ADU task force recommendations clouded by process concerns

City of Asheville homestay permitting statistics to be presented at Dec. 13 meeting of City Council. Table provided by city of Asheville

Disputes over what kinds of residential arrangements should be eligible for the city’s homestay rental program seem likely to get an airing when City Council hears a report on the findings of a task force devoted to that issue next week.  

The task force was appointed by City Council earlier this year to develop recommendations for the use of accessory units as short-term rentals. The group is slated to present its conclusions at Council’s regular meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 13. Ahead of that meeting, some members of the task force are raising doubts about the process used by the group and the validity of the outcome. At the same time, other task force members have declined to speak about the matter until after the meeting.

According to a preliminary report of the task force sent to City Council on Nov. 10, eight task force members said they “could live with and support” a recommendation to maintain the city’s current ban on using accessory units as homestays. Six task force members said they could support allowing homestays in accessory units. Since the task force has 12 members, some members voted for both options.

The double voting, along with other concerns about the way the process was handled, are the focus of some task force members’ complaints.

Jackson Tierney, a task force member who owns an accessory unit, wrote in an email to Council member Julie Mayfield, “In my 35-year professional career, I have been on scores of working teams and have participated in well over 100 facilitated meetings. I can confidently say the Asheville ADU Task Force was the most poorly planned, disorganized, inefficient and unprofessional process I have ever been associated with.”

On the other hand, a task force member who asked that Xpress withhold their name until after the Dec. 13 meeting says, “I feel like our process was done perfectly from beginning to end.”

Rewind

On May 17, Asheville City Council voted 4-3 to continue the city’s policy of restricting homestays to bedrooms within a primary residence. Council members Cecil Bothwell, Brian Haynes and Keith Young cast the opposing votes. At the same time, Council members agreed to appoint a special citizen task force to examine whether the city should expand its homestay program to accessory dwelling units or ADUs.

A homestay is a type of short-term rental in which a homeowner or long-term resident rents no more than two bedrooms to guests. The resident must be present during the rental. City Council expanded the homestay program Nov. 15 last year to make it available to a larger number of city residents.

Renting out a whole house or a separate living unit (including an ADU) on a short-term basis is not permitted in the city (except in the central business district). Violators face fines of up to $500 per day.

Supporters of the prohibition on using an ADU as a homestay cite the city’s tight rental housing market as one reason self-contained units should be used for long-term tenants. Other supporters of the ban argue that allowing more transient guests in residential neighborhoods undermines neighborhood character and creates an unwelcome commercial intrusion.

Those in favor of loosening the homestay rules to include ADUs say homeowners should have the flexibility to use their properties in the way that best suits their individual circumstances. They say homestay rules can be structured to reduce the impact of guests on neighborhoods and manage the number of housing units the practice could remove from the long-term rental market.

City Council appointed 12 members to the task force. Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler explains that Council deliberately sought out a diverse set of viewpoints for the group, including some residents who favor expanding the homestay program to ADUs, others who oppose the idea, neutral but concerned neighbors, and renters.

The city contracted with Ed Manning of Leadership Asheville for $7,250 to serve as the task force’s facilitator. In that role, Manning says he made use of a seven-step facilitation process that aims to “develop a high level of agreement leading to cooperative implementation” and that is characterized by “a collective and collaborative approach.”  

Super majority?

Any city-appointed advisory group is subject to laws requiring open public meetings, says attorney Amanda Martin of the N.C. Press Association, including providing public notice of meeting dates and locations and keeping full and accurate meeting minutes. Manning agrees that the meetings were open to the public, but says that he doesn’t know how or whether public notice of meetings was given. “That wasn’t part of my responsibility,” he says.

The task force expected to meet four times, Manning explains. In the end, the group actually met nine times. At the eighth meeting, Manning says, he called a vote. By a show of hands, he says, eight members indicated they could “live with and support” continuing the current ban on using ADUs as homestays (called “core idea one” by the task force). Six members voted they could support allowing ADUs to be used as homestays (“core idea two”). A total of 14 votes were cast among the 12 task force members.

The group had previously agreed that a two-thirds majority, or eight of 12 members, would need to agree on a solution prior to submitting a recommendation to Council, says Manning.

When pressed, Manning clarifies that two members were physically absent when the voting took place. One, he says, voted via a written proxy held by another task force member. Tierney says he cast that proxy vote for John Farquhar. The other absent member, Randall Barnett, cast votes for both options in a telephone call, says Manning.

