City Council to take steps on expanding Homestays, planning for park

Following a moment of silence in remembrance of former Councilman Marc Hunt's son Taylor, Boy Scout Troop 91 led the Pledge of Allegiance. Photo by Virginia Daffron

Supporters of a park on Haywood Street, across from the Basilica of St. Lawrence and the U. S. Cellular Center, would have raised a hearty cheer at the close of City Council’s Dec. 8 meeting. Would have, that is, if all but one of their number hadn’t already left the chamber by the time the meeting adjourned after 9 p.m.

Likewise, advocates for expanding the city’s newly-revised homestay short-term lodging ordinance to include accessory dwelling units (ADUs, which include basement or garage apartments, or mother-in-law suites), also had cause for celebration as Council directed staff to begin the process of amending the rules.

And there was something for those Asheville residents who believe the city’s growth has gotten out of hand: an agreement among Council members to bring greater scrutiny to bear on new building projects downtown.

The details of each of these policy directions remain to be worked out. None of them came to a vote, and even the limits of various Councilmembers’ agreement in principle seemed unclear. But they are all headed to the same place for further review and refinement: the Planning & Economic Development committee, newly under the direction of Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler.

Joining Wisler on the committee are Councilmen Gordon Smith and Brian Haynes. The three-member body, which meets at 3:30 p.m. on the third Tuesday of each month, will work with city staff and other committees to hash out the details of how the city will move forward.

Haywood Street lot

When it comes to the property on Haywood Street, Mayor Esther Manheimer said the first step had already been taken. “The property is no longer on the market,” Manheimer clarified.

“The essential first decision we need to make is what the streets are going to be like there,” commented Councilman Cecil Bothwell. “There are ways to make that place better, and the roads are going to define what we do from this point forward.”

Wisler, responding to the mayor’s request to take up the next steps in the process in the Planning & Economic Development committee, asked for a consensus around the general use of the property: “Will it be public space only?”

Wisler’s question provoked an active discussion. Newly-elected Councilman Keith Young, whose campaign was based in part on his support for a park on the property, responded, “That’s where I’m at. Public space and zero development and community conversation.” Newly-elected Councilwoman Julie Mayfield said she supports examining a variety of options and their associated costs and potential benefits.

The mayor acknowledged that Council members hold “a range of ideas of how to approach this.” Wisler said her committee, working with city staff, would explore options for a public process surrounding the future use for the site and bring a proposal to Council.

ADUs as homestays

Manheimer noted that she recently has gone on the record in support of exploring the use of ADUs as homestays. A homestay is a type of short-term lodging offered by the primary resident of a home while the resident is present.

In the city’s revised homestay ordinance enacted by Council on Nov. 17, rules for offering homestays were loosened to enable more Asheville residents to participate in the activity.

ADUs are self-contained units separate from the primary living space of the residence. ADUs were specifically excluded from the homestay ordinance in order to boost the number of units available to long-term renters. In a city that is experiencing a rental property vacancy rate of less than 1%, Council planned to preserve as many housing units as possible for residents.

But several factors prompted Council to reconsider: pressure from property owners wishing to gain the revenues associated with renting ADUs on a short-term basis, the results of November’s election and, possibly, a lawsuit brought by short-term rental operators.

Thus, Manheimer directed Wisler, as chair of Planning & Economic Development, to begin working through the process of drafting an amendment to the homestay ordinance in consultation with city staff. Additional city committees to be consulted include Housing and Community Development, the Affordable Housing Advisory Committee and possibly the Neighborhood Advisory Committee.

Downtown Development Review

Prompted by concerns that downtown development is happening at an increasingly rapid pace and without sufficient oversight from elected officials, in November Council requested a report on current thresholds for Council review of development projects downtown.

City planning director Todd Okolichany presented an overview of current downtown development review standards. Photo by Virginia Daffron
City planning director Todd Okolichany presented an overview of current downtown development review standards. Photo by Virginia Daffron

In a presentation, city planning director Todd Okolichany explained that, since the passage of the Downtown Master Plan in 2010, Council only reviews downtown 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).

Only three projects have met those criteria in recent years: 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 on Jan. 12.

In his presentation, Okolichany outlined a wide variety of possible strategies for amending the current review standards, including lowering the size thresholds that trigger Council review, as well as the possible implementation of conditional use permit and/or conditional zoning requirements.

This matter, too, was referred to the Planning & Economic Development committee for further action, though Council did generally signal its intent to tighten the regulations and the level of oversight controlling downtown development.

