Asheville Planning and Zoning Commission approves Larchmont Project

The Asheville Planning and Zoning Commission met Wednesday evening, March 3, and approved the Larchmont Project, 5-1, Byers against. Xpress reporter David Forbes covered the meeting via Twitter. Here are his dispatches in order:

5 p.m.: The first floor of City Hall is packed with people waiting to comment on the Larchmont affordable housing project.

Planning Chair Cindy Weeks recuses herself from the Larchmont decision due to her work with Mountain Housing Opportunities, the project’s developers.

Larchmont project is proposed to have 60 units, a playground, courtyard, all afforable housing, mostly 1-bedroom units. City Planning staff supports project’s approval, says it meets infill-development, transit-density, green-building, and affordable-housing goals.

MHO staff says the buildings will be 100 ft away from property line; we will plant 132 trees on site and take care to minimize impact on neighborhood. Larchmont architect John Legerton says there is already housing scattered through area that is 1.5-2 times as dense, so the project is not out of keeping for the area.

Project attorney Wyatt Stevens says if Larchmont is not approved, uses like a nursing home or office complex could go on the parcel. “This is not spot zoning… Comes right out of the city’s plans.” With less units “it would not be affordable”; 700+ such housing units are needed in north Asheville. Countering complaints MHO has received, Stevens says, “This is workforce housing… there are no crime or safety issues.”

Resident Larry Holt: Project would be welcome if smaller; “we feel 60 units is excessive. … Workforce housing is not the issue… the scale of the project is not in keeping with the neighborhood.”
Resident Sidney Bach: “This project is a runaway train which, if not checked, will become a runaway wreck.”
Resident Denise Howser: “Urban density creates sustainable cities,” I’m confident in the quality of MHO’s project.
Resident Don March: Project density is “in keeping with other things in the neighborhood”; it won’t worsen traffic.
Resident Andrew Taschey presented a petition with 350 north Asheville residents’ signatures opposing the rezoning that is necessary for project.
Resident Jenny Mercer: I’d rather have the project than alternatives; workforce housing is needed as the neighborhood is no longer affordable.
Resident Bill Mercer: Compromise is needed. Residents need to accept that the site will be developed. MHO needs to reduce to 40-45 units.
Resident Beth Maczka: City needs to develop along transit corridors like Merrimon Avenue. “I welcome these new residents.”
Resident Cecil Bjorn: “This sustainable development thing is ridiculous. What you need here is capitalism.”
Louise Ruth, of Grace Lutheran: The church supports the development; “it works towards an open community for all.”
Paul Willard: “The more I looked into it, MHO is just another developer”; the site is too small.
Resident Beverly Nevins: “It’s going to improve my view; right now it looks out on a Subway… density is a fact of life in cities.”
Resident Dean Hilton: More cars in area due to the project could harm response time of nearby fire department.
Fire Chief Scott Burnette: Additional traffic volume from the project won’t have an impact on our response time.

Planning Commissioner Cannady says he has concerns about parking, but likes the project, trusts MHO. He makes a motion for approval.
Commissioner Tom Byers says he respects MHO, but will vote against the project due to neighborhood opposition and the density increase.
Commissioner Steven Sizemore says the project meets the city’s needs; the old zoning was based on use at the time, not circumstances today.
Commissioner Jerome Jones: “I feel the pain of more traffic” on Merrimon, but the city needs affordable housing “for the greater good.”
Vice Chair Darryl Hart says, “Overall, a good project… [It’s] what the city’s been looking for in this area.”

9:45 p.m.: Planning and Zoning Commission approves Larchmont project 5-1, Byers against.

For earlier Xpress coverage, see:
http://www.mountainx.com/news/2007/debate_builds_ahead_of_larchmont_hearing/

http://www.mountainx.com/blogwire/larchmont_project_off_merrimon_ave_deserves_consideration/

To view the Larchmont application: http://www.mountainx.com/xpressfiles/larchmont_development_application/

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36 thoughts on “Asheville Planning and Zoning Commission approves Larchmont Project

  1. Dirk Diggler

    What good is ZONING for density restriction if the CITY just comes along and changes it, willynilly? If this were a ‘private’ developer wanting too much density, the outrage would be deafening. Remember that your Mayor is an MHO person. This REEKS of insider cronyism. The property is ZONED for 37 apartments NOT 60 !!! Its TOO MANY for many REASONS ! ! !

  2. Susanne

    Way to go City Council! Thank you for your support of workforce housing in Asheville. MHO did an amazing job of addressing the traffic concerns of the neighborhood with their presentation. It’s great to see our City Council working for everyone in our community! I live in West Asheville and would like to invite MHO to build workforce housing in my neighborhood.

