At its March 11 meeting, the Asheville City Council unanimously approved an 11-story, mixed-used building planned for downtown’s south end.
Slated to include condos as well as office and retail space, the project is the first building to be approved for the ambitious Zona Village project. Zona Village North One, slated for construction on a gravel parking lot on Buxton Avenue, will be around the corner from another project by the same developer, the previously approved 15-story Zona Lofts, planned for 150 Coxe Ave. Both are expected to be completed by 2011.
North One is planned for a 0.17 acre lot on the north side of Buxton between Collier and South Lexington avenues. The Asheville-based developer, Alexander Reagan LLC, plans to build 54 residential units, with a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom condos. The company, said President and CEO Robin Pittman, also plans approximately 3,000 square feet of office and retail space at ground level.
The condos will range from about 632 square feet to 1,570 square feet, according to the developer. Two office spaces are planned, at 670 and 915 square feet, and two retail spaces, at 724 and 947 square feet.
Pittman predicted that most units, which are aimed primarily at Mission Hospitals staff, would be affordable for middle-class buyers whom Pittman said are now underserved downtown. Prices would range from about $169,000 to $800,000. Those numbers prompted Council member Robin Cape to urge the developer to consider dropping the prices on a few of the condos to make them affordable to a broader swath of buyers, though that wasn’t a condition of approval.
Council’s biggest concern, however, proved to be parking. The current plans don’t call for any dedicated parking for the building, and the city doesn’t require it for new downtown construction. But Pittman assured Council that parking would be part of the overall plans as Zona Village is developed. A structure now being studied, he said, could create up to 500 spaces.
Council member Brownie Newman said this approach encourages more pedestrian-friendly development downtown.
“I think it’s wrong to put a mandate on [parking spaces],” he said. “You go to great American cities, and you’ll notice that you can’t have a great downtown if you require a certain number of spaces [for every building].”
Council members largely applauded the plan, citing infill development in an area that’s littered with empty buildings and vacant lots. The plan also drew kudos for its commitment to green building practices. Among the planned features are solar hot water; collecting rainwater for flushing toilets; using environmentally sensitive materials in paints, wall textures, cabinets and countertops; and sustainable flooring made of bamboo and eucalyptus.
“I think the project is great and am glad to see it proposed in our community,” said Newman, adding that it would address housing needs in an underdeveloped part of downtown.
Who stole my car?
Citing numerous complaints from residents and tourists alike, Council directed City Attorney Bob Oast to come back to them in April with ways to stem predatory towing in the city’s private parking lots. A 2003 ordinance requires lot owners to post signs warning unauthorized users of the risks they face. But many have complained that the signs are often hard to see, especially at night, and may not provide sufficient information. Some people have expressed frustration over having to pay “release” or “storage” fees in addition to the towing charge, which can add a couple of hundred dollars or more to the total cost. Although neither Council members nor staff cited any specific instances of illegal behavior, it was alleged that some towing companies are taking advantage of an ordinance that bears updating.
“We have very little power as a political body to regulate predatory towing. … But I think we all realize we have a problem and need to do something about it,” Vice Mayor Jan Davis observed.
There are some things the city could do right away, noted Oast. The required signs could be changed in any number of ways, he said, such as making them bigger and requiring them to provide more information concerning charges, lot ownership and contact numbers.
Such changes are fine, said Council member Carl Mumpower, but they won’t fix the problem. “The predators aren’t going to play,” he predicted, adding, “For those of you in the towing business, you’ve had a lot of time to clean this up.” Mumpower suggested substantially increasing the fines for abuses of the towing ordinance, which would send the strongest message to unscrupulous operators. Oast said that’s another area where the city could act quickly if it chose to.
Some Council members said the city could also seek more innovative ways to ease the downtown parking crunch. Council member Robin Cape mentioned using economic incentives, such as tax breaks, to encourage businesses and owners of private lots to open up spaces to the public during off hours. Newman chimed in that the city might explore actually buying the right to use some private spaces during certain hours of the day.
Davis agreed, saying, “There’s lots of spaces downtown going unused. I think there is some opportunities to do some innovative things.”
As the weather warms this spring, bicycles will once again start popping up all over town, along with the crocuses and daffodils. But while downtown is no stranger to such vehicles, they’ll have some new company this year.
City Council unanimously granted a franchise to Your Chariot Awaits LLC, which wants to operate up to five pedicabs within downtown, the River Arts District and the Montford Historic District.
The bike taxi service won’t be allowed on the streets during peak commuting periods or where the speed limit is 35 mph or higher. The specified hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. Monday through Friday, and 7 a.m. to 3 a.m. on weekends.
Council members lauded the idea, though some raised questions about traffic safety. “My only experience with pedicabs was in Saigon, and they were a little dangerous. Any concerns?” Mumpower, a Vietnam War veteran, asked Transportation and Engineering Director Cathy Ball.
Ball responded that the city’s franchise allows it to revoke the license within 30 days if problems arise and to impose further restrictions as needed. However, she said, “The benefits at this point outweigh the risks.”
Company owner Felicia Thurman said the pedicabs, which can also run on an electric motor, can reach speeds of 12 mph. She also noted that they’re roughly the same size as the electric carts used by the city’s parking patrol. Thurman said she couldn’t think of any reason why the pedicabs would pose any real hazard or impediment to traffic.
Council member Bill Russell supported the idea enthusiastically, saying, “I definitely think it would add to the Asheville flavor.”
Asheville was a big winner in last year’s Nobel Prize awards, and City Council took the opportunity to recognize that. The local winners, all of whom are scientists, were honored along with many others for their work on global warming and climate change. The Asheville recipients all worked at the National Climatic Data Center and were affiliated with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which shared the 2007 Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore. Thousands of scientists around the globe have studied and issued reports on climate change through the IPCC during the past two decades.
Those honored were: Tim Owen, Richard W. Reynolds, John J. Bates, Michael Crowe, Robert Eskridge, Robert G. Quayle, Byron Gleason, Thomas R. Karl, David Wuertz, David Easterling, Thomas Peterson, Jay Lawrimore, Leonard Bernstein, David Levinson, Richard Knight, Russell Vose and Pasha Ya Groisman.