Residents along Maxwell Street near downtown Asheville have a beef with one of their neighbors — Greenlife Grocery.
Long-standing tensions over truck traffic for store deliveries along the street were aired during a meeting of Asheville’s Planning and Zoning Commission on July 19 as part of a hearing on a request to rezone two houses on the street to allow for short-term rentals. Without special zoning approval, renting whole living units for periods of fewer than 30 days is not allowed in any part of the city.
Velvet Hawthorne, who has owned a house on Maxwell since 2010, said that large tractor-trailer trucks have difficulty navigating the residential street. She described a recent incident in which a large truck came close to scraping against her car and running over her garden before ultimately backing up along the road.
“This happens all the time,” she said.
Reid Thompson requested the rezoning for his properties at 28 and 32 Maxwell St., which are located across the street from Greenlife and its loading dock. Urban planner Joe Minicozzi is representing Thompson and spoke on behalf of his application at the commission meeting. Minicozzi argued that the city has been inconsistent in enforcing its own rules on the street, with Thompson receiving fines for operating short-term rentals while Greenlife’s violations of city traffic rules have gone unpunished.
For example, many of the delivery trucks that use the street, Minicozzi said, are far larger than allowed by city code, a violation he compared to greatly exceeding the speed limit. “Imagine being in a school zone where the speed limit is 25 miles per hour and somebody just whizzes by at 75 miles per hour,” he said.
Thompson said the city has mishandled issues along the street.
“We did 10 years, 15 years of the FedEx guy driving by my house beeping his horn, gunning up and down the street,” Thompson told members of the commission. “Where was city staff? Who protected us?”
The July 19 meeting marked the second time the commission considered the request, which was continued from the board’s May 2 meeting. City planning staff had recommended denying the application, arguing the proposed use of the property would be inconsistent with the surrounding zoning districts. Staff said the properties are too small to provide the buffering and parking required by code and pointed out that on-street parking on Maxwell is limited to long-term residents to reduce the impact of commercial users. Additionally, staff argued that the request would require amending part of the Living Asheville Comprehensive Plan, which was adopted while the rezoning request was being studied.
In the zoning application, Thompson proposed that all three apartment units at 28 Maxwell would be used as short-term rentals, while two of the three units at 32 Maxwell would be used as short-term rentals and one would be designated exclusively for long-term rental. The short-term rentals could be converted to long-term rentals. The application also included the addition of a 5-foot landscape buffer.
Members of the commission acknowledged that there is an issue along the corridor but pointed out that the question before them was whether to rezone the properties.
“As we make our decision this evening, unfortunately we won’t change the actual situation,” said commission Chair Laura Hudson. “I’m sorry for Maxwell Street, but we can’t improve the conditions.”
“I think the applicant has demonstrated that there is an intrusion of commercial activity on his property,” Hudson said. “There was no buffer put in place. We were remiss in not providing that from the beginning and perhaps could have avoided this entire situation.”
Hudson said she doesn’t like the idea of short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods but believes they can work in certain commercial areas.
“I’d like see Council wrestle with it and make that final determination,” Hudson said.
Commissioners voted 5-2 to recommend that City Council approve the zoning request.