Chamber of Commerce opposes downtown development rule changes

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.


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10 thoughts on “Chamber of Commerce opposes downtown development rule changes

  1. luther blissett

    The implication that P&Z and the Chamber are not also political bodies is… cute. It’s valid to argue for a transparent, consistent set of standards, because a capricious process helps nobody, but past precedent suggests that developers’ strategy has been to push against the limits of existing policy and standards and then expect variances to be granted, take it or leave it. There has to be room for meaningful pushback from the other side.

    The agenda for the 2017 elections is already solidifying.

  2. Yep Luther, you’ve got it. A very specific example of “pushing against it” came up at the last Council meeting when the hotel project on the old Sheriff’s office parcel came up for consideration. The plan was for a 178,000 s.f. building which put it it 3,000 above the current Level III demarcation. So simply slicing off 3,000 s.f. it would not have come before Council, but the developer wanted to push the boundary. He lost his bet. Another proposal for a hotel on the Swannanoa River is knocking around, same sort of thing, only pushing the design guidelines, trying to plop a Florida beach style hotel in the river district where design guidelines suggest something compatible with the historic buildings that line the river. Rules must be predictable, that’s true. But then developers ought to help themselves by playing by the rules instead of attempting to bend them.

    • Another View

      ” . . . historic buildings that line the river . . .”

      Aging, sometimes decaying industrial warehouses?

      • luther blissett

        That proposed “Biltmore Station Hotel” on Thompson St literally looks like something built from Legos. And not the fancy ones, either:

        It is contemptuous.

        Industrial infill has been done (mostly) well in the RAD and on the South Slope. It’s not about treating existing buildings as historical monuments, but recognizing what happens when you drop a large concrete box (hi, Aloft!) in an architectural landscape defined by brick.

        I am all for policy-driven standards to remove uncertainty from development, but I would like developers to feel a lot less certain they can browbeat the city into granting their own special variances, each of which changes the de facto standards on the ground.

        • Lulz

          LOL, developers own city council as does Biltmore. Don’t you get it? Bothwell can come on here and huff and puff but at the end of the day, he’s the lackey of BIG BUSINESS and not the residents. He’s the frontman for fleecing people out of their money and building up areas for the developers. Why are we paying for millionaires to make more money while they contribute nothing? Why are taxes continually going up for greenways to be built merely for the rich to construct hotels on? And then the council goons pay lip service to affordable housing and jobs lulz.

          • luther blissett

            Well, since nobody owns you, unlike everybody else in the city who is either corrupt or a moron, it’s your civic duty to run for council and take a stand against this grand conspiracy.


          • Peter Robbins

            If he’s short, I’ll chip in a couple bucks. But I’m not going to be taken advantage of.

    • Lulz

      Bothwell, you steal my money to bulld greenways so the rich can construct hotels. How much has New Belgium contributed to lowering cost in the city? I love how you morons says they add to economy but in reality they don’t add jack. They need constant subsidizing and anything they contribute is contained within the tourist industry itself. That money does not pass over to anyone else as you still rely on residents to finance the infrastructure that New Belgium and the other BIG BUSINESSES here need to fill their pockets. So anything you claim as progress is a lie.

  3. Lulz, I guess you haven’t paid any attention to my voting record on Council. I have fairly frequently voted against incentive deals for large corporations. Not every one, but most. I have led the fight to deny Ingles exemptions on the sign ordinance, with increasing success. I have been the principal proponent of reversing the Downtown Master Plan (which I voted against in 2010) size definition of Level III, which we are finally going to do next Tuesday. (I’m pretty certain we have the votes now.) So don’t give me that crap about being a tool of big money. It isn’t simply rude, it demonstrates your ignorance.

  4. Cden

    The city doesn’t follow the “rules” they enforce. As long as you got deep pockets or are the government rules are for suckers.

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