Consent Agenda

Council passed its consent agenda unanimously.

Public Hearings

Council held public hearings on two matters: an amendment to a previously-approved conditional zoning at 671 Sand Hill Rd. to add a two-story, 8,000 square foot building for the New Classical Academy, a private school; and the permanent closing of an unnamed alley off Jarrett Street. Council approved both matters unanimously.

I-26 Connector Resolution

Council heard a presentation from city transportation department director Ken Putnam on his department’s activities surrounding the release of the NCDOT’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the I-26 Connector project.

Councilwoman Julie Mayfield outlines Council’s statement on the I-26 Connector project to be submitted to the NCDOT. Photo by Virginia Daffron

After Putnam’s presentation, which included a summary of the comments his department plans to submit to the NCDOT as part of the public comment process, Councilwoman Mayfield delivered an introduction to Council’s resolution on the I-26 project.

“This will be the largest infrastructure project we will likely ever see in WNC and it will dictate the character and feel of our city for decades to come,” said Mayfield. “It is enormously impactful to homes and businesses along the corridor.”

Mayfield responded to the calls from some in the community to “just get it done,” explaining that “until now, we have not fully known the relative impacts of the different alternatives.” The DEIS report released on Oct. 16, she said, was the first complete report the community has seen. Thus, though the city has been discussing the project for a long time, “we have not had a full understanding of the project’s impacts for our city.”

Following Mayfield’s comments, Council heard extensive public comment. Most of those who spoke focused their remarks on the impact of various NCDOT design alternatives.

Montford resident John Gordon, however, said that Council hadn’t thought “far enough out of the box,” pointing out that interstate highways don’t generally intersect with cities and that the roadway could be routed around Asheville. Gordon presented a sketch illustrating his idea, which showed a re-routed I-26 joining with I-40 for a short distance, and then turning northward on the west side of the city to join with I-26 north of UNC Asheville.

Mayfield responded that, over ten years ago, city leaders demanded that the roadway come through Asheville. Manheimer mused that she didn’t know whether the NCDOT would reconsider the route at this late date.

Council unanimously passed a resolution to be submitted to the NCDOT. Key elements of the resolution include:

  • Minimizing the footprint of the project.
  • Analyzing an option of fewer lanes through West Asheville and building as few lanes as possible throughout the project.
  • Creating a collaborative working group with the city during the NCDOT design phase of the project.
  • Endorsing alternative F1 for section C (the smallest alternative for the I-40, I-240, I-26 interchange)
  • Endorsing alternatives 4 and 4B over the 3-series of alternatives, while urging further work to minimize the impacts to businesses and the Burton Street, Emma and Montford neighborhoods.

In closing, Manheimer noted that this was Council’s final meeting of 2015, and wished Asheville citizens a Merry Christmas and a happy holiday season.

Vice mayor Wisler thanked former Councilmembers Marc Hunt and Jan Davis, as well as members of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, for their work on the I-26 project.

Young asked Council members to familiarize themselves with the Ban the Box initiative, which he said he would soon be bringing to the Governance committee.

Smith wrapped up with “Peace, love and joy.”

 

 

 

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

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14 thoughts on “City Council to take steps on expanding Homestays, planning for park

  1. Impressed

    Now that was real swift action for the new Council members. The last batch didn’t get that much movement in the last couple of years combined. The campaign promises of Haynes & Young are coming to fruition. One thing I am confused by is Gordon Smith now being the anti-hotelier, yet he never tried to push forward anything to keep them in check before. It is seemingly a very political move to gain votes & a completely different track than he put Lindsey on, hence why she lost. Maybe he sees the writing on the on the wall, or maybe he will just say whatever he needs to win? The jury is out on this one.

    • Smith thinks homestays reduce the housing supply. he is wrong on that score because many rooms would just go empty or get used for storage, not rented full time; and because sleep is a human need even when travelling. And poor people do travel. So smith is wrong but he is, according to his wrong theory of the causality of the housing shortage, being consistent with his own and Simerly’s affordable housing priority. Smith is still a jerk though, more personally than politically.

  2. AVL LVR

    I hope NCDOT totally disregard city council’s stupid I-26 Connector Resolution. The city should be focusing efforts on enhancing the design/landscape of the highway/sound barriers and forcing NCDOT to build greenways along every section of construction from Weaverville to Fletcher to I-40. The highway needs to be at least 8 lanes (maybe 10) to accommodate especially both highways (at the merger of I-26 and I-240) at peak leaf season. A lot of the houses which will be demolished need to be torn down anyways as they are eyesores. One new apartment complex will more than make up for the lost housing. The actual extra land taken isn’t that much considering a lane is like around 12′ wide.