Manning says he is not able to provide a list of which task force members cast which votes.

Xpress has requested meeting minutes, records related to public notice, copies of task force reports and task force-related correspondence from city officials. With the exception of the task force report dated Nov. 10 (which was attached to the agenda for City Council’s Dec. 13 meeting), these items have not yet been provided.

Dissenting voices

In his email to Mayfield, Tierney takes issue with the voting process:

For eight meetings, all the members of the task force had the understanding that there would be one vote per person (seems logical, right?). But we were informed during the voting in the last ten minutes of the eighth (!) meeting that we had as many votes as there were solutions! Mass confusion ensued and several task force members got angry (myself included). Ed quickly adjourned the meeting and a firestorm ensued via email.

This revelation at the nth hour caused great angst because, if this voting scheme (apparently in the facilitator’s head only) was understood by all team members from the first meeting, it would have changed how solutions were brought up, discussed and packaged. If we could have as many votes as solutions, there wouldn’t be any [deterrent] to bringing up more solutions and pushing the bounds of what was possible. (Note: In reality, if Ed explained his process of multiple votes per person, I and many others would not have agreed to it.)

Kama Ward, another task force member, also shared concerns about the voting with Wisler via email (Xpress obtained access to the email through another individual, not Ward):

Second to last meeting: Ed tells us to vote on one or both solutions! No one knew that. The anti-, pro- and neutral-STR people were equally confused. [Because] Randall [Barnett] was out of town, Ed read a text or email from his smartphone to the group: Randall “I vote for core two”. We left that meeting with a 7-7 vote and agreed to present both core ideas. Ed said he had not let Randall know that he could vote for both, and that he would talk to him and see if he wanted to vote for core idea one as well.

A few days later: Ed informed us by email Oct. 28: “I did speak with Randall when he returned and he said he could live with and support both core ideas. I need to caution against saying this is a final vote. This does show that two-thirds of the task force could live with and support core idea one, with six saying they could live with and support core idea two. Given this split and the discussion held in our last meeting, we agreed that both ideas would be brought forward to Council.”

Speaking to Xpress, Barnett says he feels he was misled into a vote upholding the ban. The city ought to want to base its decision on a “fair, transparent process,” he continues, and the process the task force used was neither. If Barnett’s vote saying he could live with core idea one were omitted from the total, the count would be seven votes for that option. In that case, the eight-vote two-thirds majority would break down.

Come together

In response to task force members critical of the voting process, Manning says that some of those who were dissatisfied with the outcome tried to make an “end run” by reopening the deliberations. Manning also comments that “focusing on where there’s conflict” might “sell newspapers” but shifts attention away from “the amount of great work this group did.”

“They came together and put aside their beliefs and prejudgements. It’s a complex issue, no question,” he says.

Citing an agreement among the group to refrain from commenting publicly before the group’s presentation to City Council, task force member David Rodgers declines to express an opinion about the process or the outcome. Rodgers writes by email, “I will say this. None of us got exactly what we wanted. We all made compromises. There are things in the final recommendation I am not thrilled with, but I recognize we can’t all have everything our own way. That’s why we had a facilitated group working hard to find a recommendation eight of 12 of us could support and live with.”

But Tierney notes that no one can give a definitive accounting of how the vote shook out. “There was a lot of voting that was outside of the public eye,” he says, and no full count was available prior to end of the eighth meeting. “I find that problematic,” he says.

City residents whose livelihoods might be affected by Council’s decision on this issue, Tierney continues, ought to at least know how task force members voted. Attorney Martin, however, says that while state law requires meeting minutes to reflect the outcome of a vote, the law doesn’t spell out a requirement to list how each member voted.

Xpress attempted to contact each of the task force members. The members are listed below; those not quoted in this article either declined to comment or did not respond:

  • Randall Barnett
  • Greta Bush
  • Wendy Dean
  • John Farquhar
  • Israel Hill
  • Jane Mathews
  • Barber Melton
  • Kelly Prime
  • David Rodger
  • Jackson Tierney
  • Kama Ward
  • Carter Webb

Frayda Bluestein of the UNC Chapel Hill School of Government points out that City Council is not legally bound to accept the recommendation of any appointed task force, board or committee. In making its decision, she says, it’s up to Council to judge whether the vote taken by the task force represents the will of the group. And either way, Council members are free to base any actions they may elect to take on the merits of the issue, Bluestein says.

In Tierney’s view, given the questions surrounding the task force process, the effort resulted in a stalemate. Ultimately, he says, Council must “do what it was elected to do, which is to make a hard choice.”

