Asheville City Council

Everyone’s keeping mum about this one: A new zoning classification proposed for a nine-lot parcel on Montford Avenue would clear the way for a new Chamber of Commerce facility that could be up to 45,000 square feet in size.

But before Council heard staff’s presentation on the proposal at its Oct. 5 work session, City Attorney Bob Oast uncharacteristically volunteered his advice that Council not take public comment or give any indication of how they might be disposed to vote at an upcoming public hearing on the matter, scheduled for Oct. 12.

That said, Council got the cut-and-dry facts: At issue, City Planner Mike Matteson explained, is the creation of a new zoning district for nine lots strategically located at the head of Montford Avenue.

This past summer, city planners got their first took a look at a zoning request from the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce, Matteson continued. The Chamber has an option to buy the properties, bordered by Gudger and Hill streets (the Peddler Restaurant is on one of the lots). The Chamber wanted all nine lots to be rezoned Community Business II, noted Matteson, a classification that allows numerous commercial uses, and buildings up to 45,000 square feet (about three times the size of the current Chamber facilities and visitor center combined).

“[City staff] felt, early on, the site is a good one for some uses [allowed in CB-II], like a Chamber [facility] … but not for others,” said Matteson. So city planners suggested a transition overlay — an as-yet-untried method of custom-fitting a zoning classification, in this case to meet the needs of both developers and the neighborhood.

Basically, an overlay adds restrictions to a zoning classification. In this case, however, the CB-II would loosen restrictions imposed by the lots’ existing zoning — and then the overlay would tighten things back up a bit. This particular overlay, Matteson explained, reduces the types of commercial uses allowed from around 40 down to less than five (drive-through fast-food businesses and gas stations, for example, which are ordinarily allowed in CB-II, would be prohibited). The overlay would also require the Chamber (or any other buyer or lessee, now or in the future) meet the design guidelines set by the city’s Historic Resources Commission, so that any buildings constructed would blend in with the neighborhood (most of the nine properties are within the Montford Historic District, known for its Victorian-era homes).

The overlay also contains other, more specific restrictions: The front of the building cannot be taller than three stories, Matteson noted. And to shield neighboring homes from noise, traffic and parking-lot lights, all parking areas abutting residences would have to be heavily landscaped. No access would be allowed onto an adjacent residential street (Gudger, in this case), and parking-lot lights would have to be shielded and limited to 12 feet in height.

Both the inclusion of this new overlay district in the UDO and its application to the Montford lots were unanimously approved by Asheville’s Planning and Zoning Commission on Sept. 22, Matteson mentioned. Council will now have the final say.

At this point, Council members raised a few questions.

Barbara Field asked Matteson what sort of comments Montford residents had made during public meetings held on the proposal in the past few months (Montford residents have been well organized, in general, against commercial intrusion, in recent years).

Most comments related to the design of the facility and how it would blend in with the neighborhood — including the layout and location of driveways, and related traffic issues, Matteson replied.

Field also questioned the larger-than-usual landscape buffering called for in the overlay. Hedges could present a barrier to walkability and create a boxed-in look, she argued (In the past, Field has supported the development of mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods).

Council member Earl Cobb voiced concern that the Chamber could sell portions of the nine-lot parcel, or lease them to tenants. He asked if the Chamber was intending to do so.

Initial plans indicate that the Board of Realtors may lease space at the facility, City Attorney Oast replied. If someone else bought the land, or if the Chamber sold off portions, Oast emphasized, they’d also have to honor the requirements of the overlay.

And that’s all Council had to say on the matter.

Put your butts here

Here’s the scoop on butts: If your business entrance fronts a public street or sidewalk, it looks as though you’ll have to install some sort of cigarette-butt receptacle — or face a $10 fine.

While that’s not much of a slap on the hand, Asheville City Council members say their goal is to encourage proper disposal of butts, not throw people in jail. Said Mayor Leni Sitnick, who instituted the rule, “I’d rather look at any [type of] butt receptacle than butts all over the ground.” She called the receptacle ordinance “a matter of health … civic pride [and] economic development.”

But before Council arrived at these tentative conclusions, they heard from City Attorney Bob Oast, who drafted the new ordinance. Oast first explained that the law aims to provide smokers with a better place to put their butts than tossing them on streets and sidewalks. The ordinance doesn’t specify what type of receptacle must be used, he noted, adding that many businesses already set some kind of cigarette-butt receptacle at their entrance ways. “Although we’d prefer they do something different, [complying with the ordinance] could be as simple as a Coke can with sand in it,” Oast observed.

But not so quick with the butts: Council member Barbara Field said she had “no trouble with the concept, but [I’m worried] we’re creating another boondoggle.” Some entranceways have no room for a receptacle, since businesses must already provide enough space for handicapped access, under federal law, she noted.

Council member O.T. Tomes remarked that the ordinance “comes across as another layer of bureaucracy.”

But Oast interjected, “It is illegal to litter, and that does include [cigarette] butts.”

Vice Mayor Ed Hay questioned Oast’s initial recommendation that the ordinance should also apply to businesses — such as the Asheville Mall — whose entrances front private streets. Concerned about government overstepping its boundaries in a private-property issue, Hay remarked, “The notion’s great, but it’s a question of where we draw the line.” He suggested Oast rewrite his draft, excluding the reference to private property.

And when Council member Earl Cobb suggested some sort of standardized butt-and-trash receptacle, Field retorted, “I don’t think I would like the city to tell me what the receptacle should look like.” She also asked Oast what the penalty would be for violators.

$50 or 30 days in jail, Oast replied.

Council members called for a smaller penalty, Field remarking, “I don’t want to throw my brother-in-law in jail.”

At that, Oast suggested a lesser, noncriminal penalty of $10. And he said allowances could be made for business owners with space limitations as a result of meeting federal requirements for handicapped access. To address Hay’s concern, Oast said he’d change the wording so it applies only to businesses with entrances fronting on public property.

Council will vote on the proposed ordinance at an upcoming formal session.

About Margaret Williams
Editor Margaret Williams first wrote for Xpress in 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987 and completed her Masters of Liberal Arts & Sciences from UNC-Asheville in 2016. Follow me @mvwilliams

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