One year after implementing a new noise ordinance, Asheville City Council heard an update on what is — and isn’t — working under the revised language. Staffers with the city’s Development Services Department, which the new ordinance tasks with enforcing noise regulations, presented on their work during Council’s Sept. 27 meeting.
Before the noise ordinance was passed last September, most noise complaints were called in to the Asheville Police Department nonemergency line and responded to by police officers. While APD still handles nighttime noise complaints and those that might come with safety risks, DSD resolved 71% of complaints made from last September through August.
Noise complaint calls to the APD nonemergency line have also decreased by 24% since the ordinance passed, although they still represent the largest source of complaints. More complaints are now coming through the city’s online form or the Asheville App. (Further data on complaints and their resolution is available through an online dashboard at bit.ly/COA-Noise-Dashboard.)
Council member Antanette Mosley noted a decrease in the number of noise complaints in some minority neighborhoods over the past year. “To the public, it became a discussion of music,” she said about the debate surrounding the noise ordinance passed last year. “But what was actually happening was Black and brown neighborhoods were requesting help. When I look at this, it looks like, for the most part, there has been some success.”
DSD Director Ben Woody attributed that success to building partnerships within neighborhoods. He said that Daniel Oropesa, the city’s noise compliance officer, has spent time working with residents in those census blocks and responding to noise concerns in their multifamily developments. Woody said DSD had established relationships with 64 apartment complexes since the new ordinance was passed.
However, Woody noted that the city still struggles with other types of noise issues, such as vehicle noise and amplification downtown. DSD also receives recurring noise complaints where commercial and residential developments meet. A commercial property may comply with the objective decibel limits outlined in the noise ordinance, he said, but the sound might still seem loud to those right next door.
Council members Sage Turner and Kim Roney suggested exploring ways to mitigate chronic commercial noise, such as requiring street trees, limiting construction hours or changing building standards to reflect noise back toward the source. The city’s volunteer Noise Advisory Board will be tasked with recommending any of those changes.
Council members question Housing Trust Fund requirements
Later during the Sept. 27 meeting, questions arose over a proposed affordable housing development and the use of the city’s Housing Trust Fund, a low-interest affordable housing loan program.
The Laurel Woods II development, proposed for 650 Caribou Road in the Shiloh neighborhood, includes 54 new units for people 55 and older who make less than 80% of the area median income ($45,000 annually for a single person or $51,400 for a couple). The project would also renovate 51 existing low-income senior housing units. In exchange for offering this affordability, developer Volunteers of America asked the city for a $1.5 million loan at 2% interest, with payment deferred for 30 years.
Of the new units, 12 will be set aside for housing choice voucher holders, which meets the city’s requirement for Housing Trust Fund loans. But Council member Roney asked why Volunteers of America didn’t designate more of the units as accepting vouchers.
“This is an example of our policy. They are applying for what the policy requires,” responded Turner, “Is that enough? I think that’s a broader conversation beyond this one project.”
The size of the loan also attracted scrutiny. At $1.5 million, the amount exceeded the $1 million threshold set by city policy. Turner pointed out that receiving applications for loans in excess of $1 million is becoming a regular occurrence; Council approved a $1.28 million loan for affordable housing at 360 Hilliard Ave. in 2018 and a $1.2 million loan for the Amaranth Apartments in 2019.
“Is the policy in the right place if the applications are always asking for a variance from it?” Turner asked.
Despite these questions, Council unanimously approved issuing the loan to Volunteers of America. Members also unanimously approved a conditional rezoning that allows the project to proceed.
Turner and Mosley, both members of the Housing and Community Development Committee that reviews Housing Trust Fund applications, said the committee is planning to tweak the loan requirements in the next few months. Turner added that Laurel Woods is likely to be the last application Council will review before the policy is revamped.