City Council will hear a presentation on the issue during the presentations and reports portion of its regular meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 13, which starts at 5 p.m. in Council chambers on the second floor of City Hall.

 

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About Virginia Daffron
Managing editor, lover of mountains, native of WNC. Follow me @virginiadaffron

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19 thoughts on “ADU task force recommendations clouded by process concerns

  1. Voting both ways is illogical and the term supermajority misleading. ADU or carriage houses are limited in number and in various states of disrepair . By requiring off street parking most would not impact neighborhood integrity. I am not impressed with the methodology or findings of this committee.

  2. anita smith

    Gee – wait! The Mayor hired a Pro facilitor for $7200 and the Pro facilitator took a vote both ways from a Task Force member. Cool!… our tax dollars at work

  3. anita smith

    Thanks, Virginia for getting to the truth of how our City Committees and Task Forces work. Discouraging.

  4. Belong Anywhere

    Thank you, Virginia for digging through all this to help uncover what really went down. Your efforts are truly appreciated. What a shock it must have been for participants to discover at the last meeting how votes were to be cast. Why didn’t Ed Manning explain this in the beginning? Discussions and recommendations may have likely been different. This is very disappointing.

  5. Rebecca Robertson

    The city has hired 2 enforcement officers to shut down homeowners that are operating Short -term Rentals. This cost the city over $100,000 / year. I question the motivation behind using our tax dollars in this manner. Who is behind pushing the agenda to hurt individual residents ,largely women, from trying to earn enough money to live and stay in Asheville. Many single mothers and fixed income women are using their own home as a Short term Rental as a means of affording their mortgage. Does anyone out there care about them?

    • luther blissett

      “Many single mothers and fixed income women are using their own home as a Short term Rental as a means of affording their mortgage.”

      [citation needed]

  6. Concerned citizen

    The City at work again, trying to protect the NIMBYs and the hotels. I believe the added amount to our budget this year for the added 1.5 additional positions was $110,000 plus 2 cars. Funny thing is, these folks are doing more than homestay and STRs, they do various sorts of inspections, including for the hotels. Look into that also Virginia, the City is using the hype of this issue to add inspectors not for STRS but for hotels, etc.

    • luther blissett

      The Blade has done a lot of hard work to map out the properties that have been cited by the city:

      http://ashevilleblade.com/?p=2445

      Lots of whole-unit listings; lots of owners based out of town; lots of owners with multiple properties. As the article notes, there’s an 3-unit apartment building near Greenlife that had been converted to list all its units on AirBnb.

      The “homestay” language promoted by AirBnb mostly obfuscates how a bunch of city property owners, many of them absentee, prefer getting $200 per night for places where the market rent is ~$1500-2000 a month, while not having to deal with the legal responsibilities of being long-term landlords. If we were actually talking about single mothers and fixed-income women hosting tourists in spare rooms or “granny flats” for supplementary income then we could have a conversation about that, but it wouldn’t remove the need to address whole-unit STRs.

  7. The Real World

    Wow, what a cluster! That was an amazing read and reminds me of junior high school.

    There HAS to be a way to compromise on this. Requiring a months stay for ADU’s is too much; probably a week is also but could be managed better. Homestays are common throughout, at minimum, the English-speaking Western world and now the USA.

    Is Asheville going to be embarrassingly draconian?

  8. John smith

    Tonight city council is voting to give more than 18k per unit of housing to a developer. Total between this project and basically giving 16 acres the city owns to another developer is nearly $1m. We now all have to pay for the $25m housing bond – total cost TBD, but much more. We routinely give and invest millions of dollars trying to create more housing. We can not afford to canibilize our existing housing stock to use as hotels. Think of it this way. Does it make sense to you to take homes that house citizens and start using them for tourists instead? Especially when this is some of the most affordable housing we have in the private market?

    • The Real World

      Thanks for the info about some pretty large taxpayer dollars subsidizing developers. Seems a lot but I’m not well-versed on these matters.

      However, your first question makes no sense whatsoever. It’s pie-in-the-sky equivalence so is worth nothing. But, please share some more logic about why homeowners should be penalized because of a housing shortage? How is that an answer to anything?

