For at least 60 years, three large homes on Montford Avenue have been used as offices or group homes. The properties at 372, 382 and 406 Montford Ave. were once part of Highland Hospital, and — before the passage of the Unified Development Ordinance in 1997 — they were zoned Office-Institutional. But the UDO rezoned them residential, despite their continuing nonresidential use.
During City Council’s May 11 formal session, the owners of two of the properties pleaded with Council members to rezone the three lots as Office (a less-intense classification than Office Institutional). “I really believe the UDO made a mistake, to begin with,” said Chinese Acupuncture Clinic owner Cissy Majebe. “The residential zoning was not an appropriate [classification] in the first place,” she argued, citing the three properties’ 60-year history.
And fellow property owner Jay Fines — who rents office space and also lives in the old home at 372 Montford — pointed out that he had bought the place for use as offices and has made substantial improvements to it in the past several years.
But adjacent property owner Susan Roderick objected, saying, “We’re trying to keep a residential character in the neighborhood.” And her husband, Alan Roderick, voiced concern about the potential for increased traffic. Because of the steep grade fronting Montford Avenue, Fines’ property has street access only to Watauga Street, a very narrow residential road at the rear of the house.
Asheville native Jacqueline Donnelly countered that there’s a process of gentrification going on in Montford. “I remember what [the neighborhood] was like when I was 10 years old: It was in decline.” Property owners like Fines, she said, have improved their properties and improved the neighborhood. Donnelly also noted that she finds it ironic that a nearby bed-and-breakfast owner (cited by Roderick) would want to keep the entire neighborhood residential. A B&B — “That’s a business. … Maybe there should be office uses in a neighborhood, if they’re serving a purpose,” Donnelly observed, urging Council to grant Majebe’s request for Office zoning.
Majebe’s attorney, Jacqueline Grant, reminded Council that the properties had originally been zoned Office Institutional: “Then the UDO came along and changed it to residential. There was no problem with the [Office-Institutional] zoning in the past.”
Council members agreed. Mayor Leni Sitnick read aloud the purpose of Office districts, as detailed in the UDO: It’s a transitional zoning between residences and more intense uses (the old Highland Hospital property, currently zoned Institutional and used for a variety of office-type and medical purposes — is across the street).
Council member Barbara Field moved to adopt the Office rezoning. Seconded by Tommy Sellers, the motion passed, 6-1 (Council member Chuck Cloninger opposed the motion).
Show us the (federal) money
During their May 11 formal session, City Council members approved a plan to pump $3.2 million into affordable housing, social services and economic-development projects. The money will come from two U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development programs, the Commmunity Development Block Grants and HOME Investment Partnership funds.
Asheville Community Development Director Charlotte Caplan presented the proposed plan and the attached request to HUD for the money. She reported that 67.3 percent of the funds will be used for affordable-housing projects, 11.7 percent for social services, 2.8 percent for infrastructure projects related to urban development, 4.7 percent for economic development, 12 percent for administrative and planning costs, and 1.5 percent as contingency funds.
The CDBG and HOME funds will support 38 different projects and 22 agencies, added Caplan. HOME funds are distributed in Buncombe, Madison, Transylvania and Henderson counties. The CDBG monies earmarked in the Consolidated Plan target various Asheville projects, providing loan guarantees for small busineses planning to locate in the Grove Arcade Public Market and for small and minority-owned businesses participating in the Mountain Microenterprise Fund.
With no discussion or questions from either the public or Council members about the plan, Field made a motion that it be adopted and the formal request for funds be made to HUD. Seconded by Hay, her motion passed, 7-0.
Towing the line
Council members want towing signs to be consistent and visible to motorists who park in private lots. The question is, how to go about it.
Vice Mayor Ed Hay complained that the ordinance drafted by City Attorney Bob Oast would require his law firm to post signs in its parking lot. “But we don’t tow and aren’t interested in towing,” said Hay. Making all private-lot owners post their property, warning that illegal parkers might be towed … “That’s overkill,” he argued.
Cloninger also voiced concern over the suggestion that the city create uniform signs and require lot owners to use them.
“It’s a good idea to have them, so people can come and pick them up,” countered Field, reminding Council that they had initiated the proposal after hearing complaints from residents who got towed from downtown lots, where towing policies and warnings are inconsistent.
Since it was almost 10:30 p.m., and Council had been in session since 5, Sitnick suggested that Hay and Oast get together and discuss the fine points — “in their wonderful legalese” — to address the concerns raised by Hay and Cloninger. Council members agreed to her suggestion.