ASHEVILLE — Coming on the heels of the city blocking short-term rentals in the River Arts District, City Council voted against allowing such lodging throughout the Haywood Road corridor as well.
At its Nov. 28 meeting, City Council placed heavy restrictions on lodging along Haywood Road in West Asheville, specifically targeting whole-unit short-term rentals such as those offered through Airbnb and VRBO. The decision came as Council approved amendments to the Haywood Road form-based code, implemented in 2014, which covers a district that runs 2.5 miles from near the French Broad River to Patton Avenue.
In October, city staff proposed changes to the form-based code that would allow greater flexibility in development. But those changes would have included an expansion of the area in which short-term rentals would be a permitted use. Currently, whole-unit rentals of fewer than 30 days are banned in all residential areas of the city, but they were permitted in mixed-use districts along Haywood Road. Council sent the matter back to the Planning and Zoning Commission to consider removing lodging of 20 rooms or fewer as a permitted use in the Haywood Road district.
At its Nov. 1 meeting, P&Z sided with business and property owners who say short-term rentals should be allowed in the neighborhood because they boost business. It recommended that City Council permit lodging uses of 20 rooms or fewer. Hotels larger than that threshold already have to go to Council for approval.
Austin Walker, president of the West Asheville Business Association, told City Council that businesses and residents in the Haywood Road area created the form-based code over the course of 14 years of community public input sessions. “That vision is what the community wants — and that is a commercial corridor,” he said. “That code is form-based, not use-based, so the form was determined by the community and it’s spelled out beautifully,” he added as he implored the city to retain lodging as a permitted use.
The Land of the Sky Association of Realtors supports the right of property owners to offer short-term rentals, said Michael Butrum, a representative of the group. He warned Council that implementing a ban could affect property values by restricting their rental value. “Also, if you restrict it, there’s going to be clever people circumventing it in about 30 minutes,” he added.
Opponents of short-term rentals argue that they eliminate housing stock needed for long-term residents and that they hollow out neighborhoods. Resident Christopher Fink said he and his neighbors understand the advantages of hospitality-oriented restaurants, bars and lodging houses, but they would like to maintain a community that places priority on residents, not tourists. “The overriding concern we have is to advocate for the continued development of West Asheville as a community and not as a recreation zone,” he said.
After hearing public comment, Council member Brian Haynes proposed that Council clamp down on rentals of 20 rooms or fewer throughout the Haywood Road corridor. Homestays and bed-and-breakfasts would still be permitted. “I would like to encourage Council tonight to remove lodging from the entire neighborhood. We are not banning lodging, we are removing it as a right. Folks could still seek Council permission to apply for lodging,” he said.
Council member Keith Young was reluctant for Council to continue restricting lodging on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis, and he advocated that Council research whether short-term rentals really have an effect on affordable housing. “I am not a lobbyist for Airbnb or short-term rentals or anything like that,” he said, but added, “I think you can’t make Asheville ‘Beer City USA’ and then complain about the fallout.”
In response to the concern that Council’s focus on short-term rentals negates the lengthy process of community input, Council member Gordon Smith said Council is reacting to a problem that cropped up after the code was instituted. “Since its completion, we’ve seen this emergence of the seriousness of the STR issue across Asheville,” he said. “I think if we were doing form-based code today, it would be one of those things that would be long debated during the process. But the fact is that these issues have emerged, and we are as a body responding.”
Council member Julie Mayfield moved to “approve the Haywood Road form-based code amendment with an additional amendment to exclude lodging facilities of all types from all districts in the Haywood form code.” The motion was approved unanimously.
City Council also unanimously approved rezoning 43 properties in a section of the Haywood Road form code area from HR-5 live-work district to HR-7 traditional community district. The HR-7 designation creates a new district that permits a wider variety of commercial activity.
Ferry Road parcel gets rezoned
A property owned by Buncombe County took another step toward residential development as City Council gave the green light to rezoning it.
The undeveloped, wooded property along Ferry Road and the French Broad River at 1568 Brevard Road once belonged to the city of Asheville, which sold it to Henderson County. Buncombe County purchased the 137-acre parcel in 2015 for $6.8 million in an attempt to attract Deschutes Brewery to set up operations there, a deal that fell through last year.
Now the county hopes to sell it for residential development, but first had to ask the city to rezone the site from industrial to residential multifamily high-density because the property is considered a satellite annexation. County attorney Michael Frue told the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners last week that a developer has been nibbling at the property but needs it zoned residential before moving forward with a contract.
At the Nov. 28 Council meeting, the city unanimously approved rezoning the Ferry Road land and released Buncombe County from a deed restriction requiring that the property be used for an economic development purpose.
In other business
The city unanimously approved accepting an unsolicited bid to purchase 0.38 acres at 427 Broadway St. from Reed Creek Greenway Plaza, which currently owns an adjacent former gas station. The company is seeking to assemble the site into a larger property for mixed-used redevelopment. The city negotiated a purchase price of $115,000 plus an affordable housing deed restriction that requires the construction of 20 percent affordable rental units within the development, with a minimum of eight units.
Mayfield read a resolution declaring December to be Better Buses Together Month, recognizing the successes of organizations working to improve transit in Asheville and encouraging more usage and better accessibility.
Douglas Carter of DEC Associates Inc., the city’s financial adviser, reported that Moody’s Investors Service recently upgraded the city’s general obligation bond rating to its highest rating, Aaa. Carter said this gives the city advantages in borrowing, such as low interest rates and access to lenders. “Being the best of the best, you get the greatest access,” he said. “You also get a greater ability to alternatively structure your debt and to use the most cost-effective structures. It puts you in an exclusive club.”
Council member, Cecil Bothwell said the Moody’s rating is evidence that the city staff and Council have been managing finances effectively. “I was amused during the recent election campaign to hear a lot of chatter about how badly Asheville handles money,” he said. “I hope people in the city are listening. We are not wasting your tax money!”
This was the last meeting for Bothwell, who did not win re-election in November, and Smith, who chose not to run again. Council will next gather on Dec. 5 at 4 p.m.for an organizational meeting and to swear in re-elected Council member Gwen Wisler and newly elected members Vijay Kapoor and Sheneika Smith and to choose a vice mayor.
The next full meeting of City Council is scheduled to take place Dec. 19.