  3. Doug Sahm

    Can someone please give me a good argument as to why “workforce housing” is needed so badly in this particular area of Asheville?
    Heaven forbid anybody in this town question the need for “workforce housing”, but I think people need to really question the validity of these claims of more “workforce housing” being essential to our city.
    Where is this need for more workers being housed on North Merrimon coming from?
    Not trying to start an argument, I really am interested in hearing some facts regarding the need for 60 more units of “workforce housing” on North Merrimon.

  4. NorthAvlResident

    Doug, MountainXpress seems to be the wrong place asking for counter arguments to the Larchmont project.

  5. Jeff Fobes

    Doug: Not to take side on the debate, but to answer your particular question of why do might there be a need for workforce housing in north Asheville:

    Asheville is not a large town, and this particular location is only minutes from downtown and so could be considered centrally located. A person living in this area of north Asheville can easily access other parts of town, including by bus.

  6. Jonathan Barnard

    Dirk, most members of Council claim to want to increase density in and near downtown and along transit corridors. There are all kinds of fiscal, social and environmental reasons why this kind of development makes a lot of sense. Increasing density in these places is also a goal outlined in the city’s 2025 plan. There’s nothing “willynilly” about this kind of zoning change. I agree that a private developer would probably have met with greater resistance. But I hope that Asheville continues to be open to high-density development along transit corridors, whether from private or non-profit developers.

  7. Doug Sahm

    “There are all kinds of fiscal, social and environmental reasons why this kind of development makes a lot of sense.”

    What are they? Specific to the development under consideration far north of Downtown.

  8. ashevillelokel

    It will be interesting to see what the occupancy rate is for this place …. and someone should keep track of the number of times the police are called to the address when (if ever) the place is finished.

    Affordable housing is VERY necessary in a “service industry” town where many in the field barely make minimum wage, have no health insurance (employer provided), where the cost of living is the HIGHEST in NC and home prices (rent included) are artificially inflated as a result of the McMansion mentality of many in the area.

  9. travelah

    I am all for this housing project. I think there should be more of them, all close to downtown so that the residents can fully participate in the downtown experience.

  10. Jason Ross Martin

    Doug:

    The workforce needs more housing. Period.
    Have you looked at apartment rents lately? Probably not. You don’t care what kind of living arrangements those of us in service professions have I imagine. You just don’t want any of us to look you in the eye when you purchase your wares from US in these stores around here…. makes it harder to conveniently ignore the impossible math of Asheville to the majority of its Workers.

  11. Lesley Groetsch

    Workforce housing is essential to recruiting the best teachers, emergency personnel and service industry workers to Asheville. Even with salaries well above minimum wage, many working in these fields can’t afford local market rents and end up moving to more affordable cities. There is a huge difference between workforce housing and “housing projects,” and deliberately confusing the two is nothing more than a fear tactic.
    And workforce housing need not support only downtown workers. There are many schools, fire stations, restaurants, stores and businesses very close to this proposed development. Close enough to be accessible by foot, bicycle or bus. With our city moving towards better public and non-automobile transportation, by the time this project is completed, there should be even more transportation alternatives available to the residents.

  12. Doug Sahm

    Jason, you have no idea what my background is. Also, your response, based on self-serving assumption, makes you appear angry and bitter.

    I am all for respectable dialogue on this subject, but I do not consider insults to be productive for either side.

    Now lets move on. Can someone cite some facts and figures on why 60 more units of “workforce housing” is needed in this particular spot?

  13. Doug Sahm

    Thank you Lesley.
    “There is a huge difference between workforce housing and “housing projects,”
    I think many of us on my side of the argument see this as one step up from “government housing”, so what exactly are we looking at here? Where did the city arrive at the conclusion that 60 units are needed instead of what that area was originally zoned for?

  14. Jonathan Barnard

    Doug, you asked for fiscal, economic and social reasons. I think Lesley and Jason already covered the desperate need for workforce housing, which is a social reason. Environmental: High Density housihng consumes much less energy per person. And it will be especially true here, as residents will be close to services and jobs on Merrimon and downtown (only about a milie away and 15 minutes by bus). Fiscal: The city will have much less new infrastructure (pavement, water mains) to build and maintain by putting 60 units here, than it would, say, by annexing the equivalent amount of units at the edge of the city.

  15. Jason Ross Martin

    56+

    Well to be honest Doug, I see it as one step up from government housing too, and That’s A Good Thing. Because clearly capitalist-only perspectives in the creation of housing around here leads to gated communities, Mt. Millions I mean Reynolds Mountain, and all kinds of fancy condos and such downtown. The hands WE’VE elected are signing the potential of these spots into existence for US.

