Asheville – Buncombe County’s public engagement web pages announced, “We’re ready to talk next steps. Join us at an upcoming meeting. The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners is moving forward with plans to develop its Ferry Road property. Of course, the pronoun error here is not to be taken literally but is employed to prove to the elites in government that they can relate to the uneducated masses.
After all, everybody knows this 137-acre parcel of wooded wonderland lying between the French Broad River and Brevard Road belongs to the people. The land was part of the Water Disagreement saga, a late stage of which involved a 2014 agreement calling for the City of Asheville and Henderson County to market the land and split the profits 50-50, with the city turning its share over to Buncombe County for the construction of a law enforcement training center.
There are still a lot of old schoolers who can’t stand land use public hearings in which every neighbor and every activist worldwide is allowed to tell the victim (i.e., owner) how to mind his business. The owners are quick to say, “If you want to control the land, buy it.” Well, in this case, you did. As a taxpayer, you’re a shareholder. The meetings will be held Wednesday, October 25, at 5 p.m. at the Enka-Candler Library; Saturday, October 28, at 9 a.m. virtually; and Thursday, November 9, at 5:30 p.m. at 200 College Street.
After Buncombe County gave up on trying to sell the land to a multimillion-dollar multinational, it held many public visioning sessions before announcing plans for an “equitable, mixed-income community.” It has been partnering with Sarah Odio of the UNC School of Government to design a project that will meet the county’s needs and attract investment.
The envisioned community calls for roughly 650 residential units, about half of which are to be affordable to households earning no more than 80% of Area Median Income. Fair housing acts notwithstanding, this is to be a “diverse, mixed-income, multi-generational community.” Units will be a mix of rentals and owner-occupied homes. Small houses will sell for up to $400,000, and rental units are expected to start as low as $375 per month, with some options exceeding $2,500.
An additional 22,000 square feet of commercial space will be designated for “community businesses” that support the commissioners’ priorities, like childcare and healthcare. County staff stressed the importance of meeting public expectations that this be a sustainable community. It not only sounds nice on paper, but keeping jobs and services within the community would help keep an extra 1,000 cars off Brevard Road during rush hour.
This estimate may be high or low, as it assumes only 1.5 drivers per household and a negligible number of visitors and service providers. Planners, however, expect that many residents will not even own cars, and they’re requiring the developer to provide for “equitable transportation.”
Addressing public concerns about conservation, greenspace will occupy 72 acres. This includes areas in the floodplain and even a swamp. Measures will be taken to protect the property’s 5,500 lineal feet of tributaries and 5,200 lineal feet of river frontage. Over three miles of greenways and trails will be carved out with connections to the Bent Creek system, and three trailheads with parking spaces will be constructed. In addition, the developed area will feature a common green and five pocket parks totaling about 0.75 acres.
The county’s Director of Economic Development and Governmental Relations Tim Love found it remarkable. “Someone could live in affordable housing, that is, housing for people who are low to moderate income but still have sort of luxury amenities,” he said.
Now that a plan has been created, Odio explained that the next step will be for the commissioners to look for a private firm to finance, construct, and operate the development. She said it will take a long time to draw up contracts because they must be worded precisely to make sure the commissioners will get everything they want from the partnership. Among the aforementioned “shoulds,” it was stated without elaboration that the developer would “increase a well-paid, living-wage workforce by hosting commercial or specialized manufacturing employers.”
After about two years of negotiations, the developer should start breaking ground. By that time, local construction on I-26 is expected to be winding down, and the neighboring Pratt & Whitney plant will have filled many of its 800 promised jobs.
Odio estimated the Ferry Road development would cost $210 million, or half the county’s current general fund budget. Fortunately, the county is projected to pay only about $34 million.