Opinion: Flawed Buncombe County process endangers public safety on Candler’s Queen Road
Jo Ellen Wade and Laila Deane
| Guest Opinion
On Sept. 14, the Buncombe County Board of Adjustment approved a Special Use Permit to proceed with the addition of a 336-unit apartment complex on the corner of Queen Road and Pisgah Highway (N.C. 151) with the only entrance on Queen Road in Candler, dumping a possible 600 more cars onto Queen Road.
Residents in the neighborhoods have expressed concern for years about the dangerous road condition. Queen Road is only 17 feet wide with no shoulders and many frequently recurring potholes that jar the steering mechanism of your vehicle. Queen Road is a cut-through for Enka High School and Hominy Valley Elementary, and a straight shot for the Enka-Candler Fire and Rescue Services to the schools and Candler communities. The fire department has already expressed concern about the dangerous sub-standard road conditions.
Queen Road is so narrow that two school buses or a bus and a dump truck or firetruck do not have room to pass (no shoulders, remember?) and there are several dangerous curves that make visibility impossible at even the designated speed limit of 35 mph. There have been numerous accidents on Queen Road with residents trying to get out of their driveways or streets.
The community got approximately one week’s notice of first an informational meeting via Zoom by the Miami developer, and approximately the same for an in-person, Buncombe County Board of Adjustment hearing where residents could provide feedback to the commission about the proposed complex. And we found out at the hearing that the only way we could submit evidence to support our concerns to the Board of Adjustment, which apparently operates under a “quasi-judicial” process would be if we had “standing,” which required an attorney and legal documents, which we could not possibly have gotten with such short notice. The Board listened politely and then perfunctorily approved the permit.
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When community members tried to suggest the Miami developers move the entrance from Queen Road to the much larger Pisgah Highway, we were told it is too much of an incline (and more expensive?) to do that. Really? They are developers who deal with inclines all the time.
We were told the N.C. Department of Transportation has approved the complex with the only entrance on Queen Road. They apparently did a study that averaged the traffic flow over a period of days. If they had studied the traffic at school opening and closing hours, they would have encountered a backup from the schools to at least halfway down Queen Road toward Pisgah Highway. How the DOT could not have suggested moving the entrances to the enormous apartment complex to the far larger, safer Pisgah Highway frontage defies imagination. Unless, of course, the DOT is more concerned with the Miami developer’s expenses than the safety of Buncombe County school students and residents.
The city of Asheville has already acknowledged the flawed process of the “quasi-judicial” application process for Special Use Permits the County Board of Adjustment says it is bound by. In an April 3, 2020, article by Joel Burgess in the Asheville Citizen Times, describing a suit the city lost in the N.C. Supreme Court to block yet another downtown hotel, Mayor Esther Manheimer was quoted as saying, “I think the legal wrangling involved in this case highlights the limitations of the quasi-judicial building application process, specifically the limitations on a council to vote the will of the people.” She also said the City no longer uses this process.
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Long before this development was proposed, residents wondered what it would take to get the DOT to reduce the speed limit on Queen Road. And even the resident whose wife is still recovering from an accident trying to get out of her driveway didn’t sway the Board of Adjustment. What will it take? A school bus or high school driver accident? Someone’s life? Who on the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners is overseeing this flawed process and looking out for the safety of Buncombe County residents?
Allowing a 336-unit apartment complex to be built on a sub-standard dangerous road before requiring DOT to improve the road to at least minimum safety standards is morally and ethically wrong.
Jo Ellen Wade is a retired instructional technologist from Central Piedmont Community in Charlotte, a 25-year resident of Buncombe and Madison Counties, and lives just off Queen Road in Candler.
Laila Deane, LCMHC, does individual and addiction counseling at October Road Inc. in Asheville and lives on Queen Road in Candler.