“We look forward to the next step, whatever that is.”
— CAN Board Member Joe Minicozzi.
It has been a few weeks since a third-party report on deficiencies in Asheville’s Unified Development Ordinance and its enforcement was submitted to the city, and some are ready for Council to take action.
During the public comment period at Council’s July 11 formal session, the Coalition of Asheville Neighborhoods urged Council to react to the ordinance’s weak spots and to ongoing violations.
The report — drafted by David Owens of the UNC School of Government, at the behest of the city — was released in late June (see “The Unenforcers,” July 12). That report found inconsistencies in both the language and the enforcement of the UDO.
In light of problems highlighted by the report, CAN Board Member Joe Minicozzi asked Council to act swiftly to remedy the situation. Minicozzi made four specific requests:
• that Council instruct staff to require changes to certain buildings — including Greenlife, Staples, Prudential Realty and Walgreen’s — that were completed without complying with the UDO;
• that certain modifications allowed by staff in excess of their powers be made taken up by Council in a quasi-judicial forum;
• that in the next 90 days Council implement those changes to the UDO recommended in Owens’ report; and
• that anyone seeking to reduce the UDO’s buffer requirements through the ordinance’s “alternative compliance” provision be required to go before the Board of Adjustment.
CAN has been at the forefront of calls to the City to reform the UDO and tighten its enforcement policy.
“We look forward to the next step, whatever that is,” Minicozzi said. He added that a “report for dummies,” responding to Owens’ third-party review, has been posted on the CAN Web site at www.ashevillecan.org.
Mayor Terry Bellamy noted that Council has yet to receive that report officially. Typically, Council waits to receive consultant reports by way of an official presentation at a public meeting, which, in this case, has yet to take place.
Giving notice just got easier
The UDO made an another appearance earlier in the meeting when Council considered, and then voted to reduce, the consequences of administrative errors made during the current public-notification process. The change will remove one method development opponents have used to challenge proposed rezoning actions.
Currently, the UDO delineates what is considered adequate public notification in rezoning matters, including posted signs and mailed notices to surrounding residences and businesses. The timing and scope of acceptable notification varies, depending on the size of the project and its proximity to other properties.
Occasionally, the city fails to post a required sign or inadvertently injects errors into documentation, which can delay a project if the mistake is brought to Council’s attention by rezoning opponents.
“It’s not very often, but when it happens, it is very onerous,” Urban Planner Julie Cogburn told Xpress after the meeting. Such administrative or minor errors, she said, are the first places examined by attorneys representing development opponents. The mistake could be as small as a wrong PIN number on a piece of property, she argued. If such an error is discovered, it can trigger a month’s delay in the approval of a rezoning and hamstring developers.
Cogburn called the new, proposed wording more “service” oriented. In her presentation to Council, she read from the text of the proposed change: “All notification is for the convenience of the public and any defective mailing shall not invalidate the [application].”
Cogburn stressed that Asheville’s notification process is already more rigorous than other North Carolina municipalities, and significantly more detailed than required by North Carolina state law for “due notice.”
She also argued that, since the UDO’s birth in 1997, the city has taken the initiative to contact relevant neighborhood associations when something is happening, and that the Internet has drastically increased the community’s ability to keep track of incoming projects.
“We do a great job of covering what is happening,” Bellamy said, in support of the City’s record in announcing proposed changes.
The change to the UDO language passed unanimously. Council member Carl Mumpower aired concerns about relaxing the notification process regulations. “We have stronger standards for a reason,” he said, noting that the community alerts are intended to give the community maximum reaction time in the face of an impending development. But ultimately, Mumpower joined in the 6-0 vote.
Go around one more time
A rezoning request that could expand a parking lot on Arlington Street was pushed back in light of a protest petition by opposing neighbors and the absence of Council member Robin Cape.
A letter to the city from property owners Mr. and Mrs. Randall Higgins, dated July 3, noted: “We were fully prepared to go forward on this rezoning request had we not been informed of Robin Cape’s absence.”
Cape was in Chicago, attending a national conference on community sustainability.
The absence of a seventh Council member makes it more difficult for Council to pass a zoning motion overriding a protest petition. Because a supermajority of 6-1 is required in such circumstances, if one person is absent, all six attending members must vote in favor for the rezoning to pass.
With the Higginses hesitating, Council considered continuing the proposal second time. A previous delay, at a May 23 meeting, had been granted because of the absence of Council member Brownie Newman.
Bellamy noted that Cape had relayed to her earlier that she supported a second delay. Bellamy agreed with Cape’s sentiment, saying it is impossible to get a true representation of Council “if one of the judges is not here.”
Attorney Patsy Brison pointed out that a number of neighbors had taken the time to come to the meeting, noting that they had to be there in the event the public hearing would be held. She also said that the previous continuance had been allowed in order to encourage compromise between the neighborhood and the developer — a conversation that, she said, had not happened.
“We’d like to go ahead and have this matter heard,” Brison said.
But Council voted 5-1 to continue the matter until July 25. As he had at the initial May 23 meeting, Council member Bryan Freeborn voted against the delay.
Reaping and Sowing
Pisgah View apartments and the West Riverside Community, notorious for high drug and crime rates, has been officially recognized as a “Weed and Seed” site. The designation opens the way for federal help from the U.S. Department of Justice, in the form of community programs and funds.
On July 12, U.S. Attorney Gretchen Shappert stood on the steps of the Pisgah View Community Center flanked by Bellamy, police and community leaders to announce the site’s new designation.
Shappert said that crime rates in the West Asheville community “far exceed” that of the rest of the city. “Our job is to take that crime rate down,” Shappert said.
Bellamy has led the effort to win the Weed and Seed designation since 1994, when she was vice-mayor. The name refers to weeding out crime and seeding the community with programs, such as youth mentoring. The designation as a Weed and Seed district takes the community a step closer to receiving about $1 million in federal funds over the course of five years. The application for those funds is still making its way through the system, reports Asheville’s Marketing and Communications Coordinator Laurie Saxton.
The neighborhood is one of 27 selected out of 100 applicants nationwide.
Bellamy urged the community to welcome the effort. “As we move forward, we need to open up the circle, trust others and invite them into the fold,” she said.