“It appears to me that the Higginses have tried to make something better that was rundown.”
— Council member Jan Davis.
A long-running fight over a parking lot on Arlington Street was finally resolved at the Asheville City Council’s July 25 formal session.
It was yet another case pitting a small business against the surrounding residential neighborhood. The property adjacent to the Illusions Hair Skin & Nails salon has been used as a parking lot for years, the owners say, but the land was never properly zoned for that purpose.
A public hearing on the matter had twice been postponed. But this time, Council approved a conditional rezoning on a 6-1 vote.
“I am supportive of small businesses in our community,” declared Council member Robin Cape. “This seems like a tasteful opportunity.”
When Randall and Fredia Higgins bought the salon and the adjacent parcel in June of 2005, they began clearing and grading an area for parking. Randall Higgins says the previous owners had also used as a parking lot, but complaints from neighbors brought a notice of violation from the city.
Urban Planner Julie Cogburn told Council that Higgins was within his rights to clear vegetation from his property but that the site’s residential zoning did not support the intended use.
Those opposed to the rezoning said they fear the encroachment of business zoning. “This is scary for us who came and bought property to live in a residential area,” said Gabriel Cyr, who is listed in the phone book as living on East Chestnut Street.
So when the Higginses submitted a rezoning request, the neighbors responded with a protest petition. That raised the ante by requiring at least a 6-1 vote for the rezoning to pass. Council had twice postponed considering the issue at the couple’s request, because a Council member was absent — meaning the remaining six would all have had to support the project for it to be approved.
Attorney Patsy Brison, representing several neighbors, told Council, “This truly is an encroachment into a residential area.” Arlington and the surrounding streets are home to a mixed bag of houses, apartment buildings, offices and small businesses.
Fredia Higgins countered that the parking lot not only helps the business but is safer for the neighborhood than having cars park on the street. She said the business has 10 employees; the lot can accommodate 25-30 vehicles. The owners have also added significant landscape buffers.
Most on Council felt the project had actually improved the area.
“It appears to me that the Higginses have tried to make something better that was rundown,” said Council member Jan Davis.
“It’s a positive use of a marginal piece of property,” agreed Council member Carl Mumpower.
Only Vice Mayor Holly Jones voiced reservations, saying she’d hoped that the Higginses and their neighbors would make more effort to work things out after the hearing was postponed. Jones cast the lone dissenting vote, telling Xpress that she was concerned about the loss of space zoned for residential, multifamily development.
Changing of the guard
Those close to City Hall have known it was coming, but it took a Council proclamation to make it official: After 11 years on the job, City Clerk Maggie Burleson is retiring (see sidebar, “Goodbye and Good Luck”).
Beginning Aug. 2, her desk will be occupied by Keisha Lipe, who was working as an administrative assistant in the Engineering Department. Burleson will stick around long enough for Lipe to get her sea legs, noted Mayor Terry Bellamy, who had poignant parting words for the outgoing clerk.
“She sat under many mayors, including this one. She has done so with honor and a quiet spirit,” said Bellamy.
Lipe’s appointment was unanimously approved.
City Council once again delayed consideration of two repeatedly postponed items.
An order to vacate a house at 128 Alabama Ave. in West Asheville was shelved after the owner assured Council members that he’s working to bring the dwelling up to code. And a Unified Development Ordinance amendment that would ease restrictions on where tattoo shops can operate was deferred at the request of city staff.