From the Shiloh community to the banks of Haw Creek and the Swannanoa River, Asheville City Council’s meeting of Sept. 6 covered plenty of territory both geographically and thematically. Here’s a wrap up of some of the most important outcomes.
Employee recognition and proclamations
City Manager Gary Jackson recognized two city employees who have recently won awards. Firefighter Trey Young, who has served the city for 14 years, was recently named the Western North Carolina Firefighter of the Year. Jackson said one factor in Young’s selection for the award was his recent analysis of the department’s rapid intervention team, which is responsible for making sure a squad has backup at the scene of an emergency. Fire Chief Scott Burnett observed that the organization that honored Young represents over 2,000 firefighters.
Public Works Department Streets Services Manager Chad Bandy received the American Public Works Association award for outstanding municipal service.
Mayor Esther Manheimer stood in front of the Council dais with a group of supporters and friends of Karen Cragnolin, who recently stepped down from her longtime post as Executive Director for the nonprofit advocacy organization RiverLink. Cragnolin, who founded RiverLink, will stay on as a consultant to the organization. Manheimer read a proclamation declaring Sept. 6, 2016 “Karen Cragnolin Day in the city of Asheville,” and commented, “Your mark on our city will be forever.” Cragnolin is widely credited with sparking interest in the city’s formerly derelict River Arts District as a place for artists, visitors and recreation.
Cragnolin thanked RiverLink’s staff and her family for their support and noted, “We’re not just a mountain city anymore, now we are a river city, too.” Cragnolin received two sustained standing ovations from those in Council chambers.
Council engaged in an uncharacteristically long and philosophical discussion during its consideration of its consent agenda. For additional details, see War on drugs, economic justice focus of unusual Council consent agenda discussions.
Presentations and reports
Lee Walker Heights
Housing Authority Chief Financial Officer David Nash gave Council an update on the Lee Walker Heights redevelopment project. The Authority learned in August that it won’t get low-income housing tax credits in the current year of awards. Nash pointed out that fewer than half the projects submitted this year received awards.
Nash briefly traced the history of the project, saying the Housing Authority began working on the current proposal two years ago. Lee Walker Heights residents were involved from the early stages of the project, including drafting a request for development proposals, selecting a developer and creating a project master plan. City Council committed $4.2 million to the project, and the Housing Authority dedicated $2 million of its own resources, but 52 percent of the needed funding was to come from the tax credit financing.
The Authority will resubmit its tax credit proposal in January, and it may also pursue funding from Buncombe County, Nash said. The residents’ committee, he said, has experienced “some sense of relief” that relocation is not on the horizon as soon as it would have been if the project had received funding this year. At the same time, he continued, residents there are still hoping for redevelopment of the neighborhood. All those in residence when the project begins will receive relocation benefits and have the right to return upon completion, he noted.
Nash said the Authority has heard two explanations for why its financing application was not successful: parking and the timing of the complex’s transition to HUD’s Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) project. HUD standards call for two parking spaces per housing unit. Asheville’s application contained one space per unit, which complies with local zoning requirements. “Apparently, we need to make a better case” for why the number of spaces is appropriate for this project, Nash said.
Lee Walker Heights is the only Asheville public housing community that has not yet transitioned to RAD, which provides residents with housing vouchers that allow them to rent housing available on the private rental market. Nash said the funders may have wished the Authority was further along in the process of transitioning Lee Walker to the RAD program. “We are working on that by moving forward on the RAD conversion,” he reported.
Interstate 26 connector update
Asheville Transportation Director Ken Putnam reported that a working group made up of N.C. Department of Transportation staff and local leaders has been meeting on a regular basis to discuss details of the planned I-26 connector project as they emerge. The DOT members, he said, have been coming to Asheville for the monthly meetings. Recently, the group heard information on how the DOT does the traffic forecasting that drives the capacity of an infrastructure upgrade project.
Another recent presentation showed current DOT design specifications for noise walls. What the group saw, Putnam said, was “aesthetically pleasing,” with the appearance of a rock wall on both the traffic and neighborhood sides. If following the DOT standard, he said, “That comes at no cost to us.” However, he continued, “If we want something fancier, that would mean more cost.”
The working group will meet again on Sept. 20. Putnam said the group is putting together a subgroup of seven members who will focus on “betterments” such as bicycle lanes, sidewalks, greenways and transit. Two members will come from the city transportation department, one from the city planning department, two from the Bicycle and Pedestrian Task Force, one from Asheville on Bikes and Marc Hunt.
The working group and subgroup meetings are not open to the public. Putnam said, for future meetings, he will write a memo about what came out of the session. In response to a question from Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler, Putnam said he would try to add those summaries to the city’s website.
Sign package for Ingles Markets at 863 Brevard Road
On July 26, Council reviewed a submission requesting alternative signage for Ingles’ 863 Brevard Road grocery store (across the street from Asheville Outlets), which the company is currently renovating to the tune of $15 million. Ingles requested both larger signs and a larger number of signs than permitted by the city’s sign ordinance. At that meeting, Council suggested that Ingles withdraw its request and return with a better case for why the city should make an exception to the rules other businesses follow.
On the other hand, as Councilman Keith Young pointed out on Sept. 6, “The last time they were here, we mentioned that, if their sign package were compliant, there would be no need for them to return.”
Local attorney Wyatt Stevens put the case to Council, saying that, prior to making its first request, Ingles “genuinely thought it was no big deal.” For the September presentation, Ingles proposed one rather than two monument signs and trimmed their previous request for 400 square feet of building signage to 246 square feet (versus the 200 square feet allowed by the sign ordinance). Ingles prefers a layout, he noted, that would cover 320 square feet.
