With four cranes silhouetted against the skyline, construction fencing blocking sidewalks and hundreds of construction workers on the job every day, downtown Asheville is buzzing with development activity. As the city continues to garner attention as a tourism destination, and to post ever-higher numbers of annual visitors, commercial developers keep dreaming up schemes for new hotels, apartments and mixed-use buildings in the hot downtown market.
Of the 19 new building projects that have received building permits in the downtown area since 2010, however, only three have been reviewed by City Council. Amid concerns by downtown business owners and Asheville residents that new development may have gotten out of hand, Councilman Gordon Smith recently called for a fresh look at the project review guidelines in place since Council adopted the Downtown Master Plan in 2009.
As a report from new city planning director Todd Okolichany explains, Council presently only reviews development applications classified as Level III projects: buildings larger than 175,000 square feet or with a building height above the intermediate height zone (from 145 feet to a maximum of 265 feet). The projects which have met these criteria in recent years include the life safety tower for the Buncombe County Courthouse at 60 Court Plaza (2010), the Buncombe County Courts Building Amendment at 60 Court Plaza (2011) and the Buncombe County Health and Human Services Building at 40 Coxe Ave. (2015). Council will hear a conditional zoning request related to the redevelopment of the BB&T building at One West Pack Square in January 2016.
At Council’s regular meeting on Dec. 8, Okolichany will present the results of an analysis his department has prepared in response to Council’s request to re-examine the standards that govern downtown development. Okolichany’s report details the standards currently in place and potential alternative strategies for expanding Council review of downtown projects, as well as other strategies to maintain downtown’s unique character.
I-26 Connector Project
City transportation department director Ken Putnam and transportation staff will present a review of the process undertaken by the city in conjunction with the NCDOT’s release of the I-26 Connector Project Draft Environment Impact Statement and the NCDOT’s associated public comment period.
Putnam will present comments the city plans to submit to the NCDOT prior to the end of the public comment period on Dec. 16. Included within the city’s comments are recommendations such as:
- re-assessing the project’s travel demand projections and minimizing the number of lanes necessary to meet those demands to the greatest extent possible
- maintaining Amboy Road as a two-lane roadway (rather than the four lanes suggested by project plans)
- increasing the pedestrian and bicycle amenities on the Haywood Road Bridge
- reconsideration of the proposed closure of Hanover Street at its intersection with Haywood Road to avoid negative impacts to city bus routes W1 and W2, which provide service to the Pisgah View Apartments
- specific recommendations for connections to city-owned greenways
- attention to the adverse impacts on the Westgate Shopping Center and the Burton Street community associated with design alternatives 3 and 3C
- concentrating funding within Section B of the project area (which includes the Jeff Bowen Bridge and I-240 near downtown) rather than Section C (which includes I-40 and I-26 to the south of Asheville)
Putnam also will put forward a resolution containing many of the recommendations noted above for City Council’s consideration and vote.
Mountain Xpress coverage of the latest design alternatives for the I-26 Connector Project, and the public comment process surrounding the project, can be found here:
- Crunch time for I-26 connector: DOT seeks public input as key decision nears
- I-26 Connector hearing packs the room, DOT asks for input
Council will hear public comment on two matters:
- An amendment to a previously approved conditional zoning at 671 Sand Hill Road to add a two-story, 8,000 square foot building for an established private school, The New Classical Academy.
- Consideration of the permanent closing of an unnamed alley off Jarrett Street.
Within the Consent Agenda (which is generally approved on a single vote of Council, with any items requiring additional discussion pulled out for separate review and voting), several items merit mention.
Council will vote to approve its meeting schedule for 2016, meeting on the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of each month at 5 p.m. at City Hall, with the exception of the following dates (on which meetings will not be held): July 12, Aug. 9, Nov. 22 and Dec. 27.
The appointment of Council members to boards and commissions has been determined, with new Council members taking on the following assignments:
Brian Haynes: Civic Center Commission (liaison), Downtown Commission, Firemen’s Local Relief Fund (liaison), Planning & Economic Development Committee, Public Art & Cultural Commission (liaison), Public Safety Committee
Julie Mayfield: Affordable Housing Advisory Committee (liaison), Finance Committee, French Broad River MPO, Historic Resources Commission (liaison), Housing Authority (liaison), Housing & Community Development Committee, HUB Economic Community Development Alliance Board (alternate), Planning & Zoning Commission (liaison), Public Safety Committee, Soil Erosion/Stormwater Review Committee (liaison), Sustainability Advisory Committee on Energy and the Environment (liaison), Tourism Development Authority (ex-officio member, non-voting), WNC Regional Air Quality Agency Board (liaison)
Keith Young: Board of Adjustment (liaison), Boards & Commissions Committee, Citizens/Police Advisory Committee (ex-officio member, non-voting), Community Relations Council, Governance Committee, Recreation Board
The full listing of city boards and commissions, with Council representation and liaisons, can be found here.
As part of the consent agenda, Council will also vote on a resolution in support of the Connect NC bond act. The bond package includes $5 million which, if approved, will fund infrastructure repairs and deferred maintenance projects at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College.
Board and Commission vacancies
The city has announced vacancies on the following boards and commissions: Affordable Housing Advisory Committee; Board of Adjustment; Community Relations Council; Downtown Commission; Energy & the Environment; Firemen’s Relief Fund; Homeless Initiative Advisory Committee; HUB Community Economic Development Alliance Board; Metropolitan Sewerage District Board; Riverfront Redevelopment Commission (design professional); and Tree Commission.
The deadline to apply for these openings is Wednesday, January 6, 2016, at 5:00 p.m. Call 259-5601 for an application form.
City Council meetings begin at 5 p.m. in Council Chambers at City Hall. The full agenda for the Dec. 8 meeting of Council, along with links to supporting documents, can be found here.