The wheels of democracy turn slowly at times. It took three hours for Asheville City Council members to hear what local residents had to say about the proposed rezoning of 42 acres off Old Haywood Road.
Two property owners have asked that their mostly vacant land be switched from single- to multi-family zoning. But so many folks are opposed to the proposal that they couldn’t all fit in Council chambers. Many had to wait in the hallway, their ears tuned to an impromptu sound system set up on their behalf. They frequently had to tap-tap on the doors to encourage speakers to use the microphone, so the listeners could catch it all.
That made for a long evening, which ended on a frustrating note for many when Council elected not to make a decision. Instead, Council members asked residents and the rezoning petitioners to get together and come up with a solution.
“I make a motion that we vote tonight!” Buncombe County resident Joseph Kane called out from the back of the room.
Kane owns property wedged between the two parcels whose owners are seeking a higher-density zoning classification, which could increase the value of their land. Most of the property is in unincorporated Buncombe County, but within Asheville’s zoning jurisdiction.
One property owner’s son, David Evans, said he is trying to arrange for the sale of nearly 27 acres, to raise money for his mother’s nursing-home care in Greensboro. A rezoning could allow his mother’s old home to be operated as a bed-and-breakfast — a use not allowed under its current RS-4 (residential, single-family) designation.
Evans’ attorney, Bill Slawter, pointed out that the land was zoned R-3 before the Unified Development Ordinance was adopted. That residential designation would have allowed a B&B or a multi-family development.
Evans and neighboring property owner Mac Wilson have asked for an RM-16 (residential, multi-family, 16-units-per-acre) designation.
“It’s not right,” said Wilson, who has lived in Asheville for 50 years. “The property is not worth as much [now] as it was [before the UDO].”
But adjacent residents, like Kane, said they fear the possibilities: If the property is rezoned to RM-16 and then resold, a 672-unit apartment complex could theoretically be built on those 42 acres. Residents claimed that the resulting traffic and the additional families would overburden the surrounding neighborhood’s narrow, winding streets, as well as the local elementary school, Sand Hill-Venable.
Yet Kane and nearly a dozen other adjacent property owners signed the original rezoning petition. Said Kane, “I was told that the value of my property would be going down if I did not sign. … I was misled.”
Real-estate agents have posted a sign on the property advertising it as a “commercial” investment, said Betty Fagan, who lives nearby. That has raised concern among her neighbors about what could be built on the property, and it helped original petitioners like Kane decide to switch sides on the issue.
Nearby, the Lowe’s on Patton Avenue plans an expansion that may also encroach on the neighborhood, Kane claimed. “We feel like we’re having a bomb dropped on us over here,” he declared. “I’m nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof. I’m pleading with you to leave this zoned RS-4.”
Other residents added that most of the surrounding neighborhoods are predominantly single-family. One resident argued that the area has enough low-income, multi-family housing, such as Pisgah View, and it doesn’t need the possibility of any more.
Pushing for a compromise, Mayor Leni Sitnick asked whether there is some classification between RS-4 and RM-16 that would satisfy both sides.
City Planner Gerald Green suggested RM-6, or a Planned-Unit-Development overlay — a special zoning classification that would allow developers to build to higher densities, provided they follow extra guidelines. The overlay would force developers to protect an environmentally sensitive wetland on the property, and it would require larger green spaces around clustered, multi-family developments.
Council member Barbara Field noted that an RM-6 designation would allow the creation of a B&B.
Slawter conferred briefly with Evans and Wilson, then reported that RM-6 would be acceptable to them.
That just elicited grumbles from the opposing residents.
Then Council member Tommy Sellers motioned to table the issue for 30 days, which theoretically would give all involved parties enough time to reach a solution.
The response: more grumbles. “We’ve already done that,” said Fagan.
Nonetheless, Sellers’ motion passed 5-2. Sitnick and Council member Earl Cobb voted against it.
Said Cobb, “Tabling [this issue] won’t do any good if nothing changes [and] there’s not some serious dialogue.”
Council will tackle the question again on April 28.
Posted: Rod and Gun Club can’t meet at city lodge
Asheville City Council members shut the city’s doors to the Black Mountain Rod and Gun Club on March 24.
For at least 90 years, the club — consisting of top Asheville city officials, politicians, doctors, lawyers and businessmen — has met at the North Fork Reservoir, the city’s primary water source.
