The Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce has added its voice to the city’s Planning & Zoning Commission in opposing proposed zoning changes that are expected to be considered by Asheville City Council at its meeting on Feb. 14.
In its email newsletter, the chamber argues that the city should wait until its Comprehensive Plan Update, which is now being developed, is completed before making any significant changes to the rules that control development in Asheville. The chamber also suggests that increasing the number of projects City Council reviews will make developers less eager to pursue development projects in the city, since decisions could be influenced by the political calculations of elected officials.
In response to community concerns that the pace of development in downtown Asheville is exceeding the city’s ability to plan for or oversee it, Council asked the city’s Planning and Urban Design Department to study possible changes to the sizes of projects City Council reviews at the end of 2015.
Some in the community had complained that a 2011 increase in the size of the projects Council considers and approves has removed public control over building activity, contributing to a frenzy of new development that threatens to change the character of downtown and make the city unaffordable to those earning moderate or low incomes. Because Council only reviews downtown projects taller than 145 feet or larger than 175,000 square feet, many of the new buildings that have generated local consternation — including most of the city’s crop of recently built hotels — have not required Council approval.
If approved, the proposed changes would require City Council approval through a conditional zoning process for all projects over 100,000 square feet or 100 feet tall anywhere in the city. In addition, Council would review all hotels with 21 rooms or more anywhere in the city.
From the Asheville-Area Chamber of Commerce eNewsletter, Feb. 8:
Incorporate Development Standards Changes into the Comprehensive Plan
At their February 14th meeting Asheville’s City Council will take up the issue of whether to make changes to development standards in the community. There are two points we think the Council should consider.
First, the City is currently undergoing an update to the comprehensive plan which will include changes to the Uniform Design Ordinance (UDO), a zoning tool that requires specific design standards for development in a designated area.
The comprehensive plan is expected to be completed by November. Any changes to the UDO ought to be considered in context of the entire plan. Changing development standards now with a focus on downtown could have unintended consequences on other far less developed parts of the city.
Second, the proposed changes would cause many more projects to appear before City Council. Some have touted this as a way to increase transparency. Some would suggest it creates a more political process.
The City of Asheville has no shortage of opportunities for public input on all types of development. Wise developers use neighborhood engagement strategies and respond to thoughtful input about their projects. A change to standards that encourages more projects to appear before a political body invites shifting political winds into the process to an unnecessary degree. The City Council is a policy making board and should establish well-conceived and reasoned policies that are then implemented by City staff.
They should not subject business to more uncertainty than is absolutely necessary. The investment of money and time when creating a business is sufficient enough risk. City processes should be as defined and dependable as possible, not exacerbating risk after substantial investments have already been made.
Asheville’s current growth will not last forever, nor should it be taken for granted. Development standards should be prepared as part of a comprehensive plan and should minimize the risk that political involvement will insert last minute barriers and costs.