With the evening’s expected main attraction — a zoning request for a new 185-room hotel on Haywood Street — postponed until a later meeting, Asheville City Council busied itself with other matters on Jan. 10. The free downtown shuttle service offered by Slidr received final approval, as did a request to voluntarily annex a 4.8-acre parcel in South Asheville and an amendment to the zoning approval for the RAD Lofts housing development planned for Roberts Street. Council also agreed to move forward with a study of voters’ attitudes about district elections for positions on City Council.
A report on the Housing Authority of the City of Asheville’s Family Self-Sufficiency program provided an opportunity to contemplate the flip side of what Council member Julie Mayfield (who serves as Council’s liaison to the HACA board) characterized as the bad news normally associated with residents of public housing. Through the FSS program, HACA Chief Operating Officer David Nash explained, any HACA resident can receive skills training and support in obtaining employment. Once a resident is working, their increased income will result in a higher rent; the difference between the new rent and the previous rent, Nash said, is matched by the Authority in an escrow account for the resident. If the resident meets all of his or her individual goals by the end of a four-year period, the resident receives the escrow funds. Participants have used those funds as a down payment on a home or a car or to launch a business, he said.
HACA staffer Katelyn Mattox has been working to support residents in the program for three years. She told Council about housing resident Ginger Kelley, who joined the FSS program in 2012. To pursue her dream of operating a glamour and wedding business, Kelly received both her cosmetology and aesthetician licenses from Blue Ridge Community College. Kelly saved over $4,000 in her personal emergency fund and also opened her own business, Posh Lash Lounge and Beauty Bar. Upon completion of the FSS program, Kelly received almost $5,000 from her escrow account. Through a program that helps Section 8 voucher recipients pursue homeownership, she bought a home for herself and her son in 2015. One year later, she voluntarily left that program so that more funds would be available for those in greater need, Mattox said. Kelly has now achieved her goal of being free of public assistance.
Staffer Shaunda Sandford told the story of Traci Taylor-Freeze, who came into housing in 2009 during a period of unemployment. In 2011, she joined the FSS. Taylor-Freeze began to build the framework for operating a cleaning business. She purchased a franchise and launched Superior Taylor-Maid, which now employees nine. Taylor-Freeze won the Service Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2016 from Carolina Small Business. When she graduated from the FSS program, Sandford said, Taylor-Freeze had accumulated nearly $7,000 in her escrow account. Her next goal is to buy a home of her own.
Although HACA can’t take credit for all of the programs that supported these two success stories and others like them, Nash said, six Authority staff members provide case management and other services to the FSS program.
Council member Keith Young asked Nash how many public housing residents are enrolled in the program; about 200 of around 1,400 total residents living in public housing, Nash responded. Mattox later clarified that Nash misspoke; about 200 of the 2,900 residents living in public housing participate in the program, she wrote in an email. Nash has informed Council of the correction, she said.
“This is a very good program,” Young commented.
“This is an amazing program that is changing peoples’ lives at a fundamental level,” Mayfield added.
For the 100th anniversary year of the Land of the Sky Association of Realtors, Council proclaimed 2017 “Land of the Sky Association of Realtors” year. A group of realtors led by Randall Barnett accepted the proclamation.
Oralene Graves Anderson Simmons, the founder of Asheville’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Annual Prayer Breakfast, accepted Mayor Esther Manheimer‘s proclamation of Jan. 14-16 as “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Days” in the city of Asheville.
In its consent agenda, Council gave the final approval for Slidr, an all-electric-vehicle shuttle service serving downtown, Biltmore Village and the River Arts District. The free service is supported by advertising displayed inside the vehicles; drivers work for tips.
Council voted to apply for and, if awarded, accept, a $90,000 grant from the Duke Energy Water Resources Fund to support a storm water management device on the French Broad River Greenway West Bank and design for a Restorative Landscape Plan for the River Arts District Transportation Project (RADTIP) area. Council also approved a $700,000 roof repair contract for a city-owned building on Bingham Road, a $500,000 water infrastructure project serving large customer connections and an application for a $100,000 DWI Task Force grant.
After voting to continue a hearing on a new ordinance that would establish screening standards for electrical substations to June 13, Council also voted to continue a hearing on a proposed 185-room Embassy Suites Hotel at 192 Haywood St. until Jan. 24.
The substation hearing, Manheimer explained, needed to be delayed because Duke Energy is “still working on” its plans for locating new substations in the city.