For 50 years, the group had the city’s tacit (if unwritten) permission to meet there, rent-free, although no other private groups have been allowed access to the 22,000-acre property since the city acquired it in the 1930s.
The group was apparently an all-white, all-male institution, formed in 1894 and chartered in 1907 to promote hunting, fishing and other outdoor sports, City Attorney Bob Oast told Council members during the March 24 formal session. Its members included city managers, mayors and Council members, such as former Council member Charles Worley, whose bid for mayor suffered a significant blow when his membership in the club was publicized last fall.
Late last summer, Council members told Oast to investigate the club’s use of reservoir facilities after Western North Carolina Citizens for an End to Institutional Bigotry protested, arguing that the pristine property is supposed to be off-limits to everyone.
Oast learned that members met regularly (sometimes with family and friends) at North Fork and allegedly were allowed access to the facility one day per month. Club meetings and other gatherings may have included the consumption of alcohol, too, which is prohibited on city property, unless city officials specifically give their permission, Oast pointed out.
Club membership may have included women in the beginning, according to Oast: As part of their lease with the club, two women who owned the property in 1907 insisted that they be allowed to join, he reported.
That didn’t impress Black Mountain resident Monroe Gilmour, who led the charge last year to oust the club from the city property. Gilmour argued that the group’s membership was evidence of its discriminatory nature, and complained that the city policy gave preferential treatment to a chosen few. “I’ve heard of [Rod and Gun Club] members showing their friends around and driving up around the watershed,” said Gilmour.
He emphasized that his efforts had not been politically motivated, asserting that, in the beginning, he hadn’t known Worley was a member.
Council members had little to say on that point, although Gilmour asked Worley supporter Field why she was “smirking” as he said it.
Field made no direct reply, but continued to smile. Later in the meeting, she said she was smiling because she knew Gilmour had been working on the issue at least since former City Manager Doug Bean was around in the 1980s. “I just find it interesting that this new Council is getting blamed for things that happened 100 years ago,” she said.
To that, Gilmour retorted that he is blaming current Council members.
Sitnick interrupted the testy exchange to ask that everyone stick to the discussion at hand.
The club already had a lengthy history of meeting on that land by the time the city foreclosed on the property, in 1927-1928.
Oast reported that he was unable to find a lease agreement between the city and the club, but that he had tracked down a 1952 letter from then-City ManagerWeldon Weir giving the club written permission to use the old lodge on the property.
Council member O.T. Tomes observed, “The history of this town has been — when certain people were in power — it was basically [run like] a dictatorship. We ought to close the door on this … and forget about it.”
His fellow Council members agreed, despite Gilmour’s insistence that some culpability remains. Gilmour questioned why city leaders and senior staff would involve themselves in such an exclusionary group, charging, “A [city] manager should see that such activities are inappropriate [and] a momentary lapse of judgment.”
Sitnick, who had questioned the club’s exclusive privilege last fall, defended City Manager Jim Westbrook, who was invited to join the club when he first came to work for Asheville eight years ago. “He was asked to join because all city managers were. He only attended one or two meetings up there, and that’s the beginning and ending of it,” Sitnick contended.
Just the same, she conceded that “perception is reality” — especially for those in public office and public service. “We should not do things that even smack of impropriety,” Sitnick advised. She called for Council to end not only the Rod and Gun Club’s privileges at North Fork, but other groups’, too — including City Council, which uses the lodge for its late-summer retreats.
Vice Mayor Ed Hay agreed that it was time to end the club’s tenancy, but he said Council should create a committee to determine whether some uses would be appropriate — and whether the city should charge a rental fee for the privilege. “It’s a nice place,” he reasoned. “If it’s OK to share it with the public, let’s do so.”
Oast pointed out that the acting Water Resources director, Assistant City Manager Doug Spell, had asked that any use of the reservoir be strictly controlled. The city’s Water Efficiency Task Force has held educational events for area schoolchildren at North Fork, and city staff occasionally use the facility to honor departing department heads, Oast said.
Oast referred to the Rod and Gun Club’s informal agreement as a “tenancy at will” type of lease. Council members voted unanimously to terminate that lease.
Hay also motioned to create a committee and direct staff to look into what uses might be appropriate there. On that issue, Sitnick cast the lone opposing vote, saying the reservoir “has a higher use: It provides us with drinking water.”