Trees and trash proved contentious topics as members of Asheville City Council considered two Land Use Incentive Grants for affordable housing projects during a May 26 virtual meeting. Public commenters raised those respective objections to providing city property tax rebates for developments at 11 Collier Avenue and 2 Restaurant Court.
In accordance with rules enacted as part of the N.C. General Assembly’s COVID-19 relief package, members of the public can submit comments up to 24 hours after the public hearing portion of a virtual meeting. Council can’t vote on a matter until all public comments have been heard; therefore, the discussions regarding the LUIGs were recessed until Tuesday, June 9. A vote is expected at that time.
‘Signing a death warrant’
If the LUIG for the Collier project is approved, Wilmington-based Tribute Companies would receive a tax rebate of more than $383,000 for providing 54 units of downtown housing affordable at 80% or less of the area median income. However, the project has faced criticism from commenters who believe the land, which is home to nearly two dozen 100-year-old native oak trees, should be protected.
If Council moves forward with a grant for the project, said Steve Rasmussen, its members would be “signing a death warrant” for the last patch of mature tree canopy and potential green space in the South Slope neighborhood. The member of the Asheville GreenWorks Tree Protection Task Force said that the area is among the city’s most dangerous heat islands and worst areas for stormwater.
Dixie Deerman, Rasmussen’s wife and fellow long-time tree advocate, also urged Council not to approve the LUIG, saying it would “ruin and destroy” the last forest in the neighborhood. “It’s outrageous. Stop the madness. This is no time to run headlong with bad practices and to continue to ignore and impede public outcry against this,” she said.
The approval of the LUIG would not mean that negotiations over the trees are finished, noted Council member Julie Mayfield. Discussions with the developer will continue, and community activists have been given time to raise an estimated $600,000 to purchase the land themselves. “Our vote on this does not mean the fate of this property is sealed,” she said.
Chris Day, an engineer with Civil Design Projects, confirmed that the developers remain in active conversations with the nonprofit Ravenscroft Reserve Initiative about conserving the land. “As I think about this not as a design professional but as a local, it’s kind of a win-win,” he said. “If the nonprofit moves forward and preserves the site, there’s some benefit there, but otherwise we’ve got a great 54-unit affordable housing project on the South Slope very close to transit, to Mission Hospitals, to schools, to grocery. It’s a great project.”
Beaucatcher trash ‘intolerable’
Callers from East Asheville urged Council to think carefully before approving a grant for the 2 Restaurant Court project, which would include 40 one-bedroom units affordable at 80% or less of AMI. An apartment complex across the street at 444 Beaucatcher Road, also built by prospective Restaurant Court developer Kirk Booth, has a serious trash problem, they said.
“I believe in affordable housing; however, the garbage problem at 444 Beaucatcher, the neighboring development, is intolerable,” explained Megan Reilly Buser, who lives at 451 Beaucatcher Road. Residents of the development, she said, have told her that they don’t get recycling service, causing their trash bins to overflow into the street.
Buser said she understood 444 Beaucatcher LLC, a company owned by Booth, had been fined over the trash issue. But she claimed that Booth offset those costs by increasing rent, thus making the affordable housing unaffordable. In turn, residents at 444 Beaucatcher blamed their neighbors for the rent increase. “Honestly, neither the neighbors nor the tenants should have to pay for Booth’s irresponsibility,” she said.
As of time of press, Booth could not be reached for comment.
Susan Andrew, who said she’s lived on Beaucatcher Road for 25 years, also requested that Council hold off on approving the grant until Booth fixed the trash problem at 444 Beaucatcher. “I ask that you step back, take a deep breath, do your research, visit the site, look at the problems that are there and ask this developer to solve the issues with the existing development before you give public funding for a new one,” she said.
Separate from the grant, Council unanimously approved a $1 million loan from the city’s Housing Trust Fund for the Restaurant Court project. But before the LUIG proposal comes back to Council for a vote June 9, Mayfield asked staff and Booth to address the trash concerns. If Council doesn’t approve the grant, the developers will need to resubmit an application for the Housing Trust Fund loan.