In a marathon meeting that started with a 3 p.m. work session and wound through several public hearings that didn’t wrap up till after 11 p.m., Asheville City Council members voted 5-2 to table annexation decisions for the next 12 months.
Council members made the decision after hearing from Royal Pines residents, most of whom are adamantly opposed to being annexed and who presented a petition signed by 600 people. Council member Bill Russell made the motion, seconded by Esther Manheimer. Council members Gordon Smith and Brownie Newman were the dissenting votes. The decision establishes a 12-month moratorium on annexation proposals.
In other news, Council members
• Voted 7-0 to create parking zones for handicapped motorists in downtown Asheville
• Voted 4-3 to approve UDO changes that would incentivize denser, greener, more affordable housing (Bill Russell, Gordon Smith, Ester Manheimer and Brownie Newman for, Cecil Bothwell, Mayor Terry Bellamy and Jan Davis against)
Here’s a round up of Twitter updates from Xpress’ Steve Shanafelt (@UnknownCity), who filled in for Senior News Reporter David Forbes:
3:03 p.m. City Council work session called to order.
3:06 p.m. Key Pedestrian Streets element of UDO changes presentation. Increased number of pedestrian streets called for.
3:08 p.m. “Emotional core” of downtown might have special features for “historic flavor” in UDO revamp. CBD would have height buffers.
3:10 p.m. Height zone maximums throughout downtown. 265 ft as a maximum, 145 ft would be median. Tallest height zone outer edge of downtown.
3:13 p.m. Bothwell: What’s the rationale for the height measurements?
3:14 p.m. Height limits stop at highest occupied floor, with a 50 ft allowance for spires and similar structures.
3:17 p.m. Shadow limitation on public parks, with height limitations on southern-side buildings near parks. Definition based on park size.
3:20 p.m. Street wall “base” of 2-to-4 stories, with change of material in upper floors, step-back of 10 feet. Example: Flat Iron Building.
3:23 p.m. Buildings above 75 ft, limited tower size. Total length would be 145 ft. Max tower would be 145X145. Idea is to protect views.
3:25 p.m. Decorative building caps would be required on all buildings.
3:28 p.m. CBD in non-downtown areas. 75 ft max seems to be consensus for West Asheville CBD. Buffers needed.
3:30 p.m. Proposed 8ft landscape buffer for Haywood Road CBD, possibly with height buffers near residential areas.
3:32 p.m. Esther: “I’ve talked to one property owner who said ‘Great, now I get to build downtown is a pyramid.’”
3:32 p.m. Biltmore Park CBDs would be handled under same rules as Haywood CBD.
3:33 p.m. Manheimer curious about examples of downtown buildings that already follow these guidelines. Few come to mind.
3:36 p.m. Manheimer wants to hear from more developers and builders about how this would limit developments. Davis has concerns as well.
3:41 p.m. Process Elements of Downtown Master Plan presentation. “Strategy 6” to make review transparent, predictable.
3:43 p.m. Project review for DMP thresholds would change. Level III changes much broader in scope now, 175k GFA.
3:45 p.m. DMP Level III would be split into Core and Outside Core areas. Level II would go to P and Z now.
3:46 p.m. Level 2 and Level 3 projects would now require Developer Sponsored Meetings. Level 2 would have 2 year validity/approval term.
3:48 p.m. Variances would no longer go through Board of Adjustment, staff and Council could modify variances.
3:52 p.m. Bothwell: Why were level 2 projects bumped up to 175,000 GFA? Was it to duck level 3 requirements?
4:00 p.m. Staff: Council members express concern about very large developments possibly having relatively little Council oversight.
4:01 p.m. Manheimer and Bothwell ask for square footage info for existing city buildings, as threshold for level 2 DMP is quite large.
4:03 p.m. Bellamy: Why are we giving up our review?
4:05 p.m. Smith proposes conditional development reviews for LEED certified buildings, for instance, which would exempt some big projects.
4:06 p.m. Russell: I think it’s financially impossible to have affordable housing in our Central Business District.
4:09 p.m. Newman RE: affordable housing: We need to be thoughtful of the economics of downtown development.
4:10 p.m. Davis: It makes more sense to focus on affordable housing outside of the CBD.
4:11 p.m. Bellamy: This piece of legislation will have an immense impact on our downtown development. This could really be monumental …
4:12 p.m. Bellamy: … and I want to make sure Council is comfortable with it. This decision is going to be put to the test, I think.
4:13 p.m. Newman: Could you build a Jackson Building without a variance under these rules?
