The ashes have barely cooled from the firestorm of criticism sparked by a rezoning request from the developers of Crowell Farms — a proposed large-scale development on the west side of town. This time around, however, Asheville City Council heard little opposition to another such proposed development.
On June 27, Council members unanimously agreed to rezone 41.5 acres within the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction, to accommodate a planned artisan community to be built behind the new Lowe’s, off the Smokey Park Highway. Most neighboring residents seemed to welcome the planned-unit development.
“If there are no significant changes in the master plan, I really believe it will be an asset to the community,” said Betty Fagan, president of the Old Haywood Road Neighborhood Association, the neighborhood mostly likely to feel the project’s effects.
Artisan Park is the second PUD to come before Council since it adopted the Unified Development Ordinance in 1997, opening the door to such projects. The first, Crowell Farms — an ambitious, 288-unit project also planned for the west side of town — was bitterly opposed by neighboring residents. They argued that Crowell Farms would be out of character with the surrounding neighborhood and would make roads and intersections more congested and dangerous. After a lengthy public hearing, however, Council determined that those fears didn’t warrant rejecting the project, unanimously approving the requested rezoning in April.
The Planning Department sees PUDs as being at the forefront of the smart-growth movement. Later in the meeting, Council members adopted an official definition of smart growth — which includes, among other things, limiting urban sprawl, increasing density, and promoting pedestrian thoroughfares. By clustering a mix of housing types, PUDs reduce the amount of grading needed, limiting the destruction of such natural landscape features as ridgelines and mature trees. These developments also help preserve open space, often featuring a network of trails to promote a sense of community. In addition, these projects include some kind of affordable-housing component.
In exchange for meeting those requirements, developers are allowed to build more units than the underlying zoning would permit. The Artisan Park property was zoned for single-family dwellings; after a lot of grading, 166 homes could have been built there. But with the PUD designation, an additional 30 units can be built.
“I would hate to fall back to a position of doing it strictly single-family, because it would eat up all the land,” said Evon Beveridge, a member of the family developing the community. “Basically, what you would get is what Lowe’s did — flattening it. You’d lose all the trees.”
Lead designer Marty Kocot told Council that the designers are trying to preserve the natural features of the land — which formerly housed a sausage factory and a small farm — in creating an interconnected arts community. He said the master plan (already unanimously passed by the Planning and Zoning Commission) includes four kinds of mini-neighborhoods: 24 traditional, single-family homes; 28 single-family clustered homes; 46 cottage apartments; 32 studio apartments where artists can both live and work, and 26 roadside apartments with garages.
The project also contains a unique commercial element. A cluster of stores near the front of the property will house a produce market, an art-supply store, a post office, a restaurant, a small inn and perhaps a charter school — with 40 apartments up above. All the homes will be within a five-minute walk of this commercial cluster.
“We want our residents to live, work and play without ever having to leave the neighborhood,” said Kocot.
The commercial area was the only aspect of the plan that drew some fire from neighbors. One homeowner — pointing to a power line that runs between his home and the planned commercial cluster — said he hopes the builders retain a significant number of the existing hemlocks and maples as a buffer. City planners noted that the Unified Development Ordinance requires a 25-foot buffer.
Council members offered little comment, trying to sidestep endorsing the master plan while focusing on the appropriateness of a PUD is the property and the possible uses. “I enjoyed the presentation; you gave a good example of what can be done with the property,” Vice Mayor Chuck Cloninger told Kocot. “That is a classic plan with a lot of variety. I think it’s great.”
Council member Charles Worley agreed, saying, “I’m familiar with that property, and it looks like an excellent use for it.”
@factshead:Time is money
City Council also held two public hearings at the unusually sleepy formal session — on a pair of amendments to the Unified Development Ordinance.
A proposed revision in the approval process for preliminary plats for major subdivisions — which would shorten the review time from four weeks to two — generated the most discussion.
“We too frequently lose sight of the fact that time is money,” declared Council member Charles Worley, noting that developers often say they don’t build affordable housing because it isn’t profitable. “The more we can do to cut costs for the developer, the more we can do for affordable housing,” he observed.
City Planner Gerald Green explained that major subdivisions are those requiring new streets and utilities; a plat, he said, is a map that shows the layout of new streets and the grading of the lots, but no structural design features.
Under the old process, plats were evaluated by both the Technical Review Committee and the Planning and Zoning Commission. At both meetings, the public would have a chance to voice opinions about the project. The new wording eliminates the second meeting, with P&Z.
Council voted 4-1 in favor, with Council member Brian Peterson opposed. The 4-to-1 vote (Council members Terry Whitmire and Ed Hay were absent) will require a second vote, at the next meeting, for approval.
Peterson said he feared the revision would exclude the public. Only level-three projects (those involving more than 50 units) come before Council; on smaller projects, residents who may have important information will have only one opportunity to speak out.
Green said he couldn’t recall a single time when a plat approved by the TRC was rejected by P&Z; that seemed to persuade the vice mayor to sign on.
The second UDO amendment, which passed unanimously, increases the maximum footprint for accessory structures (garages, sheds) in residential neighborhoods.
“In this booming economy, people are buying more things and need more places to store them,” said Green, adding that the Planning Department has received many calls asking for the increase.
The footprint for single structures on less than an acre can go from 600 to 770 square feet. For structures on one to three acres, the accessory building can now be up to 1,200 square feet. There is no limit on such structures on more than three acres.
Other standards for accessory structures in residential districts, such as setbacks and building heights, will remain unchanged.
At its June 27 regular meeting, Asheville City Council approved the consent agenda published in the June 28 issue of Mountain Xpress.