Woodfin – About 20 to 25 residents attended the July meeting of the Woodfin Town Commissioners to discuss their opposition to the Bluffs development. They questioned staff and the board about changes to the zoning ordinance governing the development.
The Bluffs project is a half-billion-dollar development proposed for the west side of the French Broad River in Woodfin near Asheville’s Richmond Hills community. The developer proposed 1,500 units in the development.
The questions came during the public comment portion of the meeting. Yet, before it was over, people just stayed in their seats and peppered Planning and Zoning Director Adrian Isenhower and the board without identifying themselves.
Most of the questions and remarks centered around the board’s adoption last December of a new zoning requirement that did not take into consideration height in the Mountain Village zoning district.
“Much of the terrain is not buildable for various reasons and we should come to terms with that in short order,” said Hazel Thorton, who is also running for a seat on the board this year. “During the last decade, far too many acres have been inappropriately zoned high-density Mountain Village and now we are moving even further in the wrong direction by approving town codes that will eliminate the population density limit requirement altogether.”
Collin Willis told the board he was “…seriously concerned about this commissions’ elimination of height and density restrictions of our building ordinance, which adversely impact our community.” His questions focused on the how and why of the changes.
Isenhower tried to explain that the change actually made the process more “transparent,” but her effort seemed to fall short. She explained that a host of problems built up over the decades are now having to be sorted out and change will not happen overnight. She said the Mountain Village zoning, the zoning that the proposed Bluffs project is in, was where the town was most vulnerable. Woodfin Vice-Mayor Debra Giezentanner supported this statement.
The public discussion between the board, staff and public went on for close to an hour. The discussion came to an end when Isenhower said that the Bluffs would not be approved without additional public input. Giezentanner explained that Isenhower is trying to “change [the ordinance] to try to make it transparent so that we won’t have a developer come in and be able to basically have a high-density without talking to anybody. That the rule is this and their attorney say that and we don’t have any choice. That’s what the whole emphasis of this discussion has been about…we chose Mountain Village first because it has the highest density and the one that can do the most damage.”
After the discussion, a majority of the residents thanked the commissioners for their time with a round of applause.
In other business
After a public hearing where no one spoke, the board voted to rezone a property at 810 Elk Mountain Scenic Highway to R43 conditional zoning. The board also amendeded the pay and classification schedule to include a project manager position ranging from about $70,000 to $105,000 annual salary with the total cost to the town estimated at $112,000. Woodfin Town Administrator Eric Hardy said about 25 percent of the salary could come from the American Rescue Plan if the project manager could dedicate 25 percent of their time to the stormwater runoff plan.
The board then voted on a procedure to make some of the closed executive session minutes public. They plan to have the mayor, commissioners, town administrator and town attorney review the closed session minutes twice a year and determine if they can be released. Then, a simple majority vote by the board can unseal the minutes.
The board also voted to make a site available to early voting for this year’s election. The dates must coordinate with the other towns (Weaverville) having an election this year.
Hardy offered a proposed spending plan for the America Rescue Plan funds ($2.1 million) from the federal government. Giezentanner asked if some of the money could be allocated to rent where people were behind. Hardy responded it could be, he hadn’t budgeted for that since the county was investing heavily in that area.
During the passing of the consent agenda, the board voted to change the insurance company to the North Carolina League of Municipalities Interlocal Risk Financing Fund for property and liability coverage and adopt a social media policy.
Greenway and Blueway Update
During reports, Hardy updated the board on progress on the greenway/blueway projects. He said that a search for a project manager was still ongoing—RiverLink lost their communication and fundraising staff and was searching for others. In Silver-Line park progress, Hardy said that permitting was complete, but a “shocker” of a price increase from $75,000 to more than $144,000. The pirate ship for the playground area had been an unforeseen increase. The completion date for phase I was supposed to be completed by Labor Day, but now will be sometime in the fall, Hardy told the board.
The town was also successful in a survey taken regarding the Riverside Park expansion and whitewater wave. Hoping to get 600 responses, they actually got 672, with 263 coming from Woodfin residents. In the greenway progress, the town held a meeting with property owners affected by the greenway. About 25 were invited, but only about five showed up for the meeting while others communicated in other ways, said Hardy. The board then went into an executive-closed session before adjourning for the night.