Plans for controversial Chestnut Street development withdrawn

A proposed Chestnut Street development that sparked a major debate about the clash between neighborhood preservation and the need for more housing will not happen, as the developer withdrew the project yesterday due to neighborhood opposition and a number of issues with the development process.

“The unpredictability of the development process, minimal qualifications required for protest petitions, and the potential for further delays present risks that small developers such as Physis can ill afford,” developers Richard Fort and Chad Roberson of Physis, LLC declare in the withdrawal letter to city staff. “Enough is enough. Regrettably, we are withdrawing our rezoning application and will develop the sites as currently zoned.”

“Why is a developer seeking to affordably and sustainably develop infill sites presented with obstacles at every turn?” the letter continues.

The project, for a dense development of 16 modern-architecture style units (and the conversion of four pre-existing units to affordable housing) sent advocates of denser development near the city core on a collision course with neighborhood activists. Both sides framed it as potentially precedent-setting, and the project marked the first use of a density bonus that permits projects to exceed the normal number of units if they’re creating dense or affordable housing near the city’s core, a stated goal of Council.

Hearings for the project before the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission and Asheville City Council were repeatedly delayed. On Nov. 6, the commission gave its approval by a single vote, and neighbors of the project had filed a successful protest petition, meaning it would need a supermajority on Council to gain final approval. The final vote was scheduled for Council’s meeting next Tuesday, Jan. 28.

Depending on who you asked, the fate of the Chestnut Street project would either demonstrate how doable sorely-needed denser housing is with the city’s current rules, or set a precedent for intrusive development that goes against neighborhood character.

Now, the developers could bring forward a new proposal for developing the site or build something that didn’t require a change in the existing zoning. At the Nov. 6 hearings, the developers asserted that such a project molded to the desires of the neighborhood opponents would have significantly higher rents or less energy-efficient construction. In the letter, they assert that the city needs to limit community input to a single point early in the process, limit protest petitions and change rules to make denser development easier.

In an email to other neighborhood residents, Mark DeVerges, who opposed the project, wrote that he hoped any new proposal would be more in keeping with what they’d like to see for the area.

“Thank you to everyone who wrote, attended meetings, and outlined the impact this proposal was going to have on our neighborhood,” DeVerges wrote. “I really hope the developers use this fresh opportunity and gain some good momentum for a more desirable proposal we can be excited about.”

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