A parking-lot debate, a new grocery store for West Asheville, affordable housing and a condominium development for Clingman Avenue — not the juiciest of fare, but for the sixth-grade students of Carolina Day School, it was the menu du jour at the Asheville City Council’s Sept. 26 formal session.
The 49 students attended Tuesday’s session to witness local government in action. Conditional-use permits and rezoning may not be as popular as the Backstreet Boys or Pokeman with the preteen set, but to their credit, the kids were attentive and better behaved than some adults who take in the biweekly sessions. Through the haze of municipal jargon and the maze of parliamentary procedure, maybe they sensed that a group of adults had gathered to make decisions that would affect the future of Asheville … their future. And in the absence of Mayor Leni Stitnik (who was out of town until Oct. 3), the six remaining Council members set out to do just that, with Vice Mayor Chuck Cloninger at the helm.
In the first public hearing, Council voted unanimously to grant a conditional-use permit to Milko Inc. to build a parking lot near the company’s facility at the corner of Deaverview Road and Bear Creek Road. The property is zoned RM-8 (residential multifamily), a classification that doesn’t usually allow parking lots Milko, the region’s largest processor of milk, has a $5.5 million payroll and 250 employees, according to company president Charles Gaither. He remarked, “We try to be a good corporate neighbor.” But Gaither indicated that, because of recent growth, the company needs another parking lot.
One of Milko’s neighbors disagreed. Connie Chase, who owns the house nearest the proposed lot, argued against issuing the permit. She recounted a conversation she’d had last year with, as she put it, an “old timer.” They were debating the pros and cons of zoning, Chase explained — with Chase arguing that zoning is a good thing that protects property owners. The old timer responded that it didn’t matter how property was zoned: If somebody “big” enough came along, they’d get what they wanted. Chase ended the story by saying, “I went out and voted dutifully at my lunch hour for zoning, and right now, I’m feeling kind of stupid, because it doesn’t look like zoning is protecting us against this parking lot going in right next to my home.”
Council again considered the issue of growth in West Asheville in connection with Hughes Commercial Property’s request to rezone seven lots located on Acton Circle and the Smokey Park Highway to accommodate a 42,000-square-foot Bi-Lo grocery store and two smaller retail stores.
Council member Brian Peterson expressed concern about traffic in the area, in light of the pending opening of a Home Depot and the new Lowe’s on the Smokey Park Highway. City staff allayed those concerns by detailing steps that would be taken to improve the turning lanes on Acton Circle. There was no public comment against the request. Council voted 6-0 to approve the motion for rezoning and 6-0 to approve a conditional-use permit for the project.
Then there were five: Council member Terry Bellamy recused herself from the evening’s third public hearing, which dealt with a proposal from Mountain Housing Opportunities Inc. (Bellamy’s employer) to build four residential, three-story “towers.”
Containing 16 homes and a community room, with balconies and patios facing a central courtyard, the condominium would be located at the corner of Clingman Avenue and Merritt Street. In a letter to Senior City Planner Gerald Green, Scott Dedman — the executive director of MHO — stated that the project would anchor the revitalization of the West End/Clingman Avenue neighborhood, and that up to half the homes would be sold to families or individuals earning more than 80 percent of the area’s median income — people who would not qualify for affordable-housing assistance.
The project received a strong endorsement from Planning and Development Director Scott Shuford, who described the proposal as “the embodiment of smart growth.”
In order to allow 16 units on the .59-acre parcel of land, however, Council would need to change the property’s zoning to central business district. They did so, unanimously, and also approved a conditional-use permit for the project.
Council revisited the issue of what to do with a 2-acre site in the East End Place neighborhood. The city-owned parcel has been at the center of a lengthy debate over how it should be developed; most recently (Sept. 5), Council members had informally voiced their approval of a proposal to build single-family homes for moderate-income residents.
But Council members debated the number of houses to be built. Seven homes have been proposed for the site, with several of them sharing driveways. Council member Bellamy suggested that African-American families generally don’t move around much and that seven homes on such a small site would prevent the owners from adding on to their houses, should their families expand. She emphasized that, although the proposed houses would be targeted to first-time and low-income buyers, they should not be considered “starter homes.” City staff pointed out that building six instead of seven houses would increase the cost of each house by $3,000 to $4,000. Other Council members listened and, ultimately, supported her motion to advertise a request for proposals to develop six homes in the subdivision. The motion passed 6-0.