The new store, Stevens explained, offers many benefits. While the new store will be 72,000 square feet, over the previous 52,000 square feet, it will use 30% less energy and will be Energy Star certified. It will employ 150 people, up from 75 employees previously.
The sign package Ingles initially requested is virtually identical to the layout used on its new store in Enka, which is located outside the city limits in Buncombe County, Stevens said.
After considering the fine points of Ingles’ proposal, and expressing appreciation for and support of the company as a valuable local business and community partner, Council began signaling that its prior resistance to approving a sign package that deviates from the sign ordinance remained unchanged. Young asked how many other grocery stores had received similar variances. “I’m not aware of any,” responded Shannon Tuch, a city planner.
Manheimer noted that campus signage packages had been approved for Mission Health, the Asheville Airport, Asheville Outlets and UNC Asheville.
In the face of a motion to deny Ingles’ application, and after hearing from City Attorney Robin Currin that a denial would preclude any re-application for a year, Stevens withdrew the request.
Councilman Gordon Smith commented that Ingles has done, and continues to do, “so much for the community, but carving out an exemption in the sign ordinance for one company is unfair.”
Beaucatcher Commons affordable housing development on Simpson Street
Developer Kirk Booth‘s plans to build 70 units of housing affordable to those earning at or below 60 percent of area median income came before Council next. City zoning ordinances require Council approval for any multifamily development of more than 50 units. The project is located on Simpson Street along the Swannanoa River. Because of the potential for flooding, the seven 10-unit buildings will be constructed on stilts, with parking underneath the buildings at ground level.
Booth said the one-bedroom units will rent for $544 per month and will accept HUD and VASH vouchers. Praised by Smith for pioneering a new approach to affordable housing development in the city, Booth remarked, “This couldn’t happen without the policies Council has put in place to get this dense [of development ] at this [rental] rate. It’s not easy.” Council voted unanimously in favor of the project.
Bouchon Haw Creek
Chef Michel Baudouin of the 11-year-old downtown restaurant Bouchon asked Council approve his plans to reuse a former church building at 184 New Haw Creek Road. Baudouin said 300 residents of Haw Creek showed up to a meeting to discuss the project, and most were supportive. Jessica Bernstein, a planner for the city, said she was aware of concerns about additional traffic, trash and noise from the proposed outdoor seating area. Wisler asked for clarification about how the condition proposed by Bouchon for halting outdoor seating at 10 p.m. would work.
Baudouin responded that the outdoor seating area was on the side of the building that does not abut any other residential areas (he said that it is next to the street). After hearing that outdoor noise would be buffered by both the building and extensive landscape trees, Wisler said her concern had been addressed. Baudouin said managing trash downtown is much more challenging than it will be in a suburban location, and Bouchon has been successful at its Lexington Avenue location for many years in adhering to its policy of recycling all recyclable materials and composting all food waste. As for traffic, he explained that the restaurant will generate the same or less traffic than the church had.
Council unanimously approved Baudouin’s zoning request.
7 and 11 Patton Ave., former BB&T building
Now called the Arras Development, renovation plans for the former BB&T building received Council approval on Jan. 12. The current request sought additional flexibility in the number of residential units versus hotel rooms the mixed-use development will have. Originally, the developer proposed 39 to 46 residential units; in the new request, 39 to 54 units were proposed.
The developer also asked for a reduction in the number of on-site parking spaces from 60 to 55. Additional parking will be provided in the garage of the AC Hotel, which is across Broadway from the former BB&T building. The same developer owns that property.
Council unanimously approved the requested changes.
Asheville Eye Associates parking lot
Asheville Eye Associates is located on Medical Park Drive off Sweeten Creek Road. Its property borders the Shiloh community. Dr. Robert Wiggins, physician administrator for Asheville Eye Associates, explained that the busy practice draws patients from across Western North Carolina and needs additional parking space “to meet the region’s need for the treatment of eye disease.” The practice owns a piece of property adjacent to its existing parking lot which it hopes to develop as an auxiliary parking lot.
The size of the adjacent property is larger than Asheville Eye Associates requires, so the practice proposed subdividing the parcel and donating the unneeded portion to the Shiloh Community Association.
Norma Baynes, the liaison for the Shiloh Community Association, said her organization supports the development of the parking lot. Baynes pointed out that Shiloh’s 2025 community plan includes a goal of establishing a resource center for residents, which the donated property could make possible.
Council approved the zoning change 7-0.
Council gave the go-ahead for negotiating with Tribute Companies for the development of 338 Hilliard Ave. (formerly the site of the city’s parks maintenance facility) for affordable housing. Tribute proposed 60 units, all of which would remain affordable for 20 years at varying levels of affordability.
Council approved the following strategic priorities for Fiscal Year 2016-2017. Council’s strategic vision was first developed at its planning retreat in January.
- A Diverse Community
- A Well-Planned and Livable Community
- A Clean and Healthy Environment
- Quality Affordable Housing
- Transportation and Accessibility
- Thriving Local Economy
- Connected and Engaged Community
- A Smart City
To the Affordable Housing Advisory Committee, Council reappointed Barber Melton and Scott Dedman, and appointed Sage Turner. To the Recreation Board, Council appointed Zachary Eden and ZaKiya Bell Rogers. To the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority, Council reappointed Jim Muth. The vote on Muth was 4-3, with Smith, Cecil Bothwell and Brian Haynes opposed.
During the public comment period, Asheville resident Jonathon Wainscott asked Council to take up consideration of district elections in the city. Wainscott said he would favor six city districts: North, South, East, West, Central and a district selected by residents of the city’s public housing neighborhoods.
Manheimer said she expects Council to have discussions about district elections in about two months.
Council adjourned at 9:36 p.m.
Council’s next meeting will be on Sept. 27 at 5 p.m. No public hearings have been announced for the meeting.