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Rezoning hearing prompts larger questions about Russ Avenue

Rezoning hearing prompts larger questions about Russ Avenue File photo

Waynesville has amended its comprehensive plan and rezoned a portion of a parcel on the east side of Russ Avenue, opening up the possibility for more commercial development north of the Great Smoky Mountains Expressway on what remains a relatively rural, low-density gateway into the town’s main commercial district south of the expressway. 

The property in question, a 6.03-acre plot owned by Kyle Edwards, owner of Maggie Valley’s Stompin’ Ground, was initially located in two different zoning districts. The western third was situated in the Russ Avenue Regional District, (RA-RC) while the eastern two-thirds were in the Dellwood Residential Medium Density District Mixed-Use Overlay (D-RM MXO).

The parcel will still be in two different districts, but on Jan. 9, Waynesville’s Town Council voted unanimously to rezone 1.9 acres along Russ Avenue to the RA-RC district, leaving the rest in the overlay district. The rezoned area has more than 330 feet of frontage on Russ Avenue.

Allen Tate realtor Brian Noland, who is working with Edwards on the property, said Edwards hopes to sell the property and that the rezoning request was intended to broaden the appeal for potential buyers.

According to staff notes on the rezoning request, the rezoning is in line with the “likely pattern of development along Russ Avenue” from the expressway north to Dellwood Road and seeks to take advantage of an opportunity for growth along the busy commercial thoroughfare.

The RA-RC district is the town’s most flexible zoning district, encouraging both residential and commercial uses. The overlay district is primarily a low to medium density residential district.

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While relatively straightforward — the town’s planning board voted 6-1 to approve the rezoning request late last year — the request prompted discussion from Council members on what, exactly, that 1.5-mile stretch of road should look like going forward.

Council Member Jon Feichter recalled entertaining an unsuccessful rezoning request on the property at least a decade ago, when he was serving on the town’s planning board.

“If we elect to rezone that property so we’re saying yes to the applicant, how can we say no to the next property owner [north] up Russ Avenue? That’s always been my concern and I have yet to find an adequate answer to that,” Feichter said. “I think we need to decide, is that the direction we want to push to extend what I think of as Russ Avenue on down the road there?”

North of the expressway, there are still a smattering of homes built before the emergence of large retail outlets, grocers and fast-food franchises that line the Russ Avenue south of the expressway.

Fellow Council Member Julia Freeman pointed out several recent examples demonstrating how the northern stretch of Russ Avenue is developing already.

“We just back in November approved right beside Maple Tree veterinary clinic to rezone that property to allow the dentist to come in there,” Freeman said. “Saving this one piece of property is not going to make a difference because that commercial corridor is happening.”

Freeman, with Council Member Anthony Sutton also chiming in, went on to list nearby parcels already home to commercial establishments or professional services providers.

It’s not only the vet and the dentist, they said, but also Mountain Credit Union’s new building, the commercial plaza formerly home to Kmart, the church and the county building home to the senior center, the board of elections and county veterans services.

“I don’t think we can pick and choose to just not let somebody going down the corridor that’s going to be a commercial corridor coming into Waynesville,” Freeman said. “We can’t say, ‘you can’t do this with your property but we’ll let all these other people do that with their property.’”

Martha Bradley, the town’s attorney, gently warned council members that they were straying into dangerous territory by weighing the larger issue of the corridor’s character against the specific rezoning request at hand.

“The points about policy are very well taken about where the board wants to go with this part of the town but I would caution you from basing your decision on this particular parcel of property on any larger issues, particularly impact to neighbors, that were not provided in evidence,” Bradley said. “We have not heard any neighbors providing an opinion one way or the other about this proposed rezoning.”

Mayor Gary Caldwell mentioned that notice of the rezoning had been posted and advertised per state statutes, as must all such requests be.

“That’s why we advertise it in the newspaper,” Caldwell said. “That’s why we put signs out there for the neighbors or whoever’s got a problem with it … and no one’s here that I see that has a problem with it.”

Dickson said he thought the lack of turnout during the public hearing was because most people were in favor of the rezoning.

“I think it’s important that we follow the wishes or the decision of the planning board unless there is serious opposition or there’s serious disagreement,” Dickson said.

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