City Council to consider Ban the Box; apartments at former Plasticorp site

South-bound traffic on Sweeten Creek Road at 3 p.m. on a Wednesday. Photo provided by South Asheville Resident & Business Community Organization (SARBCO)

UPDATE Jan. 25 at 1:24 p.m.: Rusty Pulliam, developer for the 60 Mills Gap Road conditional zoning request public hearing, has asked for a continuance until April 26, 2016. City Council will vote on whether to approve this request for a continuance at its meeting Jan. 26.

Asheville’s City Council has a busy week of meetings ahead, with a full schedule on Tuesday, Jan. 26, followed by Council’s annual planning retreat Friday, Jan. 29 and Saturday, Jan. 30 at the YMI Cultural Center at 39 S. Market St.

Before the regular meeting of Council gets underway at 5 p.m. on Jan. 26, the Planning and Economic Development Commission will meet from 1 to 2:30 p.m. in the first floor conference room in City Hall. Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler and Councilmen Brian Haynes and Gordon Smith sit on this commission.

At 3:18 (if that’s specific enough for you), the full Council will conduct pre-arranged interviews for openings on city boards and commissions in room 209 of City Hall. Interviewees include:

  • 3:18                  Barry Bialik (Affordable Housing)
  • 3:26                  Sage Turner (Downtown Commission)
  • 3:34                  Brooke Brownlow (HUB Community Economic Development Alliance)
  • 3:42                  Laura Collins (Affordable Housing)
  • 3:50                  Mike Marcus (Downtown Commission)
  • 3:58                  Andrew Fletcher (Downtown Commission)
  • 4:06                  Rich Lee (HUB Community Economic Development Alliance)
  • 4:14                  Mark Collins (HUB Community Economic Development Alliance)
  • 4:22                  Franzi Charen (Downtown Commission)
  • 4:30                  Richard Fort ( Affordable Housing)

And that’s just the pre-game show before the regular meeting kicks off at 5 p.m. in Council chambers on the second floor of City Hall.

Consent Agenda

Within its consent agenda, Council will vote on several matters of general interest. These include:

  • Granting a conservation easement for approximately 16.5 acres along the French Broad River on property now held by the Asheville Regional Airport to the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy for greenway and conservation purposes. As required by Federal Aviation Administration regulations, the property must be purchased at fair market value and the proceeds must be given to the Asheville Regional Airport Authority.
  • Reducing the citywide speed limit of 35 miles per hour to 25 miles per hour on these street segments: Caledonia Road from Biltmore Avenue to Swannanoa River Road, Crowell Farms Drive from West Oakview Road to West Pointe Drive, Hampton Street from Caribou Road to Brooklyn Road, and Sherwood Road from Forest Hill Drive to the end of city maintenance.
  • Accepting a $250,000 contribution to the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund from the McKibbon Hotel Group. The contribution was pledged at the last meeting of Council on Feb. 12 in connection with McKibbon’s plans to renovate the former BB&T building as a mixed-use hotel, condominium, restaurant and retail facility.
  • Resolving to support the “Ban the Box” initiative by amending the city employment application to no longer require disclosure of past criminal history during the initial job application process for certain positions. Positions of a sensitive nature or those for which a background check is required by another law (such as jobs involving child care, financial services, education and law enforcement) will continue to require answering questions about past criminal history on the initial job application. In a memo describing the changes, Asheville’s human resources director Kelley Dickens writes: “The City will not change the policy of conducting a background check on all final candidates for employment. The goal remains to ensure the safety and security of the public and employees while providing an opportunity to our citizens, recognizing the relationship of employment to reduced rates of recidivism.”

Presentations and reports

East of Riverway neighborhood. Image provided by City of Asheville
East of Riverway neighborhood. Image provided by City of Asheville

Council will hear a report on a two-day workshop held on July 16-17 last year. The workshop and subsequent report was funded by the Environmental Protection Agency and focused on equitable development in Asheville’s East of the Riverway neighborhood.

According to a memo prepared by Sasha Vrtunski, a planner with the city:

The purpose of the workshop was to educate participants on equitable development as a tool to address sustainable, affordable and livable communities and to provide a forum for input on how equitable development might be applied in Asheville. The purpose of the report is to summarize the input of community workshop participants, and provide best practices for city staff and community agencies to consider in projects as our community continues to grow. The report gives an opportunity to explore the perspective of subject matter experts from outside of the Asheville community.

The report characterizes the East of the Riverway neighborhood as the area that connects the French Broad River to downtown Asheville.

