By Colin McCoy, Staff Writer
A major development at Old Coggins Farm is in the planning stages. This piece of property sits directly next to the college on Riceville Road and has historical significance to the area. It has been in the Coggins family since 1794. The initial plan was to build a community of 100 homes on the property. The developer, David Case, identified his goals for the new community as profit, social justice, and environmentalism. However, according to Laura Cruser, a native of the Coggins Farm area, this plan has drastically changed.
Cruser said the plan now consists of 382 units, including 60 condos for eldercare, a farm-to-table restaurant, offices, an elementary school, and retail space. Also, the amount of open space has shrunk since the original projection. The development is now planning for 50% open space.
To create this type of community would require a rezoning of the area from R-2 (Residential District) to PS (Public Service District). This would allow for the commercial facets of the development. Of the 169 acres on Coggins Farm, 108 would be rezoned. As of now, the rezoning is in the propositional phase, and the developer delayed the request. Unknown changes are being made to the plans and will be presented to the Buncombe County Board of Adjustments in April.
“Many of us in the Riceville, Warren Wilson, Old Farm School Road area have major concerns about the potential impacts such a large-scale development would have on our community,” Cruser said. “There is too much at risk here, concerning the environment – wildlife habitat, water quality – and the character of our rural community.” Along with the potential environmental and community damage, Cruser said that traffic along the roads in the area could increase.
Cruser fears this development wouldn’t stop at Coggins Farm. “It seems to me that the Coggins land is a tipping point for our community,” Cruser said. “Depending on the outcome, Coggins Farm could set a trend toward unsuitable development in the Riceville Valley and beyond.”
Warren Wilson plays a significant role in the planning of the development. In a statement to the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, the Planning Board stated that because Coggins Farm is “adjacent to a large institutional use (Warren Wilson College) – said zoning change is reasonable and is in the public interest.”
“In my opinion, using the Coggins, Warren Wilson College property line as an excuse to rezone Coggins for commercial development is ludicrous,” Cruser said. “To use Warren Wilson’s impeccably-managed forests and pastures as an excuse to plunk a city down in the middle of our rural landscape and culture is far from ‘appropriate’ and ‘reasonable,’ as the Planning Board claims.”
Cruser, however, doesn’t entirely disagree with the development, just the location. “I do not think the development as planned is necessarily a bad idea; this is just not at all the right place for it,” Cruser said. “Why not implement this plan in a place like Beacon in Swannanoa, which is in need of rejuvenation, and already equipped with proper infrastructure?”
Cruser was more in agreement with the development before the initial plans were altered. “While the development would mean change, here was plenty of good news: the scale, characteristics, and values of the development were largely compatible with those of the Riceville, Warren Wilson, Old Farm School Road community.” Cruser and her family have a long lasting relationship with the Warren Wilson community. “There is nowhere on Earth more special—or more a part of me—than this place. I grew up square dancing at homecoming, and learned how to swim in the pond,” Cruser said. “My mom was the postmistress at Warren Wilson from 1978 to 1989, and has been a part of the garden market since it began in the ’70s.”
She does worry that the college could be negatively affected. “It makes sense that Warren Wilson doesn’t want to lock its doors to the surrounding community,” Cruser said. “But I do worry what kind of toll an influx of people could have on the beauty and health of Warren Wilson’s forests, pastures, creeks, river, wildlife, and livestock.” Cruser is encouraging Wilson students to participate. A community petition was started in February and is available from her via email at Lscruser@aol.com. “We live in a one-of-a-kind community,” Cruser said. “The Old Coggins Farm development would put the character of our community at risk.”