Asheville City Council Sept. 28 meeting

  • Kenilworth residents up in arms re proposed development
  • Council members debate expanding affordable-housing incentives

Asheville City Council members unanimously rejected the proposed 100-unit Caledonia Apartments at their Sept. 28 meeting.

Kenilworth residents turned out in force, filling the Council chamber and an overflow room downstairs. Many wore stickers proclaiming “Concerned About Kenilworth.”

To hear Teddy Jordan tell it, the site is too steep, the project would be out of scale with its surroundings, and it would add too much traffic to a neighborhood already “at capacity.”

“Planning in this manner is like having another baby while already having three toddlers in diapers,” Jordan, who is president of the Kenilworth Residents Association, told Council. “We are not opposed to thoughtful development; we recognize the potential for infill projects. This is the fourth major project in Kenilworth to come before Council in the last five years. … Collectively, that represents a 40-percent increase in housing units in Kenilworth.”

Earlier, Clay Mooney, a local landscape architect representing developer Frank Howington, had touted the development as bringing much-needed mixed-income housing to the area.

“We're proud of this project,” Mooney declared, saying it was an innovative way to build a project on a slope without disrupting the landscape. “Hopefully, when other developers come down to the Planning Department, this is an example of what can be done on a sloped site with some creativity and ingenuity.”

The structures, he added, would be energy-efficient and feature underground parking; a storm-water system would be designed to handle a 100-year storm. Howington could have built a 50-unit complex on the site without coming before Council, but the denser development needed an exemption from the city's open-space requirements, which the developer claims would have disrupted more land. The forested, sloping site is currently zoned for institutional use.

Too much?

Council member Esther Manheimer praised staff for their efforts to meet Council's goal of promoting denser development that’s close to major transit lines and the central business district. “I'm a supporter of urban-infill development,” she noted, adding, “It's not always a wonderful thing.” Manheimer cited concerns about the slope and the impact on the neighorhood's “natural beauty.”

A parade of Kenilworth residents denounced the project, calling it a “monstrosity” and showing photos to support their contention that the project would be “out of harmony” with the existing single-family homes.

“When I see the pictures of what's being proposed here, I get physically sick to my stomach, because the aesthetic value of our incredible city is going to be destroyed, bit by bit,” resident Cliff Yudell told Council. “This is just one chunk. I'm here to ask you, as stewards of the aesthetics that affect us in our very souls, not to let this man do this for the sake of money.”

Resident Miller Greggs questioned the very notion of dense development, a key concept in what’s often termed “smart growth.”

“How much density is enough? When will we be full?” she asked, adding, “Density, to me, seems to be something that describes Atlanta or Charlotte but not Asheville.” Development suitable for Asheville, said Greggs, would be defined by words like “smart, green, creative, nestled-in, peaceful, special.” The Caledonia, she predicted, would also reduce her property’s value.

“The Kenilworth Inn [a larger-scale building that Howington converted into upscale apartments] is enough,” asserted Greggs. “The addition of this building, which is much more visible, would detract from the very charm the inn creates.”

After the residents had spoken, Howington pleaded with Council to approve the development. “Right now, believe it or not, we are in an incredible crisis for housing in this city. We need to promote housing; we are desperate for it,” the Biltmore Forest resident maintained. “If not here, in institutional zoning, then where? Where are you going to allow it?”

But City Council wasn't convinced, and Vice Mayor Brownie Newman quickly made a motion to reject the project.

“It's incompatible with the scale and character of the area and doesn't meet the city's standards,” he said, getting a quick second from Council member Cecil Bothwell.

Council member Bill Russell noted that he's usually “a big believer in property rights, and things are going to change, and property's likely to be developed. But at the same time, we have our standards, and we have to feel confident all of those are being met. I've walked those roads, and I've driven them. There are some pretty steep, scary turns.”

Howington briefly considered withdrawing the project before the vote, since once plan was rejected, he’d have to wait a year before bringing anything similar to Council for consideration. But he declined after learning that the project would have to be significantly different to stand any chance of passage.

New incentives for sustainable development?

Council members also debated a proposed “Transformational Development Projects Incentive Policy,” which would expand the range of projects eligible for various incentives the city offers to encourage certain kinds of development deemed desirable. In addition to a 50-percent fee waiver, the city currently makes qualifying affordable-housing projects eligible for financial support. The discussion concerned establishing additional criteria — such as infill, energy efficiency or being located along specified transit corridors — to encourage types of development deemed desirable.

But despite apparent broad agreement on the need for such a move, they seemed divided on the details. In the end, Council members decided to send some of their suggested changes back to staff and consider the revised resolution at a later date.

Requiring developers to prove the incentives are needed for a project to succeed is unduly “amorphous,” said Bothwell, because developers might be tempted to make that claim even if it weren't true.

Newman, too, seemed dissatisfied with the degree of subjectivity, saying he'd be happier with stricter, less-ambiguous standards. “Developers,’” he noted, “should know, 'If I do this, I will get this incentive.’”

Mayor Terry Bellamy, meanwhile, seeking to draw a lesson from the evening’s proceedings, pointed out: “What we don't want to happen is something like tonight, where [a project is perceived as] too transformational. That word could be controversial, because of the impact of what ‘transformative’ means to some.”

— David Forbes can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 137, or at dforbes@mountainx.com.


