City Council remembers Isaac Coleman, approves Mills Gap apartments

Family and friends gathered around Councilman Keith Young to hear a resolution honoring the life of community activist Isaac Coleman. From left, former Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy, Carmen Ramos-Kennedy, LaFredia Brown Morris, Keith Young, Gene Bell, Isaac Coleman, Jr. and Wanda Coleman. Photo by Virginia Daffron

Family and friends joined Councilman Keith Young in remembering Isaac Coleman, a community activist and recent candidate for the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners who died in May. At Council’s regular meeting on June 28, Young read a resolution recognizing Coleman’s life-long commitment to civil rights and social justice, as well as his many contributions to the city of Asheville and its people.

Coleman’s wife Wanda addressed Council and audience members:

We would like to urge you to not forget what Isaac stood for. Everything is not better. Isaac was a peacemaker. We would urge you not to become complacent with the status quo. We are all so connected by so many things. And we would ask you: If you are going to change, then do something different.

Consent agenda

Council lowered the speed limit on several Asheville street sections from 35 to 25 miles per hour:

  • Beaver Valley Road from Beaverdam Road to end of city maintenance
  • Charlotte Street from Orchard Street to Woodlink Road
  • Davenport Road from Brevard Road to end of city maintenance
  • Gudger Road from Sand Hill Road to Sand Hill School Road
  • Holly Ridge Drive from Westridge Drive to Bevlyn Drive
  • Homeway Road from Appalachain Way to Lakeside Drive
  • Inglewood Road from Elk Mountain Scenic Highway to Windsor Road
  • Iris Street from Shady Oak Lane to London Road
  • Reed Street from US 25A Sweeten Creek Road to Fielding Street
  • School Road East from Onteora Boulevard to end of city maintenance
  • Sulphur Springs Road from US 19/23 Bus Haywood Road to Mimosa Road
  • Westridge Drive from Overlook Road to Springside Road

Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler noted that the city has a history of high pedestrian fatalities. “I attribute a lot of that to speeding,” she said. “I would like us to continue to work toward reducing the speed limit all across the city.” Council members Gordon Smith, Julie Mayfield, Cecil Bothwell and Brian Haynes chimed in with comments that generally supported the idea of analyzing the citywide speed limit, leading City Manager Gary Jackson to promise to brief the Public Safety Committee on the current speed limit policy as a basis for any further analysis or changes Council might decide to undertake.

Council passed its consent agenda unanimously.

Annual Stormwater report

McCray Coates, stormwater services manager for the city, and Carl McDonald, a project manager with engineering firm Brown and Caldwell, reported on the activities and priorities of the city stormwater program. Coates said the stormwater department cleaned and inspected 5,911 drains in the past year, noting that all city drains are targeted to be cleaned at least annually. The department also swept 3,713 curb miles with its three sweeper trucks, removing 1,107 tons of debris. All streets are targeted for sweeping three times per year, though the department tries to clean streets with active bike lanes monthly.

The city’s ditching crew added drainage ditches to 8.4 miles of road shoulders, Coates reported, which brings the department up to date relative to its ditching goals for the past year.

McDonald stepped to the podium to summarize the results of a stormwater assessment prepared by his firm. Engineers worked with the city to identify planning objectives and known issues. After performing multiple levels of analysis and evaluating 1,300 city-owned stormwater structures, McDonald said, Brown and Caldwell presented a report with a list of prioritized stormwater projects.

Bothwell asked McDonald about the potential impact of climate science which suggests that rain events are bringing heavier volumes than historical averages. “It’s becoming more the norm,” Caldwell responded. Over the past 10 years he said, Asheville has seen an increase in the intensity of even small, short storms, and that change in intensity does change stormwater planning assumptions.

Public hearings

Council heard comment from the public on four zoning requests:

Lot on Lookout Drive

The owner, Eric Workman, requested a rezoning from RS4 to RS8 to provide greater flexibility in adhering to setback requirements for building a single-family house. No member of the public commented on the request, and Council approved it unanimously.

88-unit veteran housing development at 1401 Tunnel Rd.

Asheville Buncombe County Christian Ministries, which currently owns and operates an existing veterans housing complex at 1329 Tunnel Rd., requested conditional zoning approval for a six-story, 88-unit veteran housing development on 4.54 acres at 1401 Tunnel Rd. Project architect Crawford Murphy explained that the project would incorporate cross-laminated timber, an innovative construction material. CLT, Murphy said, is most the sustainable and advanced wood technology in the world today, but it has been slower to catch on in the United States than in other countries. This project will be the largest to use CLT in the country, he continued, and will bring recognition and attention to Asheville and ABCCM. The material, which is totally nontoxic and low in volatile organic compounds, also is highly effective at sequestering carbon dioxide and preventing its release into the atmosphere.

Council praised the project and its innovative use of building technology, approving it unanimously.

Bethesda United Methodist Church property at 311 and 315 Old Haw Creek Rd.

City Council previously approved a rezoning request to support the adaptive reuse of church land and buildings, which the Bethesda UMC said was necessary to keep the institution viable in the face of declining membership. The rezoning included approval for an area that would have included several tiny house structures for ministry students. Sean Rice of Mercer Design Group represented the church; Rice said the tiny house component turned out to be more costly than other housing options for students.  The church asked to return portions of its property to residential zoning, which a staff memo noted was an overall lower-impact use. The church requested a decreased setback requirement on one of the lots it sought to rezone. In response to a letter from an adjacent property owner, Mayfield asked Rice if the church would accept a 15′ setback rather than 10′ as requested. Rice agreed and the rezoning was approved with that condition.