    • AVL LVR

      I would put intricate artwork on the overpass bridges (perhaps attached or etched in the concrete) along I-240 I-40 I-26 conjunction and elsewhere. I would use Norwegian spruce or blue cedar trees (like Winston Salem does). Have the NC Arboretum and Asheville artists help.

      • AVL LVR

        City council can decide what the artwork will be (as long as it isn’t something gross or for mature audiences) and what type of bushes (in the median like in Durham) and trees along the highway to use. Winston Salem makes good use of the beautiful blue cedar trees.

    • City Council created the demand for 10 lanes by displacing so much workforce housing up to 50 miles out into the hills. If they unzoned, the current highway would be just fine.

  3. As Don Kostelec noted during public comment, the confluence of two major Interstate highways in Chicago is 8 lanes. To suggest that Asheville has anything like the transportation demand of our nation’s busiest inland port is simply silly.

    • AVL LVR

      The confluence of two major Interstates I-85 and I-75 in Atlanta, GA has between 14-16 lanes and Burlington, NC has 8 lanes (population 51,000). This highway will have a significant amount of local traffic as it cuts through town, so at least 8-10 lanes ARE justified.

      Cecil, I know you are trying to get us car-free and even suggested removing parking and adding tolls to do it, but this is another technique to keep poor people dependent on government for their transport needs. Democrat politicians will afford private parking and tolls while the poor cannot. Don’t you get it, Democrats are trapping you in a system of dependence for votes.

      Sometimes house and buildings need to be torn down for the greater good. Only accept tremendous compensation so that can rebuild it a lot better. I would demand overcompensation for those affected. Refocus your efforts Bothwell on the compensation, multimodal, and design aspects and let the NCDOT do their thing.

      • hauntedheadnc

        AVL LVR, I’m curious as to if you’d be so gungho for 8-12 lanes if the road was slated to run through Biltmore Forest. We’ve all heard your disdain for trailer parks and any other kind of housing not inhabited by the “right” sort of people, although I imagine you can bring yourself to tolerate servants quarters, provided those servants are there to serve the right people.

        So in all honesty, would you be pushing so hard for this road if it wasn’t going to destroy what passes for a middle class neighborhood in this city? Would you still want it if was going to run through rich neighborhoods?

        • AVL LVR

          Lets deal with reality not hypothetical and yes, I fully support widening I-40 through Biltmore Estate and the little section of Biltmore Forest. NCDOT should be required to disguise the highway through the Estate with earthen sound walls called Noise Berms and stone tunnels underneath the bridges.

          It is not as if the I-26 project was a surprise. We have been talking about this for how long?? Also, if you live near an interstate, you have to expect it.

          I love poor people. I just want to make them rich. Improving their surroundings and living conditions will help put them in a right mindset to pursue their dreams. That includes banned trailers/mobile homes.

          • Hauntedheadnc

            You didn’t answer the question. Would you or would you not support running an 8 to 10 lane, or larger highway through a wealthy neighborhood, with the same cavalier attitude you take toward running one through middle class and lower class neighborhoods?

            And tell me… Don’t you ever become frustrated spouting all these unrealistic plans for turning the city of Asheville into one giant gated community/circle jerk for the 1% of the 1%? you never come up with anything that would help any normal person here in their daily life; rather, what we get from you is a never-ending stream of consciousness exposition on ways to make the place prettier for rich tourists.

          • Many mobile home parks have been banned, and banning them did NOT crate better housing. The better housing must be built FIRST. though rich people do use mobile homes. an especially good use is beachfront where occasional storm surges wipe everything out periodically. Mobil homes limit the loss, though they do need good tie downs.

      • Monetary compensation won’t replace housing in Asheville; that would require repealing the UDO. And if Bothwell would repeal the UDO, we wouldn’t need any new highway.

    • VladEmrick

      I wish all of our leaders would push for completion of the French Broad River bridge section of the project to fix what is a very dangerous and poorly designed section of road. It is long overdue. Regardless of whether I-26 through West Asheville has 4 lanes, 8 lanes, or 38 lanes, this part of the highway must be fixed. It’s a matter of safety.

      Let’s get behind this one section of the project and get it done.

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