With little commotion, the Asheville City Council rezoned Montford Commons on Sept. 25. The roughly 10-acre, 220-unit residential and commercial development on the edge of the historic district will now fall under the “urban village” designation, which allows for higher-density residential areas.
According to the staff presentation, the master plan submitted by the developer, Frontier Syndicate LLC, envisions both single- and multi-family residential units, as well as two senior-living buildings and commercial space. Buildings in the complex will range from one to four stories tall. The developer must also submit more detailed information, including a traffic analysis and storm-water-control plan, to the Technical Review Committee. But any significant changes to the master plan will land the project back in the Council chamber, Urban Planner Jessica Bernstein explained.
The original plans called for a hotel on the site, said Frontier Syndicate representative George Gabler, but that idea was nixed in response to objections by neighboring residents during a charrette held back in May.
And though some neighbors still voiced concerns about the development’s impact, others who spoke at the Sept. 25 Council meeting praised the project—particularly its senior facilities. “I find I am seeking a community when I [retire],” one speaker said. “This program seems to offer many, many amenities.”
The rezoning was unanimously approved, with Council member Jan Davis participating via conference call.
Two planned Ingles complexes had store representatives asking Council to reconsider the city’s sign ordinance. The grocery chain wanted separate signs for the gas stations that will be part of both the Hendersonville Road and Tunnel Road stores, as well as signage along the storefronts highlighting different parts of the stores, such as “pharmacy” (and, in one case, a Starbucks coffee station). But the total square footage of the requested signage exceeds the maximum allowed for single-owner properties, acting Planning Director Shannon Tuch reported.
Store representative John Caputo, however, argued that the sign rules have not kept pace with the stores’ expansion over the years. While the size of the average Ingles store has quadrupled, from 20,000 square feet to roughly 80,000 square feet, the rules have remained the same, he said. Caputo also pointed out that a comparably sized multi-owner complex could have even more signs. “If that were a strip mall, there could be 15 signs,” he said, adding that without the extra signage, the building frontage would be stark, resembling “a factory.”
The gas-station signs are necessary, Caputo maintained, because the only thing that brings in customers is the price per gallon, clearly displayed in large numbers. “There is no brand loyalty,” he asserted.
The Board of Adjustment had previously turned down the Ingles request, and Tuch’s staff report recommended denying it as well.
But despite initial reservations by Council member Bryan Freeborn about bending the rules, City Council seemed generally amenable to the plan.
“I initially was going to go against this, because it seemed like it called for more signs,” said Robin Cape, who seconded a motion by Carl Mumpower. “But I don’t think it is fair to punish someone who is successful in business and [can] fill this space.”
At Tuch’s suggestion, Council flirted briefly with the idea of combining the gas-station and main Ingles signs, but when Caputo offered simply to reduce the height of the gas-station signs from 23 feet to 15, the measure passed on a 6-0 vote (Davis was absent).
Policing the police
Despite hearing pleas from two women whose husbands were shot during confrontations with city police, City Council remained divided on the idea of establishing a Police Department oversight committee.
Rita Logan and Adrienne Peterson both spoke during the public-comment period, lambasting Asheville police officers for what they said were unjustified shootings that left their husbands dead. Taking turns at the microphone, both women recounted versions of the respective incidents that contradicted the police reports.
“What can you do to bring me justice?” demanded Peterson. Along with two other members of the newly formed Citizens Awareness Coalition, the women decried the policy of keeping internal police investigations confidential (see “Group to Push for Citizens’ Police Review Board,” Aug. 29 Xpress).
Mumpower, however, took issue with Logan’s and Peterson’s accounts, saying that procedures for investigating police behavior are already in place and that accusing police officers of such crimes causes harm.
“If what you said were true, it would be reprehensible and dishonorable at the highest level,” said Mumpower, adding, “It is hard to believe a police officer could get away with committing murder.” He also emphasized that City Council doesn’t have the power to change the way internal police investigations are handled, because state law governs the release of such information.
Cape, however, took a different tack. “Let’s take a look at what they are asking us to consider,” she urged. “It also serves the police, because it removes the perception that they are hiding something or are afraid to open up.” (For more on these concerns, see “Local Panel Tackles Freedom to Dissent and Police Oversight,” elsewhere in this issue.)
Mayor Terry Bellamy requested further information on how such complaints, investigations and records are handled now. She also asked city staff to research other cities that have established police-oversight boards.
The Citizens Awareness Coalition meets Wednesdays at 7 p.m. at Eatie’s Cereal Bar (48 Commerce St. in downtown Asheville).