Like a gangly teenager, development in Asheville is set to grow up and fill in. That’s the goal of proposed zoning changes outlined by Vaidila Satvika, a city urban planner, in an Aug. 6 presentation to the Council of Independent Business Owners.
Satvika told the Asheville-based trade group that the city’s urban centers initiative, as well as updates to open-space requirements for new projects, were both meant to encourage denser development patterns. Such approaches, he suggested, would help preserve Buncombe County’s farmland and undeveloped areas while supporting less car-dependent communities and increasing the city’s tax base.
The first of the two efforts would rezone about 122 acres in three parts of the city: the intersection of Merrimon Avenue and Beaverdam Road in North Asheville, the area surrounding the Innsbruck Mall on Tunnel Road and the shopping center that includes the Walmart store on Bleachery Boulevard. (Eight more areas, including a portion of the Asheville Mall site on Tunnel Road, could also be targeted for urban center zoning in the future.) Under the updated rules, Satvika explained, new development in those areas would have to be placed along a street — a move that would break up large surface parking lots and structure blocks similar to those in a city core.
While developers would not be required to build housing as part of new urban center projects, Satvika emphasized, they would be heavily incentivized to do so. New commercial buildings could not exceed 20,000 square feet without including some residential units; those that included affordable housing could be built larger and taller by right. That requirement, he added, will likely be applied only to development on larger parcels, in response to feedback already received from business owners.
The open-space changes, Satvika said, would correct what he called a “significant flaw” in the current zoning code. Existing regulations, he explained, require new multifamily developments to include at least 500 square feet of open space per unit, which often makes dense housing on smaller infill parcels economically infeasible. Asheville’s open-space requirements for other types of development are also higher than those of other North Carolina cities such as Raleigh and Charlotte.
Under the new rules, developers could include significantly less open space if it were of higher quality, such as a picnic area on flat ground with included seating. Developments on more than 1 acre, Satvika said, could also cut their required space if they included stormwater control measures such as rain gardens and vegetated runoff channels.
During the Q&A session that followed his presentation, Satvika was asked for his response to property owners who felt that the city was making big changes without their consent. He said that Asheville had consistently listened to businesses’ concerns, but that ultimately, the city had the authority to align zoning regulations with its long-term vision and goals as outlined in the Living Asheville Comprehensive Plan.
More city information on the proposed changes is available at avl.mx/a7m. The urban centers zoning is scheduled to go before Asheville’s Planning and Zoning Commission on Wednesday, Sept. 1, followed by Asheville City Council on Tuesday, Sept. 28. No timeline had been set for approval of the open-space revisions as of press time.