    Living just off Merrimon already, as I have done for 10 years, I am the ideal kind of person who needs a more doable rent in order to continue to thrive in the downtown economy. I’m single, college-educated, with good credit and an excellent work history. And I’m sure there’s plenty more people like me who would like to consider such a situation as the one being proposed at the old eyesore location. Perhaps you should consider that the new development will bring excellent tenants to a dead area. Or haven’t you noticed all the closed businesses (RIP Picnics) and graffiti covered pseudo-ghetto that’s emerged on this street anyway!

  16. Jake

    Compromise, people, compromise. MHO is being a bully. They won’t engage in any meaningful discussion with the neighborhood, which is terrible.

    Look, the land is zoned at 37 units for a reason. So why can’t MHO scale back the project and try to make it a “win” for the neighborhood and for themselves? Why should the residents of this neighborhood bear a disproportionate burden? Why should MHO’s “numbers” be the neighborhood’s problem?

    The manner in which this case has progressed is troubling, as it stands in stark contrast to the approach publicly espoused by the City. Where was the neighborhood input at the earliest stages? Where is the developer’s effort to elicit buy-in from the neighborhood?

    Come on, let’s get this right.

  17. Doug Sahm

    Exactly Jake. My questions are more of “why there?” and “why that many?”, etc…
    I guess I am really looking for facts and figures to back up such statements as “the desperate need for workforce housing” for that particular spot.
    Like Jake says, this wouldn’t be so much of a problem if the city was not going against an already established zoning restriction.

  18. Jonathan Barnard

    “the land is zoned at 37 units for a reason”

    The city wants to increase density along transit corridors for good reasons. To do that, it will have to change zoning designations in many cases. I’d like to see more than 60 units on this site. It’s particularlly well suited for high-density housing: a 15-minute bus ride from downtown, within walking distance of grocery stores and many services, and downhill from residential neighbors.

    “MHO is being a bully.”

    No it’s not. It’s doing its job. And several neighbors spoke at P&Z in favor of the project.

  19. Jonathan Barnard

    “I guess I am really looking for facts and figures to back up such statements as ‘the desperate need for workforce housing…’”

    Asheville is notorious for having incomes below the state average and housing costs above the state average. See following link:

    http://www.city-data.com/city/Asheville-North-Carolina.html

    Why put high-density housing on that particular spot? It’s an excellent spot for it–for reasons mentioned in many posts above–and it’s available. When other well-suited spots become available, I will likewise support high-density housing on them.

  20. Lee

    Mr. Barnard, if such a development were being requested within such a short distance from your home, would you be putting for the same argument in favor of that?

    Let’s say, for example, that the property where the Army Reserve Center in West Asheville sits were to undergo the same fate at that of the Naval Reserve Center. Would you support such, or denser, housing there? How many units per acre would you support?

    Having actually worked in the affordable housing industry in the Asheville area for the last 30 years, I support affordable housing but I do not support high density housing to accomplish it. I’m all for them putting the number of units that the current zoning allows in that location, but not more.

  21. Jonathan Barnard

    Lee, if similar density housing were proposed for the Army Reserve Center property, I would support it, yes. I believe that developers should be able to go to six stories along commerical transit corridors (as the Asheville Planning Department had originally proposed for the Neighborhood Corridor Zoning that was first implemented on Broadway). I would be very concerned that it was done right, but MHO has an excellent track record on that score.

  22. Carrie

    I think this is fantastic. There more people who work downtown (or close to it) and can afford to live so close, the more people will bring their business here. It’s something I can’t see the downside of. I guess, to me, it doesn’t sound so big but the impact will be for so many people who get to live there!

  23. erock

    This is a great thing for asheville. Sky-high rent and the ridiculous cost of living that Asheville has bestowed on itself is driving young professionals out of town. This is definitely something the core downtown workers will eventually appreciate. The need for 60 units has been made clear and you also have to factor in the cost of the land/lot into the number of units needed to keep the project going money-wise. Cutting that number in half would kill the project and MHO would take a major hit in the wallet….that would be a shame for someone who is actually employing city residents itself and helping the community’s core working residents.

  24. Jake

    erock said:
    “The need for 60 units has been made clear and you also have to factor in the cost of the land/lot into the number of units needed to keep the project going money-wise. Cutting that number in half would kill the project and MHO would take a major hit in the wallet…”

    Actually, the need is for far more than 60 units. This property happens to be zoned for 37. Let’s see MHO build 37 here and 370 on other properties all around town.

    Please, will someone tell me why the same neighborhood that was rudely stiffed by the city on the Merrimon Avenue Corridor Study is now being expected to roll over for an out-sized development project? For crying out loud, consider the neighbors and the neighborhood!

    Regarding your claims regarding MHO finances, I beg you to back them up with actual data. Let’s SEE the numbers. Until that information is public, I’m not buying claims about financial requirements, and I can’t see why anyone would.