The hearing on the Haywood Street hotel was postponed due to the absence on Jan. 10 of Council member Brian Haynes, who was out of town. Attorney Bob Oast, who represents the hotel’s developer, Parks Hospitality Group, said his client was “happy to accommodate the city” by rescheduling the public hearing and proposed Jan. 24 as an alternate date.
Manheimer recused herself from a hearing involving the voluntary annexation and rezoning of property at 12 Loop Road in South Asheville, explaining that her law firm represents the property owner, Greg Edney.
Following a discussion of the annexation and zoning request, Council unanimously approved both. Edney plans to develop 80,000 square feet of commercial retail space with associated parking on the site, which also includes parcels at 352 and a portion of 360 Airport Road.
At the request of Mayfield, Edney agreed to arrange for the installation of a traffic signal that automatically gives a pedestrian walk signal rather than one that requires a pedestrian to push a button for a signal.
Council also considered an amendment to a previously approved zoning application for the RAD Lofts at 146 Roberts St. Council last heard from the project’s developer in May 2015, said city planner Jessica Bernstein. Since then, the developer’s financing arrangements have slightly altered the project plans, thus triggering the new approval request, she said.
The residential component of the mixed-use complex will include eight fewer units than before, but it will retain its previous distribution of five percent of the units as affordable housing (a total in both the original and the revised plans of 12 units) and 95 percent workforce housing, Bernstein said. The retail component of the project will be reduced slightly, while the office component will be eliminated. Additional discussion explored possible screening requirements and options for a new retaining wall, which Bernstein said will only be visible from inside the parking structure, not from the street.
Assured by City Manager Gary Jackson that any potential impact from the plan revisions on the project’s Land Use Incentive Grant (which rebates city fees in exchange for developers’ commitments to providing affordable housing for a set length of time, usually 15 years) would be worked out or brought back to Council for review, Council voted unanimously to approve the revised zoning application.
Manheimer introduced a discussion of districted elections for the seven-member City Council. Council members and the mayor are currently elected in citywide, at-large voting.
A bill to impose districts on the city introduced into the last session of the North Carolina General Assembly by retiring Senator Tom Apodaca of Hendersonville came close to succeeding, the mayor said. Assuming that city staff have time to take on the project of collecting citizen input to determine how Asheville residents would prefer to elect municipal leaders in the future, Manheimer said, “I don’t see a downside of trying to gauge interest in district elections.”
After Council member Cecil Bothwell said he would support a study to determine public attitudes on the issue, he stated that he remains opposed to the idea.
Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler commented that it didn’t seem appropriate for Council members to weigh in with their opinions on the issue at this time, since Council was only considering whether the city should facilitate a “public conversation” on the matter.
Young said it was important that city elected officials not be perceived as biased on the issue in the eyes of state legislators.
Council member Gordon Smith expressed concern that it would be difficult to elicit feedback that accurately represents public sentiment, since many different options and forms of districting are possible in the state. Mayfield suggested that, as with the recent bond referendum, public polling would be a possible method for gauging opinions.
With a general round of nodding, Council instructed city staff to develop a program for studying the issue to provide “a robust opportunity for people to weigh in,” in the words of the mayor. She did not open the floor to public comment on district elections, saying it was best to begin collecting that input during the study.
Boards and commissions
Wisler, who serves as Council’s liaison to the Asheville City Schools Board, volunteered to serve on a committee charged with selecting a new superintendent for the district. Her offer was accepted.
Council voted to make the following appointments:
- Board of Adjustment: appointed Pratik Bhakta (regular); Paul Wilczynski (alternate); Misty Miller (alternate) and Richard Carpenter (regular)
- Board of Electrical Examiners: City Clerk to re-advertise
- Firemen’s Relief Fund: reappointed Barbara Whitehorn
- Historic Resources Commission: Council to interview three candidates
- Metropolitan Sewerage District (MSD): reappointed Esther Manheimer
- Asheville Area Riverfront Redevelopment Commission: reappointed Cindy Weeks and Carleton Collins; Council to interview Darren Green and Jerry Sternberg for remaining seat
- Soil Erosion/Stormwater Review Committee: reappointed Pete Hildebrand and appointed Catherine Rosjford (Note: Mayfield was invited to attend the next meeting of the Boards and Commissions Committee to discuss possible changes to the composition and/or role of this committee.)
- Sustainability Advisory Committee on Energy & the Environment: reappointed Sonia Marcus and appointed Maggie Gulick and Anne Keller
- Tree Commission: appointed Ed Macie and Shawn Swartz
Council went into closed session to discuss a city lawsuit at about 6:30 p.m. The body adjourned from closed session.
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Editor’s note: this story was updated at 3:10 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 12.