Over 70 percent of Asheville voters approved the city’s $25 million affordable housing bond referendum this past November. According to the city’s website for bond-related information, $10 million is earmarked for beefing up the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which provides low-interest loans to developers who commit to building new affordable housing. The rest of the money — $15 million — is designated as funding to repurpose city land for affordable housing. The website specifies, “Primary project: South Charlotte Street corridor.”
In its first session dedicated solely to planning for spending $74 million in bond funding — which also includes $32 million for transportation infrastructure and $17 million for parks and recreation — City Council agreed with a plan advanced by Assistant City Manager Cathy Ball to consider two other properties alongside the 7.5-acre South Charlotte Street site for developing affordable housing.
One of the properties, 319 Biltmore Ave. (the former location of Matthews Ford), is owned by Duke Energy. City Council agreed last April to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with Duke Energy for the 5.5-acre parcel. The agreement gives the city the option to purchase the land for $5.3 million, the same price Duke paid for it, for a period of eight years. The property sits next to the Lee Walker Heights public housing neighborhood, which the Housing Authority of the City of Asheville hopes to redevelop in partnership with Mountain Housing Opportunities.
The third site, located at 81 and 91 Riverside Drive, occupies about two acres. Developing that site, remarked Council member Gordon Smith, would address some of the issues identified by the city’s 2014 Alternatives to Gentrification in East of the Riverway study by providing affordable housing for artists working in the River Arts District.
The proposed studies will take about a year, Ball told Council, and will include environmental assessments, appraisals, surveys, conceptual design to determine the number of housing units each site could support, geotechnical analysis and an assessment of how developing each site would align with City Council’s strategic policy goals.
Responding to a question from Council member Cecil Bothwell, Ball said consultants would be used to complete the studies and a cost will be associated with the work. Bothwell urged Ball to consider the remaining useful life of city departments now located on the site. The Public Works operation, located south of Beaumont Street, houses garbage trucks and other equipment and has another 20 years of useful life, Ball said. The city’s Fleet Management operation, located between the Public Works garage and the ABC store, she said, has exceeded its useful life and no longer accommodates the city’s needs efficiently.
Contamination is a concern at the South Charlotte Street site, Ball continued, but it isn’t necessarily a deal breaker. Grants or other funding might be available to defray the cost of cleanup, she said, and addressing the contamination could benefit the health of the stream that runs beneath the property. “There are issues, and we’ve known of those issues, but it could be an opportunity,” she said.
Ball also gave an overview of an interim Capital Projects team, which will be led by Jade Dundas, the director of the Asheville Water Resources Department. The interim team will move planning and communication forward while the city recruits and hires a dedicated staff to oversee bond-related and Capital Improvement Plan projects, Ball said.
At its next regular meeting on Feb. 14, City Council will vote on budget amendments that incorporate around $200,000 of the grant money into the current fiscal year’s budget and acknowledge that the city will spend the total bond proceeds of $74 million over the next seven years. On April 17, Council will hold its next budget work session.