4:14 p.m. Staff: It would be difficult, without a variance, to build a Jackson Building (under these rules).
4:17 p.m. Staff: New buildings could get “landmark” designation which would allow a variance from new DMP height and setback rules.
4:20 p.m. Newman: “These tall buildings will always be controversial.”
4:21 p.m. Newman: “I’m definitely concerned about having conditional zoning outside of the core downtown area.”
4:22 p.m. Manheimer: One of my great concerns is the subjectivity. How do me make the process less subjective and onerous?
4:26 p.m. Staff: DMP Consultants said Asheville has one of the most complex development approval processes in the state.
4:31 p.m. Smith proposes “affordable retail” incentives for downtown businesses under DMP.
4:33 p.m. Worksession proposed for November to address some of these concerns. 11/9 worksession, 11/23 for public hearing.
7:26 p.m. Poor connection in Council Chambers, let’s catch up.
7:27 p.m. Meeting start, recognition of Girl Scout Troops, awards and a pair of proclamations, including “White Cane Safety Day”; see agenda.
7:29 p.m. Consent agenda approved 7-0, although dropped item B relating to license fee for electronic gaming.
7:30 p.m. Presentation by Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority. Nutshell: “Flat (growth) is the new up!”
7:31 p.m. HUB Alliance Update. Reiterated focus on climate change, integrative health, green jobs and creative arts as economic engine.
7:32 p.m. Public hearings start. New UDO zone for Airport designation approved 7-0 following no public comment.
7:33 p.m. Public hearing about rezoning of airport district results in no public input, approved 7-0.
7:35 p.m. Public hearing about UDO changes for development, which would incentivize denser, greener, more affordable housing. …
7:36 p.m. … Green building ratings based on certifications, affordable housing based on point system. …
7:37 p.m. … Controversial element would remove Council oversight and public input in some cases for developments under 70 units.
7:38 p.m. UDO changes prove quite controversial. A great deal of support for the idea, but not removal of public input and notification.
7:39 p.m. Public comment ends. UDO discussion moves to Council. Manheimer proposes several related ideas, including P&Z public interviews.
7:40 p.m. UDO change discusses continue. Newman speaks heartily in support. Smith follows, speaking at length about the positives.
7:41 p.m. UDO discussion continues. Davis likes the idea, but unhappy about lack of public input process.
7:42 p.m. UDO discussion continues. Bothwell supportive of process and idea, but deeply concerned about lack of public input.
7:45 p.m. UDO discussion continues. Smith, Manheimer and Newman reiterate their views, noting that the public meeting trigger is only …
7:45 p.m. UDO discussion continues. Russell is supportive, but echoes many of Bothwell’s concerns.
7:46 p.m. … 20 additional units, a boost from 50 to 70. Staff called up to give details about existing notification process.
7:47 p.m. UDO discussion continues. Bellamy supportive of the idea, but skeptical and reluctant about removing public input from process.
7:48 p.m. UDO vote: 4-3, with Russell, Smith, Manheimer and Newman for, Bothwell, Bellamy and Davis against. Passes.
7:50 p.m. City Council goes into closed session. Annexation hearings begin. Room filled with red shirt wearing anti-annexation activists.
7:52 p.m. Coopers Hawk area annexation presentation begins.
7:56 p.m. Representative from Coopers Hawk drive talks about Bothwell’s recent AC-T letter.
7:58 p.m. Citizen presents view that homeowner insurance rates will not drop after annexation.
8:03 p.m. Coopers Hawk anti-annexation advocate argues that fire response and EMT services are quicker and better than those in City.
8:05 p.m. Applause to Coopers Hawk anti-annexation presentation. Bellamy calls to order.
8:06 p.m. Public hearing closed on Coopers Hawk. Discussion about whom to allow to speak. Residents and those impacted?
8:07 p.m. Newman asks those who are not directly impacted to hold their comments for another forum.
8:09 p.m. Betty Jackson argues it is unjust to use water rates for annexation, and unjust to schedule so many controversial issues at once.
8:11 p.m. Alan Ditmore mentions new restrictions for county residents. Permits, gun rights, “voter dilution.” Says Council should focus on …
8:12 p.m. Bellamy explains that scheduling processes caused the cluttered agenda.
8:12 p.m. … gay tourism.
8:13 p.m. Oast clarifies that Oct. 26 is annexation vote.
8:15 p.m. Public hearing presentation about Royal Pines. 782 parcels. Clarification of solid waste collection will happen in more areas.
8:18 p.m. Public comment on Royal Pines opened. Many residents wear red “Don’t Annex Me” t-shirts.