  25. Ben Simpson

    60 affordable housing units and the developer gets 8.3 MILLION in public funding? And you say the fix is not in? An idiot could build affordable housing for lots more people with that kind of payday. Why have they pushed this so hard, JUST FOLLOW THE MONEY! Then have us believe it won’t hurt our fire insurance rates because 100+ people won’t make any traffic or congestion and won’t delay the Fire Station they are in front of?? GREEN WASHING! When the truth comes to pass it will be too late and the fix for their mistake will be ON OUR DIME. If you keep score: Taxpayers-zero, developer-one
    County owns the property so if you believe all the fear hype about the unlimited height or purple gym buildings that COULD go there, what does that say about your trust of the county that owns that land?

  26. Kelly Miner

    Zoning only counts if you are not the preferred developer with contacts and associates sitting on all the boards and heading some. Very few people that spoke in favor @ P&Z were not current or former employees or somehow “connected”. It is a project with BIG, BIG,BIG money. Lots of political wrangling for this cash rich project. How many housing units could be developed for over 8 million dollars of public funds? See how this is a pattern of projects with all the details worked out and all the players committed before the public even finds out. Read about Waynesville and other projects that couildn’t even be slowed down. Also, If you actually believe Buncombe County will ever get paid for the land, keep living in Oz cause that is another fantasy. Debt service for 20-25 years and the price will be waived (who will even notice that far down the road)

  27. travelah

    Most of you will not want to live there after a while. But, I’m just saying ….. I’m all for a lot of these things close to downtown … maybe 500 units or more all close enough so the residents can walk downtown and hang out, get beer and cigs when needed and giv Patton Ave a whole new character.

  28. The argument seems to be
    “Asheville needs more affordable housing because area incomes are low in comparison to the state”

    Are we focused on the wrong problem? Maybe we should figure out a way to increase wages, and not add more “step above” public housing. The millions of dollars set aside for developer profit could actually go to “relocation incentives” for businesses that can provide higher paying jobs.

    If the property had been sold at fair-market value to a private developer with the intent to put more “luxury” condos than zoning called for on that piece, I doubt we would see as much grassroots support.

  29. Alan Ditmore

    This is a big win for property rights, affordable housing and bus density environment all 3. Just because the property is being developed by a nonprofit doesn’t mean they are not the property owners or that they don’t have property rights or that winning what they want on their own property is not a property rights victory. However we do want the same treatment for all homebuilders and not just nonprofits or those promising to be initially affordable. Many apartments are now becomming affordable that were not planned or built as such, which is both good and inevitable.

  30. “This is a big win for property rights”

    If I lived next door to a property that I bought knowing that it was zoned for 37 units, and then some one developed 60 units instead, I would think my property rights had been violated.

  31. Alan Ditmore

    You, JMAC, would think wrong because property rights are sovereign to the property that you actually own and do not extend to that of your neighbors.

  32. ironhead

    Cindy Weeks chairs the Planning & Zoning Commission. Cindy Weeks also works for the project’s developer, the nonprofit Mountain Housing. That she abstained from voting on the project does not, to my mind, lessen her obvious conflict of interest. This is the main point of my objection to the process and the outcome.

  33. Ben Simpson

    Alan, you are a true champion for property rights or rather the end of them. I think is is great that you believe you have no say over your neighbors property. The County OWNS this property and unless I am incorrect, they were financed by me and us and you. If they can do whatever they want without any questions or oversight then we really DO have a problem. The issue here is the shady way this entire deal was put together. The more you research, the dirtier it looks and the more connections between the officials and the developer. Good luck in your fantasy world, To everyone else, look at how your elected and appointed officials operated, transparent as mud and just as dirty. Read, study, research then lay down, roll over and shut up-here it comes!

  34. Nancy Alenier

    “Workforce housing is essential to recruiting the best teachers, emergency personnel and service industry workers to Asheville.” Lesley Groetsch

    As has been proven, there is a surplus of qualified personnel in Asheville, desperate for work. Perhaps in a thriving economy with low unemployment, your claim to need the recruitment edge might have merit, but it is simply untrue and more importantly, irrelevant to the argument about conditional zoning. And again, no teacher employed by the City or County school system can qualify to live at the Larchmont; starting salaries exceed eligibility.

    “Cutting that number in half would kill the project and MHO would take a major hit in the wallet..” erock

    Unless you’ve seen and analyzed the budget for the project, you cannot make that claim. Actually, it is the combination of the lucrative ‘developer’s fees’ and tax credits for the wealthy investors that make the project less profitable at a reasonable scale. However, the budgetary considerations for the developer and its investors should have been immaterial to rezoning decisions. But in the end, that was the only basis for their argument and ultimately, for approval of the rezoning petition.

    “Regarding your claims regarding MHO finances, I beg you to back them up with actual data. Let’s SEE the numbers. Until that information is public, I’m not buying claims about financial requirements, and I can’t see why anyone would.”
    Jake to erock

    Agreed.

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