Parking on downtown Asheville’s southside could become much easier in the near future. While County Commissioners were approving plans for a 650-space parking deck on county-owned land along Coxe Avenue at their Sept. 16 meeting, City Council members gave an informal OK to a proposed mixed-use development on Biltmore Avenue that would add an additional 437 hourly and monthly spaces.
As part of a public/private partnership with Public Interest Projects Inc. and the McKibbon Hotel Group, the city hopes to sign off on the project at its Oct. 14 formal meeting. At Council’s Sept. 16 work session, no vote was taken on the project known as 51 Biltmore, but Council members seemed impressed with the plans and were intent on seeing that the terms of the deal were set in time for a final vote on the project next month.
The development already has received unanimous approvals by the Downtown Commission and the city’s Technical Review Committee. It goes next to the Planning & Zoning Commission for formal review on Oct. 1.
The project is a mixed-use building that includes an Aloft Hotel, sub-leased retail spaces along Biltmore Avenue, a city-owned parking garage with 437 spaces and public restrooms, and a component that will be a second phase for an area along Biltmore Avenue and Lexington Avenue to include affordable housing units.
Also at its work session, Council unanimously asked City Manager Gary Jackson to work out a policy to protect free-speech activities at downtown’s bus transit center on Coxe Avenue.
Currently there is no policy, and those attempting to pass out literature, make speeches, or register voters are routinely asked to leave or move their activities to the adjacent sidewalk. City Attorney Bob Oast explained that transit center managers are allowed to do that for operational and safety reasons because the center is designated a use-specific facility.
Local activist Gilean Kearns was recently booted from the site while attempting to register voters, and subsequently complained to Council. After a discussion, Council members stated that they saw no reason why nondisruptive free-speech activities couldn’t be done on the site, despite concerns about traffic flow, pedestrian and passenger safety, litter and other concerns voiced by the center’s management.
All seven council members asked Jackson to work out a change in policy and report back in a week.
“Of course we should allow First Amendment activities on city property,” said Council member Robin Cape. “I personally cannot support us keeping people from engaging in a civil manner.”
Council member Carl Mumpower asked Oast whether there have ever been any problems in the past, to which Oast replied no. Council member Brownie Newman said that as long as any activities were reasonable, nondisruptive and nonoffensive to what amounts to a captive audience at the center, then the city shouldn’t stifle speech.
In other business, Council received an update on the city’s Water Master Plan from Interim Water Resources Director Robert Griffin. The verdict? A likely continuation of the area’s population boom over the next 30 years will mean that the city will have to spend millions to improve and expand water service, and will likely have to tap into the French Broad River for supplemental water supplies.
WIth that future growth, the water-treatment plant capacity will need to be increased around the year 2025. Between now and 2037, the city’s outside consultant projects 14 pipeline installations, one pump station replacement, one new pump station and additional water-treatment plant capacity at a total estimated cost of nearly $60.5 million. This amount does not include recommended annual costs for pipe replacement due to age or any line extensions that the city accepts from developers.
For a complete reoirt on Council’s work session, check out the Sept. 24 edition of Xpress.
— Hal L. Millard, staff writer