The gravy train: Incentives, development major topics at CIBO meeting

Over biscuits and gravy this morning at the Biltmore Square Mall food court, city officials talked to the Council of Independent Business Owners about attempts to change the way development is regulated in West Asheville, and shifting the way they do economic development to better help small businesses.

The city just finished an input process for switching development rules in West Asheville’s Haywood Road corridor to a form-based code. According to Planning Director Judy Daniel, that will mean that instead of regulating areas based on uses, “where there’s a different zone for each use, the concept is mixed uses are what’s normal. Instead, the zones [under a form-based code] relate to the form and size and how it interacts with the street.”

Daniel noted that in many cases, the changes will make it easier for occupants to change the use of space without much regulation, and will reduce the amount of projects that have to go before Asheville City Council or the city’s planning and zoning commission.

Maggie Ullman, the city’s chief sustainability officer, said staff are reviewing their economic development policies to see how they can incentivize more local and small businesses. Among the policies under review were its land-use incentives (which allow for grants along certain corridors) and thresholds that often require multi-million dollar investments to make a company eligible for incentives, leaving out many smaller businesses.

“We want to have tools you can easily access and use,” Ullman said. “We really want to see what we can do to fit that gap, so we’re going to change some incentives and maybe create some new ones.”

Mac Swicegood, a local appraiser and one of CIBO’s founders, said he wanted more specifics from Ullman, calling her talk about sustainable business “catchy words… I still don’t know what we’re talking about.” She replied that CIBO was being asked to become involved at the beginning of the process, and that more specific proposals will emerge as the city receives input and develops its proposals. Swicegood said they could help his business by doing a better job of clearing vagrants from the entrance of his building.

He wasn’t the only one to throw some criticisms the city’s way. Dwight Butner, the owner of Vincenzo’s Ristorante in downtown, angrily said washing the sidewalks would do the most to improve his business, and that the city isn’t doing so.

“For god’s sake, we’re talking about incentivizing new sidewalks, building new sidewalks, and we can’t keep them clean,” Butner said. “We keep writing these checks as taxpayers and we’re still not getting what should be ours.”

Assistant City Manager Cathy Ball said that the city’s set aside $150,000 for washing sidewalks, but that the contract won’t be finalized until January, and that environmental regulations limited some washing practices, but “we’re taking this seriously. This is a very high priority for us.”

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