The workshop process was facilitated by an EPA-funded consulting firm and supported by city staff. Four goals were developed out of the workshop:

  • Improve community engagement and enhance communication between the city and neighborhood residents; between different non-profits and neighborhood institutions; and between new and existing community members to help rebuild trust and engender more collaboration on addressing community challenges.
  • Preserve existing and provide more affordable housing choices within the East of the Riverway neighborhoods.
  • Strengthen the existing neighborhood by promoting local investment and community building commitments by existing and new community institutions.
  • Preserve community identity by promoting the arts community and celebrating local African American history.

Public hearings

Public hearings on three matters are on Council’s agenda.

Reallocating HOME funds

Council will hear a report and public comment on reallocating $928,064 of HOME funds. The funds are available because some development projects to which the funds had been allocated in the FY 2015-16 budget did not go forward. City Community Development staff, at the direction of the Asheville Regional Housing Consortium, sought proposals from HOME-eligible sub-recipients and for developments proposed by Community Housing Development Organizations. Six applications were received requesting a total of $1,566,817.

The selected recipients and their development projects include:

  • Givens Estates, Gerber Village Phase I in South Asheville
  • Henderson County Habitat for Humanity, Dodd Meadows Phase III
  • Housing Assistance Corporation, Oklawaha Village in Hendersonville
  • Madison County, Rural Housing Rehabilitation
  • Mountain Housing Opportunities and Farmbound Holdings, LLC, Pinnacle Point in South Asheville

Hyatt Place Hotel at Rockwood Road conditional zoning amendment request

A proposed hotel on Rockwood Road will request an amendment to a previously-approved conditional zoning decision. The hotel, which will be located about 7/10 of a mile from the Asheville Regional Airport, received conditional zoning approval for a building height of 82 1/2 feet (the typical maximum building height in Highway Business zoning districts is 60 feet) in 2013.

In its new request, the hotel is asking to increase the total number of rooms and the overall size of the building. Instead of 100 guest rooms, the hotel wants to build 108, and instead of a total building size of 60,474 square feet, the hotel wants to build 71,367 square feet. Most of the site and and other characteristics of the previously-approved conditional zoning application are unchanged.

The city’s Technical Review Committee and Planning & Zoning Commission recommended approval of the project. No public comment has been received regarding the request.

60 Mills Gap Rd. conditional zoning request

In what seems likely to be one of the most controversial subjects of the Jan. 29 Council meeting, developer Rusty Pulliam will ask Council to rezone a 15.3-acre property at the intersection of Sweeten Creek and Mills Gap Roads from industrial to highway business zone for the construction of 272 units of residential housing.

Formerly the site of the Plasticorp industrial complex, the property encompasses a flat area of about five acres which was previously used for industrial operations and for the circulation of large trucks onto and through the property. City planning director Todd Okolichany points out in a memo that the site is one of a limited number of remaining parcels suitable for industrial use in Asheville, and that retaining industrial land to help grow the area’s manufacturing economy and provide living wage jobs has been identified as a strategic priority for the city.

Traffic concerns are another issue. Okolichany advises that, since 2013, the city has permitted the construction of over 800 units of residential housing in the immediate area of the proposed development. Within one mile of the property, almost 600 units are currently under construction. Since these units are not yet complete, their impact on traffic is not part of current traffic impact studies.

Area residents are concerned about the impact of traffic associated with the proposed development on the two-lane Sweeten Creek and Mills Gap Roads, especially when considered in conjunction with the housing units currently under construction. Over 371 individuals have signed a letter opposing the project.

The project was first considered by the Planning & Zoning Commission on Nov. 19 last year. Based on feedback received at that meeting, the developer withdrew the project before it came to a vote. When the Commission again reviewed the project on Jan. 6, the developer had removed commercial components from the project (to mitigate traffic concerns) and had added a commitment to designate 20% of the project’s units as affordable housing for a period of 10 years. At the second meeting, Planning & Zoning voted 6-1 to recommend approval of the project.

Despite that recommendation from Planning & Zoning, Okolichany favors denying the project on the basis of its removal of valuable industrial property from the area and its impact on an already-overburdened roadway infrastructure.

Board and Commission appointments

After the public hearings, Council will appoint two members to the Affordable Housing Advisory Committee.

To fill four vacancies on the Downtown Commission as of Dec. 31 last year, Council has indicated that it plans to reappoint Dane Barrager, Brent Campbell and Pamela Winkler. Council will appoint a fourth member from among the four candidates it will interview before the Council meeting.

To replace Julie Mayfield, who resigned upon her election to City Council, a new member will be appointed to the HUB Community & Economic Development Alliance to fill the remainder of Mayfield’s term on that body, which expires Aug. 22, 2018.

 

The full meeting agenda and supporting documents can be found here.

 

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

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