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NC residents fight proposed housing developing to save stand of trees

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    ASHEVILLE, NC (WLOS) — Unless you’ve driven down the tight-quartered Collier Avenue, or have looked down over the South Slope from a third- or fourth-story window, you may not realize how many large trees take up the half-acre parcel of land between Collier and Coxe Avenue, just south of Hilliard Street.

At least a dozen large trees, taller than nearby buildings, cover the hilly plot. The trees are mostly varieties of oak, with many smaller bushes and undergrowth in between.

This parcel of land has had a number of proposed developments in the past, but none have come to fruition.

The latest proposal is a 54-unit, five-story affordable housing complex developed by Tribute, based in Wilmington. The new designs for the building were presented to the Asheville Downtown Commission on Friday and were pared down from earlier plans for a slightly larger 75-unit complex. The complex, however, does not include any parking space for the residents aside from space for bicycles.

The new plans included keeping several of the large trees, which, according to nonprofit Ravenscroft Reserve Initiative, hold historic value in addition to significant ecologic and economic value. The value and ecologic significance has been verified by a 2015 report.

Keeping just several of the trees is not enough for those hoping to preserve the area as a park.

Heath Towson spoke Friday morning on behalf of the initiative, which has gathered more than 1,500 signatures in a petition to preserve the woods.

Towson said the group’s hope is to purchase the land and preserve it as a small pocket park with a few benches and small woodchip trail.

“So, kind of adding a little greater context to it and then also maybe some historical markers connecting to its history with Thomas Wolfe, the author, as well as the Ravenscroft School,” Towson said, citing a book which documents the history of Ravencroft School. “That has a picture of these trees in the mid 1800s, and they appear to be fairly mature. So, we think the age could be anywhere from 100 to 200 years old.”

In addition to the ecologic value of the trees, another resident cited the recent Tree Canopy Study by the city of Asheville, which showed a loss of 6.4 percent coverage over the past decade.

“That’s about 1,000 trees a year. So, we’re in the middle of a crisis now,” said Steve Rasmussen, of the South Slope Tree Preservation Coalition. “We’ve got climate change coming, and trees are our best protection against it. As even our own city comprehensive plan recognizes we need to preserve more trees.”

Towson and Rasmussen said they understand the need for more affordable housing.

“It’s admirable to want to increase affordable housing, and it’s certainly a need. But the question is, is this the right place to do it? I don’t think so,” Towson said. “I don’t know if it’s the best thing for the community, for nature, for the environment, especially long term.”

Both parties agreed the developer has been accommodating thus far and is willing to sell the property to the group for a percentage of its appraised value, which Towson estimates will be near $1 million.

Towson said they would need to offer 50 percent of that value in 90 days, or 65 percent in one year, but they would still need to present the developer with a letter of intent and a potential deposit.

There was a vote to table the plans Friday morning, but the vote failed with a tie at five votes, which means the proposal will head to the Planning and Zoning Board in December.

The group dedicated to preserving the site posts updates to this Facebook group and is raising money to privately purchase the property through MountainTrue.

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