Food and shelter

Observe and report: Asheville City Council members Gordon Smith and Chris Pelly, along with city staff, take in a report at the Jan. 10 meeting. Photo by Bill Rhodes
Observe and report: Asheville City Council members Gordon Smith and Chris Pelly, along with city staff, take in a report at the Jan. 10 meeting. Photo by Bill Rhodes

Asheville City Council Jan. 10, 2012 meeting

  • Charlotte Diocese offers $2 million for downtown property
  • City considers permits for Occupy Asheville campers

In a short but busy Jan. 10 session, Asheville City Council members approved a number of changes to the Unified Development Ordinance. One took center stage: allowing fresh-food markets in residential areas.

The change allows institutional buildings in residential areas (such as schools, churches and community centers) to host “fruit and vegetable markets.” Other foods such as meat and eggs may also be sold, though nonfood items are discouraged to “prevent a more flea-market style use,” Assistant Planning Director Shannon Tuch explained.

J. Clarkson of MANNA FoodBank endorsed the move. “Perhaps you've heard reports about the extraordinary level of food insecurity in our area,” he said. “By and large, fresh fruits and vegetables are not getting to the people that most need them.”

MANNA, he added, is working with the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project to enable more tailgate markets to accept food stamps.

“When we get these markets into areas where people can access them, it works,” reported Clarkson. “The problem now is, we don't have them in enough neighborhoods. These areas are where people can walk to.”

A national study released last month by the Food Research and Action Center ranked the Asheville metropolitan area the seventh worst in the country for food hardship.

“If we can have these markets available when the most people can be there, we can really start to make a dent in this,” noted Council member Gordon Smith. Accordingly, he questioned a provision, aimed at ensuring adequate parking, that the markets couldn't operate during the host institution's primary hours.

Nonetheless, Council unanimously approved the measure, along with some other UDO tweaks.

A roof overhead

Council also unanimously approved $420,000 in loans from the city's Housing Trust Fund to two proposed developments.

One, a rental project on Johnston Boulevard in West Asheville, requested and received $200,000 in city loans. The cottage-style development will create 18 affordable units.

The remaining $220,000 was earmarked for Mountain Housing Opportunities’ renovation of the historic Glen Rock Hotel in the River Arts District. The project, which will include 22 affordable units plus commercial space, is phase three of the Glen Rock Depot development.

Council member Marc Hunt praised both projects but voiced concern about depleting the fund, since the city’s planned contribution this year ($300,000) is less than the cost of the two loans.

“I think replenishing this is something we need to look at for the next fiscal year,” said Hunt.

Staff replied that they expect to have enough money left to meet any additional requests this fiscal year.

“Both these developers have a great history with us; these projects wouldn't happen without the Housing Trust Fund,” said Council member Jan Davis. “We've seen this mature enough to see a lot of the fruits of this come forward. Hopefully, the fund and the housing stock will continue to grow.”

Other business

Council members also:

• Heard a report on a $2 million offer from the Diocese of Charlotte to buy parcels across the street from the Basilica of St. Lawrence. A diocese representative expressed concern about potential damage to the historic structure during construction by another developer.

Under the terms of the deal, the city would receive $1 million immediately and another $1 million once the diocese finalized plans for developing the site — perhaps as a small plaza. In exchange, the city would have to tear down an abandoned storefront and derelict parking garage and convert the property into surface parking in the interim.

City Manager Gary Jackson encouraged Council to assess the proposal carefully, considering the property’s value and how it might help the city meet its goals. • Directed staff to draft a permitting policy for the Occupy Asheville encampment in time for Council’s Jan. 24 meeting. Council’s Public Safety Committee rejected a camping ban proposed by staff, instead proposing temporary permits for individual campers participating in a protest action.

• Unanimously approved adding parts of south Asheville to the list of areas eligible for incentives under the city's land-use policy. The move was encouraged by Biltmore Farms, the developer of Biltmore Park, noting that the incentives could encourage denser, smarter growth in the rapidly urbanizing area.

— David Forbes can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 137, or at dforbes@mountainx.com.

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