  9. T. Hawkins

    Oh dear Lord. Where do I begin. This whole situation is nothing more than the local hotels getting scared because Airbnd and Expedia are stepping into what was once their private territory. So I dare anyone to try and tell me different. Because vacation rentals have been around for decades. It’s not now, nor ever has been, about affordable housing, again, it’s about hotels getting a little hot under the collar about losing a some money to some competition. Pure and simple. Local branch hotels have simply made it clear to our council members they don’t like the vacation rental infant tgat’s now grownbup enough to give them competition. People who rent a whole house out for short stays wouldn’t make anywhere near the same kind of money renting it full time. Yes, I do know that as a matter of fact because I had full time rentals for 10 yrs. before I got into the vacation rental business. Sorry, my vacation rental is outside the city limits. I can make $190/night on the weekends with mine while a full time rental would make $1800/month – comparing same sq. footage to same and location of course. So there’s no way anyone in their right mind renting nightly would down grade financially and rent full tim. Again, hotels are simply pitching a fit about their territory being encroached upon.

    • luther blissett

      “It’s not now, nor ever has been, about affordable housing”

      vs

      “People who rent a whole house out for short stays wouldn’t make anywhere near the same kind of money renting it full time.”

      “there’s no way anyone in their right mind renting nightly would down grade financially and rent full tim[e].”

      You’ve proved a point, though not the point you thought you were proving. A bunch of the local landlord and “property investor” types (many of whom don’t live locally) have decided to get out of long-term renting because there’s more money and fewer legal responsibilities elsewhere. An $1800/mo rental isn’t “affordable” (other than as a non-family multi-adult share, which landlords typically dislike) but when those units go off the long-term market, people on decent salaries looking to rent have to look elsewhere, and they’re competing with people who have less money to spend on housing.

      So don’t point the finger at hotels when you and your peers have made your own financial interests clear.

      • T. Hawkins

        I agree with you that $1800/month is not affordable. I rented out both houses and mobile homes. Mobile homes rent cheaper because, typically, they’re smaller, don’t have basements, etc. So I was speaking to renting a house. But a mobile home you’d actually make profit from because I would be willing to bet tourists coming here wouldn’t want to rent a mobile home during their stay. So it wouldn’t do to try. Just comparing apples to apples pointing out down grading financially. But my point was somewhat already made for me when they removed that mobile home park to build, what actually turned out to not be affordable housing, because some of the people renting those mobile homes, according to what was in black ‘n white, we’re only paying $200/month for rent. Now you know, and what my point was I guess you could better say eluding to, was no one in their right mind would rent a house for $200/month – full time or vacation rental (as I said I get $190/night from my vacation rental). And yet they just destroyed the affordable housing those particular people already lived in to build house they couldn’t afford. Renting a house is never going to be affordable for a great deal of people. Affordable “hous (e)-ing” shouldn’t even have the word “house” in it – it should be affordable dwelling. Because, again, a landlord would be willing to rent a mobile home for $200/month, not a house. I have no idea if I clarified my point, but there ya go.

        • luther blissett

          Thanks for the reply: it’s a productive conversation.

          My point is that there’s always going to be demand for rental property up and down the income scale — new arrivals, people on contracts, those on steady incomes but who can’t satisfy a mortgage lender — but that supply is limited, especially if you want to live in a house and not an apartment. So when a bunch of $1800/mo houses become $200/night vacation rentals, the kind of people who could afford that rent are more likely to settle for a smaller house (or big apartment) and pay less for the privilege, which bumps down the people looking for a $1200/mo apartment, and so on.

          Owners of rental property are going to act in their own self-interest, and if tourists on weekends bring as much money as market rent, with less wear and tear or potential issues with problem tenants, they’re going to head in that direction. That doesn’t mean there aren’t externalities, and zoning is meant to deal with some of them, even if there’s lots wrong with zoning and it creates its own externalities

          The reason it’s a confused process is that there are a handful of issues that overlap but aren’t the same. The ADU debate isn’t just about ADUs: it’s a proxy debate for whole-unit STRs sooner or later, because that’s mostly what the city is dealing with right now.

          The mobile home stuff off Long Shoals is pretty depressing: it makes city council look like suckers once again when dealing with a developer, but it’s clear the residents were getting evicted anyway.

