Asheville City Council

By recent standards, Asheville City Council’s May 9 meeting was an extraordinarily quiet one. It was mercifully efficient and short, as well, clocking in at one hour and 20 minutes.

The one issue that could have been contentious — a zoning change and conditional-use permit for a proposed apartment complex in north Asheville — proved not to be. Council members voted unanimously to let Gregory Meade transform his 12,000-square-foot building (141 Hillside St.) from a drug treatment center for non-violent drug users into 12 apartments for elderly residents. The property contains two smaller, single-family houses that Meade has already refurbished.

“They have a great program, but I just feel the burden it places on the neighborhood just isn’t right,” said Meade about his current tenant, the Life On Life’s Terms treatment facility. The burden, he continued, comes from unwanted noise and traffic. “I just think it takes away from the neighborhood and the two other houses I’ve already remodeled.”

Meade told Council that he has spoken with many of the residents in the neighborhood and has their support. The apartments for the elderly, he explained, would be more in harmony with the surroundings: The Brooks-Howell Apartments, across the street, caters to retired missionaries.

“I appreciate that you did your homework … and are sensitive to the neighborhood and community,” Mayor Leni Sitnick told Meade. “Usually, this is the kind of issue that inspires all kinds of comments.”

Planning Director Scott Shuford said the city’s “newest tool in the toolbox” — conditional-use zoning — will allow the existing building to be more compatible with the surrounding neighborhood. The conditions on the permit included limiting the number of apartments to 12. (Under the new multifamily zoning overlay on the property, Meade could have built up to 22 units.) Parking will be restricted to the rear of the property, and the current parking lot out front will be removed, replaced by decent landscaping. Finally, the two smaller buildings on the property will be required to remain under the existing single-family zoning category, which Meade said was always his intention.

Affordable-housing plan adopted

Other than a few city staffers and a couple of reporters, hardly anyone was left in chambers when Council unanimously adopted a long-term plan for combating Asheville’s affordable-housing shortage.

The lack of public interest in this issue, the mayor noted, was probably due to the seven public hearings already held on the subject — plus the extensive community participation elicited in drafting the Consolidated Housing and Community Development Plan. The five-year plan provides a guide for spending $15 million in community-development block grants and federal HOME funds.

Earlier drafts of the plan had called for mandatory housing-code inspections to enforce the removal of hazardous, lead-based paint. That didn’t sit well with local landlords, however, and the final version calls for educating property owners on the hazards of lead-based paint, instead.

Council also approved the Consolidated Action Plan for 2000-01, which sets out the annual budget for housing-related projects. The plan included one funding change from the previous fiscal year: a $47,000 increase to the Affordable Housing Coalition to hire an additional consumer-credit counselor. That money will come out of AHC’s share of the plan’s down-payment-assistance funding. At a past Council meeting, AHC representatives had said that credit counseling is one of the most effective tools in helping people find affordable housing; due to a lack of funding, however, the organization had been able to afford only one such counselor. The AHC also reported that it’s much easier to raise down-payment funding in the private sector.

All hail the chief

On his second-to-last day on the job, longtime Asheville Fire Chief John Rukavina made a final appearance in front of Council, before passing his chief’s badge to successor Robert Griffin.

Rukavina served the city for 14 years; he now moves on to take a position with Wake County.

“I have had the excellent fortune to work with firefighters who don’t seem to tire of learning new skills, so they can deal with emergencies in a world daily increasing in complexities,” he read from a written statement. “When I joined the Asheville Fire Department in 1986, the word “terrorism” never came up, unless in a conversation about the Middle East or airplane hijackings.”

Mayor Sitnick told Rukavina: “We will remember you; you will be in the history books.”

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