Black Mountain is “amazingly tight.”

All the duplexes in the development will face inward, along the tree-lined, private street that will serve them all, according to the development plans. The developer will keep the line of trees that separate Sweet Birch Lane from Blue Ridge Road, said Jesse Gardner of Civil Design Concepts, the development’s designer and a Black Mountain resident.

Beth Garrison, one of a dozen nearby residents who expressed reservations about the project to the board, was concerned about the additional traffic Sweet Birch Lane will put on South Blue Ridge Road. People use it to walk, run and bike, she said. Ron Pownall, who lives on Old Lakey Gap Road, said the additional traffic would create “accidents waiting to happen.” Sidewalks – or the lack of them – on Blue Ridge Road were also a concern of some speakers who said adding additional traffic to the road will make the risk walkers face all the more intense.

Gardner said the project would add an estimated 350 trips per day to Blue Ridge Road, a tiny portion of the 12,000 vehicles per day the state Department of Transportation said the road can handle. The road handled an average of 4,000 vehicles per day in 2015, Gardner said a DOT study showed.

Jerry Lenoir, who lives on Camp Branch Road, said the impervious rooftops and paved areas of Sweet Birch Lane would generate a significant amount of storm water runoff that would end up in the Swannanoa River. Marie Lipfird, a Blue Ridge Road resident, said more water in the river will imperil her backyard, which has already lost ground to river flooding. As it is, water comes over the top of the South Blue Ridge Road after heavy rains, neighbor Sterling Vaden said.

Gardner said Black Mountain has a “tough” storm water ordinance that the development would have to adhere to.

Board member John DeWitt said the town’s ordinance does not allow the Zoning Board of Adjustment to address most of the speakers’ concerns. Board chair Cheryl Milton noted that the board was limited to issues included in the special use permit, and as such, there was no reason to deny the developer the permit. The board 5-0 in Weaver’s favor.

The board restricted Weaver to minimize security lighting “spillage” outside the development and to make sure a gate to the neighboring Meadowbrook community was locked and closed to all but emergency vehicles. Construction traffic will not go through the Meadowbrook community, Gardner said.

Construction will likely begin in spring 2018, he said.