          • T. Hawkins

            Thank you sir. When these topics come across in my reading, I sometimes hesitate to put what truly is my two cents worth into the conversation. I do feel, however, if a developer came in, bought 50 acres to build vacation rentals on, that that shouldn’t be any different than when a hotel company buys acreage to build an 8 story high hotel on. Yes, you could argue “but vacation rentals are what’s taking full time rentals off the market”. Both are paying taxes on substantially more income than what the city would take in from a few full time rental houses. Thus why I would be willing to bet they don’t have a problem with all the new hotels being built in the city limits. Oh how other topics just keep getting in the way. Now going down the branch of the other side of this topic, people paying $200/month rent on a space for their mobile home, then making the payment on the trailer itself, then utilities, that’s still going to be less than $1800/month. So the kind of affordable housing I think we need is more along the monthly amount of $800/month plus utilities. People who have made a career working at a minimum wage job that was never suppose to sustain a family – was suppose to be a transition job or summer job, are the very people I’m referring to when I say $800/month. And that of course is with two people in the household working full time. I put people willing to pay incredible amounts of money every month on rent ($1200/mnth. +), then paying utilities on top of that, into the category of those who simply have the money to pay to get out of having the responsibility of taking care of a piece of property, or don’t want the responsibility. Period. I don’t think there are enough contract renters to warrant all the hubbub about affordable housing.

  10. I think a few facts are worth noting. First, the market for STRs is not unlimited. So fear of hosts hollowing out the LTR market is overblown. Second, we now have a “normal” vacancy rate , between 5 and 7 percent, so the crisis is over. (Though, of course, rents are still historically high, but not increasing.) Third, enforcement efforts have had no discernible effect on the vacancy rate. (The City has put a hundred or so, perhaps 150 out of business – a drop in the bucket compared to the hundreds of new apartments coming on line.)
    The hoteliers are surely happy with the crackdown, however.

    • John Smith

      If we have a normal vacancy rate why do we continue to grant incentives to build more housing? Literally millions and millions of dollars every year we the tax payers pony up for developers. Now an additional $25m plus interest.

      ADUs are some of our most affordable housing stock. Many of the units in my neighborhood meet the affordable housing criteria. Why on earth would anyone want to convert our existing housing for use as hotels and at the same time flush our tax dollars down the toilet trying to build housing at the same price point? Cecil, really please explain how it makes sense.

      At the last council meeting a developer was given more than $18k per unit of housing. Cecil you voted for this. Let’s run the numbers out here. To create 100 units of housing at 18k per unit is $1.8m. If we allow ADUs to be used as hotels and we do as some have suggested and allow 100 or more homes to operate as hotels where are we? Net gain here is zero units of housing for citizens. Basically we just waste our tax dollars throwing money towards developers. Cecil – please face this reality. If you want to use our housing as hotels please sencourage your other council members to stop using our tax dollars to build more housing. Don’t issue the $25m bond.

  11. I am no big fan of the City’s affordable housing efforts. I voted against the $25 M bond. I suppose I could vote against the affordable tax credits to make a point, but it would be pointless – they would pass anyway. I am enormously skeptical about the proposed Charlotte St. redevelopment. I am so far unimpressed by the proposed Hilliard St. development on City -owned land. I get weary of the fight and being pasted as “anti-affordable housing” if I vote no. Hey, everyone wants affordable housing! Right? It’s one of those “moral” arguments that is impossible to counter in our media environment.

    I see most of the City efforts to “create” affordable housing as delayed bonuses to developers who can simply cash in at the end of the prescribed affordable term. (The goal now is 15 years, dictated by banks which offer building mortgages with 15 year terms. So when the loan is paid off, the affordable unit zooms to market rate, or gets remodeled as a condo.)

    My arguments for STR of ADUs (and only of ADUs, not whole houses) are these. 1) If we require a resident (owner or lessor) who obtains an STR license to be the occupant of the primary dwelling, then we are allowing the owner to benefit from the investment without enabling investment companies to simply buy up housing and rent it. (We cannot limit permits to “owners” – because under our laws a lessor has certain ownership rights.) 2) While it is therefore possible for someone who owns multiple houses with ADUs to lease to “managers” who then obtain STR licenses, that’s not ipso-facto “bad.” The lessor has a part time job as a host – in this case the host would presumably pay a higher than market rent to the owner, and make a profit via the STR. 3)Most of the STR ADU hosts that I have spoken with have invested money in improving their properties. If they are forced to use them as LTRs, they will not be “affordable” – they will be market rate or better in the case of those that have substantially upgraded (hot tub, sauna, whatever). 4) Many STR ADU hosts DO NOT WANT full time renters – they may reserve their units for visiting family or friends, or simply not want the intrusion all the time. 5) Thousands of new rental units are coming into our market due to the obvious commercial interest of developers in making a profit in a municipality where there was a brief shortage of units. So thousands of new units versus a couple of hundred STRs? They are a statistically insignificant element in the market.

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