272 apartment units at 60 Mills Gap Rd.

The evening’s main event was a public hearing on a development proposal by Rusty Pulliam for a 272-unit apartment building at 60 Mills Gap Rd., the former site of the Plasticorp manufacturing facility.

Despite the intense public opposition the project generated when it was first announced last fall (see South Asheville residents decry congestion, overdevelopment), the majority of the 15 members of the public who commented on the proposal asked Council to approve it. Residents Vijay Kapoor and Pat Deck, both of whom have worked to organize area residents to negotiate with the developer and the city, said the traffic mitigation measures Pulliam had added to the project, as well as their belief that the proposal represents the best likely outcome for the site, led them to ask Council to approve the zoning request.

Nonprofit leaders including Pastor Spencer Hardaway of Rock Hill Mission Baptist Church, Michael Woods of Western Carolina Rescue Mission and Scott Dedman of Mountain Housing Opportunities said they supported the project because it would add housing stock to the Asheville market. Additionally, the nonprofit leaders hailed Pulliam’s commitment of 15 percent of the units as affordable for those earning less than 80 percent of area median income for at least 15 years as potentially valuable to the communities they serve.

Ben Teague, who directs the Economic Development Coalition for the Asheville Chamber of Commerce, spoke to city staff members’ concern that the rezoning request would lessen Asheville’s supply of viable industrial property. Staff have objected to the project on the grounds that Council has specified retention of industrial property as a key component of efforts to promote job growth and economic development. Teague said this property will not attract national or regional manufacturers that offer higher-skilled employment opportunities. At best, he said, the site might attract a distribution center that would only create a handful of low-skilled jobs.

After the public hearing, several members of Council commented that what they had heard had swayed them to vote to approve the zoning change. Young gave Pulliam credit for a “good effort” in dealing with community concerns. Bothwell and Haynes agreed that Pulliam’s responsiveness had convinced them to vote for the project.

Mayfield noted, “In Julie’s perfect world, this would be a super high density mixed-use development. But we don’t have the infrastructure to support that.” The project as Pulliam had originally proposed it, with several commercial outparcels (which were subsequently removed in response to community feedback), Mayfield said, was the kind of density that will be appropriate once the area’s infrastructure has been improved through planned road widening projects.

Manheimer commended all the participants in the negotiation process, saying it was a good example of how City Council can facilitate a conversation that leads to an outcome where all parties get something they value. A bill proposed in the current session of the North Carolina General Assembly would have eroded the conditional zoning process that worked well in this situation, she continued. Fortunately, she commented, retiring Henderson County Senator Tom Apodaca didn’t like the bill. “He giveth and he taketh away this session,” Manheimer said, referring to a bill Apodaca has sponsored to introduce districts into Asheville City Council elections over the objections of current Council members and members of Asheville’s state legislative delegation.

Council approved the rezoning request unanimously. Pulliam has pledged to delay building construction until January 2018, in order to better align the opening of the apartment complex with planned NCDOT road widening projects scheduled to get underway in 2020.

New business

After a break, during which Council met in closed session, Assistant City Manager Cathy Ball asked Council to approve a resolution rejecting all bids received in a recent selection process for a contractor to manage the city’s transit system. Federal law requires the city to contract with an outside company to manage the system because city transit workers are organized by a collective bargaining agreement. The city may not directly manage unionized workers.

Ball also asked Council to allow the City Manager to extend the current management contract with First Transit on a month-to-month basis as the new contracting process is developed in consultation with the Federal Transit Administration.

Amy Cantrell spoke on behalf of the Just Economics People’s Voice on Transportation Equality campaign. She said the people of Asheville want and expect a transit management company that operates in the best interests of local riders and drivers. Additionally, Cantrell asked that the selection process be designed so that riders and drivers can have input into the process.

City Manager Gary Jackson told Council he accepts responsibility for the process not having been run appropriately, leading to the rejection of the two bids received from contractors First Transit and McDonald Transit. He said the new process will be run out of his office in coordination with federal officials. “If we can get it on the fast track we will do so,” he said, but the first priority is getting it right. Jackson estimated the process would take at least four to six months.

Board and Commission appointments

Council appointed Joel Storrow to the WNC Regional Air Quality Agency.

To the Accessory Dwelling Unit Task Force, which will create recommendations regarding the use of ADUs as short-term rentals in the city’s homestay program, Council appointed:

  • Jane Mathews
  • David Rogers
  • John Farquhar
  • Jackson Tierney
  • Israel Hill
  • Kelly Prime
  • Wendy Dean
  • Carter Webb
  • Kama Ward
  • Greta Bush
  • Randall Barnett
  • Barber Melton

The next meeting of City Council is Tuesday, July 5 at 5 p.m. in Council chambers on the second floor of City Hall. There are no public hearings scheduled for the meeting.

 

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About Virginia Daffron
Managing editor, lover of mountains, native of WNC. Follow me @virginiadaffron

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2 thoughts on “City Council remembers Isaac Coleman, approves Mills Gap apartments

  1. luther blissett

    “Jackson estimated the process would take at least four to six months.”

    So, 4-6 months grace for a company that lacks the confidence of its drivers, as has been extensively reported by the Asheville Blade? This was at best a f-up and from certain angles looks a lot like a stitch-up. Does council still have confidence in Mariate Echeverry’s ability to provide proper oversight of whoever gets the management contract?

  2. ApePeeD

    “In Julie’s perfect world…”

    LOL, whatever happened to “compromises”, huh?

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