Tree removal and development spark controversy in Black Mountain neighborhood
BLACK MOUNTAIN - For roughly 20 years, the lot at 210 North Park Lane in Black Mountain was designated as unbuildable, according to county tax records. Now, Bill Allen has plans to build a duplex on it.
Residents of the homes surrounding the lot have expressed frustrations and opposition to Allan and his plan to develop. Allan insists he's done everything properly.
"I followed every rule, every law. I even called the county," Allan said. "I've been doing this for 35 years. I'm not going to do anything that's wrong. I am however going to do things that people don't like."
Larry Pearlman is a resident of North Park Lane.
"He knows how to work the system," Pearlman said of Allan.
Tax records, buildability and accessing town information
Buncombe County tax records show Allan's land parcel is designated as a residential building lot. County records appraised the lot at $96,900.
Its buildable status was approved as of Feb. 4. But according to the county tax office, a note from 2020, courtesy of Jake Hair, a planner with the town of Black Mountain, said the parcel could not be built upon due to a stream buffer of 30 feet per side of the bank, not allowing enough room for a structure.
"Mr. Allan worked with the Army Corps of Engineers to culvert that stream," said Jessica Trotman, the planning director for the town. "That gave him room."
While the lot was labeled unbuildable by the tax office, Allan was not required to pay taxes on the lot.
The county records show Allan called the town of Black Mountain on Feb. 4, saying he was prepping the land to build the duplex. Allan said he plans on piping the stream, therefore making the land buildable.
Trotman said the county has many lots in its records and the workers do their best to sort each one into a category based on the information they have. She said the label of unbuildable acts only as a descriptor, that it's not lawful or binding in any way.
"It's not always accurate," Trotman said. "Even though it was listed as a building lot at one point in the past, it still had no value because it had a stream running through it."
Tina Wexler resides in a home built by Allan on South Park Lane, the other side of the lot. She said he originally gave the residents half a parcel of woods at the end of the lane. When Allan submitted a plan for development, Wexler said the original plan encompassed the entire woods, including the half he had given the residents.
Unable to develop on land he didn't own, Wexler said Allan was told he couldn't use the entire wooded area.
"They limited him to putting one structure up," Wexler said. "He's now putting up a single duplex."
Having owned the property for many years, Allan said it's always been his plan to develop the land.
Although some residents expressed frustration with the town over trying to access documents they said should have been readily available and said they were often dismissed without finding answers, Trotman said the town has done its part for the neighborhood.
"I certainly understand that this has been hard on the neighbors. This is a big change," Trotman said. "But there's nothing really unique about this."
Conversely, Pearlman said he and his neighbors have had a difficult time extracting information from the town. He said they received conflicting information or more often, no information at all.
Duane Repman, a resident of South Park Lane, said while the land does belong to Allan and therefore he can do with it what he wants, he should be held to a standard in which the development will not destroy the stream or impact nearby Lake Tomahawk.
"It's leading to a general perception that the town is not taking this as serious as possible," Repman said.
Trotman maintained that the town has been "consistent" with the information it has provided.
"All of a sudden, without a public hearing, without anything, in the dark of night," Wexler said. "They clear cut 45 trees."
Wexler's complaint about the clear cutting was compounded by her discovery that a plan Allan had submitted to the town outlined the removal of only four trees.
Allan admitted that his submission to the town did only account for four trees, four which stood on town property, but he soon realized he would need to remove more. He said the other trees he removed sat on his own land, requiring no permission from the town to remove.
"I spent a lot of money getting dangerous trees out," Allan said. "Nobody maintained any of these trees."
Allan said he never reported to the town or anyone else how many trees would come down because he didn't know. Using the advice of tree experts, Allan said he removed dead and dying trees that could have become hazards if left unattended.
Pearlman countered with the notion of a tree ordinance, a policy multiple areas have adopted in recent years. Montreat's ordinance, for example, provides guidelines for preserving and removing trees on town property and on private property when specifically applicable.
"I know what a tree can do to a house," Allan said, in response to the idea of a tree ordinance. "If you make someone keep a tree that he doesn't want to keep on his own property, I think that's a liability."
Comparing similar projects, Allan said some of the residents of the surrounding condominiums he built have no idea of the development that was necessary to build their homes. He said he agrees with what people are saying, that the site doesn't look aesthetically appealing currently, but once he's done, the lot will have been landscaped.
The finished plans for the duplex include new trees and shrubbery, according to Allan.
Neighbors worry about stormwater
Allan possesses a stormwater permit from the town. He said he spent $10,000 for engineers to determine how stormwater will affect the duplex once it's built.
Additionally, Allan said the stormwater pipes he plans to install so rain water will drain off the duplex roof and back into the ground cost him $30,000. He claimed the other buildings in the neighborhood don't have stormwater plans for collection.
Two 36 inch pipes running 40 feet in length will need to be buried in the ground and compressed with gravel, Allan said.
Wexler said the area already has flooding issues. Allan said flooding problems do not exist. Wexler complained that the residents have no idea of how long the planned pipe system will last.
"That parcel is not included in any flood hazard zone," Trotman said, referencing information compiled through FEMA's flood map.
According to Repman, the surrounding residents have concerns about possible impact of stormwater on Lake Tomahawk. He said Allan's plan for piping the stream seems risky and could create silt problems for the lake.
"Pretty much everyone in an eight, 10, 12 block area of the site is concerned," Repman said of stormwater, tree removal and the impact on the lake.
How will the duplex be used?
On his near half acre of land, Allan plans for the building to cover roughly 1,500 square feet. Allan plans for the duplex to consist of living spaces with two bedrooms and a single bath.
Given Black Mountain's popularity as a tourist destination, neighbors say they're concerned Allan will want to use the duplex as an Airbnb. Allan said the duplex is his final project before retirement, and he does not intend to use the new building for anything but long term rentals.
"I don't plan on doing Airbnb," Allan said. "But if I did, it's really none of their business."
Pearlman said he spoke with Allan and corroborated his intentions for the duplex.
As a developer, Allan said most of the neighbors have no idea of what it takes to undertake building something like this.
Throughout his years of developing, Allan said he's been in and out of the public eye repeatedly. He said he's faced opposition such as this before.
"I've had people hire attorneys to stop me. I've had lies told," Allan said.
At age 61, Allan continues to do much of the work himself. While working, he said he's had neighbors throw him nasty glares, curse at him and even threaten him with violence.
One resident, according to Allan, implied vague threats that he could beat Allan in a fight.
"I understand the animosity," Allan said. "They like my trees, they like the way it was."
Ezra Maille covers the town of Black Mountain, Montreat and the Swannanoa Valley. Reach him at 828-230-3324 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Please support local journalism with access to more breaking news by subscribing.