The ongoing conflict over growth in Waynesville has arisen again this week over a new 150-unit apartment complex arriving on a vacant 10-acre lot on the Old Asheville Highway.

Concerns that unprecedented growth in Waynesville will ruin its small town character have been pitted against the harsh realities of a housing shortage. And once again, the Waynesville Planning Council found itself in the hot seat as judge and jury.

“You shouldn’t let someone from out of town come here and do whatever they want,” said Barbara Henry, who spoke at a public hearing on the project on Monday. “Because we are ruining our little town. We don’t want him like Asheville. But it’s starting to look like this.

During this time, however, finding a rental has become nearly impossible, partly because of Waynesville’s desirable quality of life and partly because of the even tighter housing market spillover in Asheville.

“You currently have a severe housing shortage in western North Carolina, and it’s not improving,” said William Ratchford of Southwood Realty, the Gastonia-based development company for the project.

Not wanting to be like Asheville was a recurring theme among those who spoke at the public hearing. Alan Shelton, a Haywood County native who lives in a neighborhood adjacent to the project, emphasized the city’s land use plan motto.

“It says ‘plan with a goal.’ I don’t know what your goal is. I hope it won’t be like Asheville, ”Shelton said.

The latest apartment project would bring the number of new housing units in Waynesville to 780 over a three-year period. That number only includes major developments such as apartments, townhouses, duplexes, and new subdivisions – and does not count the steady pace of single-family home construction on nearly all available land in the city.

Sherry Morgan, a speaker at the hearing, questioned whether Waynesville was ready for the influx of units into the pipeline.

“We can hardly walk into our restaurants without a long wait. And now we have to wait at the gas pumps, ”Morgan said. “Are we ready for 1,500 to 3,000 more people?

How much is too much?

The latest growth trend differs from the construction boom of the 2000s, which was primarily driven by second home owners and retirees building their dream homes on the mountainside. The landscape has now changed, with a demand for convenient city living driven by a younger population.

“Waynesville is a special place,” said Terry Clark, who recently moved here from a small town that has grown too big. “You don’t have to look very far for examples to see how things can go negatively.”

But people are going to move here anyway, said Tom Jones, engineer for the apartment developer.

“It would be nice to be the last one in and close the door behind us. But there are people who want to be here, ”Jones said.

Building 150 housing units on 10 acres is better than 150 single-family homes, which would have a much larger footprint, he said.

“I think this density is a good thing. People can live anywhere they want to be without too much sprawl and development. For me that’s a plus for the city, ”Jones said.

But Clark said too much rental housing can erode a sense of community.

“I don’t want to paint every apartment tenant with a broad brush, but you want citizens who are invested in the community,” he said. “It will be a horror and a detriment to the community. Not an advantage.

Ratchford said the apartments do fulfill a necessary role, however.

“Are your kids going to be ready to buy a house straight out of college?” Not everyone can buy a house, ”he said. “It also allows someone to get to know your city before they move in.”

Strong demand

The new 150 unit apartment complex is by the same developers who built the 200 Palisades units at the Plott Creek apartment complex. The style will be almost identical – attractive and architecturally pleasing when it comes to large-scale apartment complexes.

The price will vary from $ 1,300 for a bedroom to $ 1,700 for a three-bedroom. This reflects the rates for the palisades at Plott Creek.

These units filled up quickly as they went live during the first half of the year and remained full despite the high rents, reflecting just how high the demand for rental units is. The Palissades were fully occupied a few months after their opening.

“An apartment complex of this size should take a full year to fill,” said Ratchford. “But we have a waiting list that won’t get you in until February or March.”

The company’s apartment complexes in Asheville are also all full, he noted.

Still, with so many new apartments already online, Harry Lipham has urged town planning council to take a more measured approach.

“I think the timing is very, very bad. After seeing what effect these other developments are going to have, it might be acceptable to consider other apartments at that time, ”said Lipham, who lives close to the project site.

Community character After listening to nearly two hours of public and developer commentary, the planning committee began work on a checklist of criteria the project needed to meet for approval.

The question facing the planning board was, however, limited. He couldn’t say “no” to apartments, as the city’s zoning allows apartments in almost anywhere in the city.

Instead, the question was how many apartments could be built on the 10-acre site – located at the intersection of the Old Asheville Highway and Howell Mill Road (not far from Lowe’s).

“We are not here to vote on the apartments. The only thing we can vote on is density, ”said planning board chairperson Ginger Hain.

Zoning immediately allows 10 units per acre. The project would be around 14 units per acre, which would require a special use permit and thus land developers in front of town planning council. All other elements of the city’s land use plan had been followed, from architectural design to landscaping.

“We designed the project to meet all of your zoning and rules,” Jones said. “We think this is in keeping with the character of the neighborhood. “

To gain approval for the higher density, the planning board had to determine if the project was in keeping with the character of the community.

“I don’t think it is,” said Don McGowan, a member of the Planning Council. “You have a residential area all around. “

Planning Council member Michael Blackburn disagreed.

“I can’t imagine a better place for it than this place,” said Blackburn.

The land is directly across from the Evergreen satellite plant, with heavy trucks and rail traffic coming and going, as well as a gas station around the corner and a five-lane high-speed road running alongside the site. .

“For me, this provides a transition from single-family residence in the south to Evergreen manufacturing in the north,” Jones said.

The site was once industrial zoned. The land had been on the market for over 15 years as an industrial property, but without a lessee. The developers recently requested a zoning change to residential, which then paved the way for the apartment project.

Final verdict

While some members of the planning board thought it would be better to reduce the number of apartments, the reality was that unless the developers could make all 150 of them, they could forgo the project altogether.

“We typically build 1,000 to 1,200 units per year. If it’s not a feasible project, we move on, ”said Ratchford. The Gastonia-based family business owns dozens of apartment complexes totaling 21,000 units across the Carolinas, including several in the greater Asheville area.

Still, the town planning council was puzzled as to whether the higher density was in keeping with the character of the community, which has a neighborhood on one side but commercial and industrial uses on the other.

“The character of the neighborhood is mixed use. So, do the apartments fit in or do not fit in? I’d say that’s fine with him, ”said Hain, who chairs the planning board.

As the discussion progressed, it briefly emerged that the planning committee was heading for a 3-to-3 tie. While the planning committee has nine members, three were absent, leaving an even number.

However, the vote was ultimately 4-2, with the bill narrowly passed.

Ratchford said his company invested $ 26 million in the community with the construction of the palisades at Plott Creek, estimating the final project to be worth more than $ 50 million, which is good for the tax base of the city.

The family business manages all the projects it builds and does not overthrow them.

“We are committed to the communities in which we settle,” said Ratchford. “We’re here for the long haul. My family is involved in the daily operations every day.

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