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11 thoughts on “Un-Kenilworthy

  1. J

    Did Gordon “the 15% of the electorate has spoken and anointed me leader” Smith cave into political pressure? Gordon “infill forever!” Smith has been one of the biggest proponents of density development this town has ever seen. When the radical density development bonus was moderated to a reasonable agreement, Gordon “density for you, single housing neighborhood for me” Smith considered it a great defeat.

    So what does our champion do when given the chance to help create more, dense, infill, urban, corridor connected, affordable housing inside the middle of the city in exactly the fashion he has been proclaiming? He folds like a house of cards.

    I bet this guy was super cool in high school. He hasn’t missed out on the popular side of a controversy yet. See you on the other side, principles.

  2. Why does this keep happening? Why can’t the City come up with some sort of “standards” and compromises with neighborhoods?

    I was well aware of the huge project that was planned on the old Deal Buick site. The project was totally out of scale with the surrounding neighborhood. (It’s probably a blessing that the project met with such opposition from the 5 Points neighborhood, given the precipitious fall in upscale market demands.)

    Why cannot the City and the community get together and come up with some compromises that allow for more density, yet are also in keeping with neighborhoods??????? Is that so hard a thing to do?

  3. hauntedheadnc

    [i]Why does this keep happening? Why can’t the City come up with some sort of “standards” and compromises with neighborhoods?

    I was well aware of the huge project that was planned on the old Deal Buick site. The project was totally out of scale with the surrounding neighborhood. (It’s probably a blessing that the project met with such opposition from the 5 Points neighborhood, given the precipitious fall in upscale market demands.)

    Why cannot the City and the community get together and come up with some compromises that allow for more density, yet are also in keeping with neighborhoods??????? Is that so hard a thing to do?[/i]

    To answer your last question first, it’s because you are severely overestimating the average Asheville NIMBY’s ability to accept any measure of density whatsoever. Catch an ardent NIMBY on the right day and they’ll even be speaking out against renovation of an existing structure, the way Elaine Lite did when developers wanted to turn the old First Union building into Capital Center. As I recall, her argument in that case hinged on the balconies and how they would blot out all sunlight from the sidewalk, not to mention put pedestrians at risk from death from above when patio furniture rained down in high winds.

    Was the Kenilworth project too much? Probably. It probably was in fact too large a project on too small and too steep a site, with streets and infrastructure that would not have adequately accommodated it. I guarantee you though that had a similar project been pitched for downtown — an area that most definitely can handle increased density — the NIMBY’s would still have fought it.

    You mentioned the Deal Buick project and that’s interesting… I find it amazing that the neighbors — who, like all of us, probably go downtown and enjoy all that evil density and urbanity at every available opportunity — shit kittens about an urban project that would have been a credit to the site and the city, yet don’t have any problem at all when a suburban-style supermarket development sniffs around the same site. I loathe and despise suburban sprawl. To me that, not urban density, is what is ruining this county. For Asheville’s large and vocal NIMBY-American community, however, it’s a case of out of sight, out of mind. So long as their personal neighborhood is not affected, they don’t care what goes on elsewhere… and that’s why, when the economy was good and when it improves again, Buncombe sprawls to hell and gone while Asheville grows just a tiny bit.

  4. As long as unsuitable projects like Hotel Indigo, Staples , and what looks like a long delayed new Health adventure project are allowed to happen, how can you blame people for being suspicious of the approval process?

    Hotel Indigo is uglier than homemade sin. It is not remotely in keeping with downtown Asheville.

  5. mgarren

    interesting how a ‘wealthier’ neighborhood got what they wanted, and yet the ‘poorer’ area basically get razed, etc. Mine Hole Gap is a great example. There are 2 monstrosities currently under construction there on very steep hills. When complete, we will have a highrise building of apartments located in 74 just past Reynolds, which grotesquely conflicts with the surroundings. Granted it is technically in the county, I live one mile outside city limits, yet we have to pay city and county taxes and we recevie not one benefit from the city. No water, no sewage, no garbage pick-up, road maintenance is virtually non-existence (they cut the weeds once a year).

  6. Miller Graves

    Great article. We are all very glad that City Council agreed that this project did not at all meet the “Exceptional Development Checklist” standards created in the UDO… not by a long shot. I am so sorry that the project on Highway 74 was approved… it is amazingly unsightly and surely very very dangerous!!
    One correction though: I am Miller Graves, not Greggs. (www.millergraves.com)
    Thank you Mr. Forbes and MountainX!

  7. One can only hope that the gi-normous retaining wall on US 74 will come crashing down on the people who ok-ed this monstrosity.

  8. orulz

    My problem with this project is not its density. It is that the hill is too steep, the roads too narrow (with no plans to improve them), and that it would have stuck out like a sore thumb. It’s an example of exploiting a location for maximum developer gain while ruining it for everyone else.

    A project of similar density right nearby was already proposed and approved, I believe. It is a 5 story project at the corner of Caledonia and Swannanoa River Rd. I’m sure that had plenty of opposition too but it’s on flat land, does not require driving on a narrow windy road, and will supposedly contain a grocery store, something that the neighborhood could use. Not being a Kenilworth resident I’d be interested to hear some perspectives on this one, though.

  9. UnaffiliatedVoter

    Miller Greggs comments denotes utter misunderstanding. Howington will come back with something else, wait and see.

  10. Miller Graves

    Ditto orulz… on both points! The Silverman development project on the other side of Caledonia from the Tobacco Barn is very fitting for its location and a great example of a thoughtful, creative, good looking infill project. Too bad they can’t work together and make it happen!

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