8:20 p.m. Anti-annexation advocate suggests that many residents are struggling, homes are small, old structures. Taxes are a burden.
8:22 p.m. 600-signature anti-annexation petition presented.
8:23 p.m. Anti-annexation advocate compares annexation to the building of the Ground Zero Mosque.
8:34 p.m. Anti-annexation advocate Connie LeBeau tells a her story about various personal and family health problems. Money is tight.
8:38 p.m. Tim Navaille explains he already contributes to Asheville’s tax base, moved out of Asheville partially due to taxes.
8:47 p.m. Consistent theme in public comment is the burden of paying additional taxes.
9:03 p.m. Jane Bilello from Asheville Tea Party raises constitutional issues of “forced annexation.”
9:07 p.m. Tim Moffat—a key Royal Pines anti-annexation organizer—starts his presentation.
9:07 p.m. Wilton Davis says he’s surprised that Royal Pines is “low-hanging fruit,” and asks that Council focus on existing residents.
9:09 p.m. My error. Moffitt, not Moffat.
9:09 p.m. Moffat argues that wording of process from City staff have discouraged participation from residents, a foregone conclusion.
9:11 p.m. Moffitt points out various practical concerns about emergency services, practical concerns to connect to City services.
9:12 p.m. Moffitt says that the “egregious overstep” of annexation has created a sense of community in Royal Pines.
9:14 p.m. Allotted public hearing hour is up. 16 further speakers, discussion extended for those in impacted area.
9:20 p.m. Concern about the late hour prompts Council to discuss postponing handicapped parking for next meeting.
9:21 p.m. Show of hands indicates that handicapped parking review will happen during this meeting.
9:25 p.m. Many of those speaking are very longterm residents of Royal Pines. Some are 20 and 30 year residents.
9:28 p.m. @Agnes_Cheek requests some kind of vote.
9:29 p.m. Thus far, no one has spoken in favor of the Royal Pines annexation.
9:43 p.m. Public hearing on Royal Pines closed. Item returns to agenda on Oct. 26. Manheimer has a few questions.
9:44 p.m. Manheimer curious about the private roads that will not get City services in Royal Pines.
9:46 p.m. Staff says Royal Pines will only have two streets to remain private. Can’t currently take over because of right-of-way issues.
9:49 p.m. Bothwell brings up concerns about annexation conditions regarding city gateways. Staff responds there are many additional criteria.
9:50 p.m. Bothwell: “We’re creating donut holes, aren’t we? Isn’t this complicating service areas?” Staff: “I don’t believe so.” Laughter.
9:52 p.m. Staff reminds that parts of Royal Pines were annexed in 1988. Part of the logic is to simplify service areas, not complicate them.
9:53 p.m. Staff: Efforts were made to create as few gaps as possible … in order to create an (annexation) area that made sense.
9:54 p.m. Bothwell to Oast: Can we set the annexation to five years from now? Oast: 70 to 400 days.
9:55 p.m. Russell: “I wish this council would give serious consideration to pulling the reigns on this.” Proposes moratorium.
9:56 p.m. Russell: Motion to withdraw from current annexation plan, 12 month moratorium.
9:57 p.m. Newman questions Russell’s motion on procedural grounds.
9:58 p.m. Manheimer: I have some second thoughts about this annexation.
9:59 p.m. Davis (re: moratorium): I’m inclined to feel the same way about the Royal Pines annexation.
10:01 p.m. Oast: I think you can do what you’re about to do.
10:04 p.m. Manheimer seconds Russell’s motion. Newman addresses crowd and annexation history, and the need for annexation.
10:07 p.m. Smith: Given more choices, I don’t think we’d be here tonight. Right now, we’re stuck with a litany of bad choices.
10:07 p.m. Bothwell notes that many Coopers Hawk residents actually want to be annexed. Says Royal Pines is affordable housing.
10:10 p.m. Smith notes high cost of emergency services, many of which are used by people not in the city. Tourists, people in county.
10:12 p.m. Smith: “What I want us to do is be in this together.” Outburst “You’re passing the buck!”
10:18 p.m. Manheimer explains the legal reasoning behind involuntary annexations, specific to Asheville due to water agreement issues.
10:20 p.m. Motion to table annexation policy vote 5-2. Smith and Newman oppose. Applause from crowd. Five minute recess.
10:25 p.m. Council back from recess. Off-street parking by handicapped vehicles presentation.
10:29 p.m. Oast discusses the reasons for the proposed changes in the parking ordinances.
10:31 p.m. Oast presents a variety of options for addressing the fee issues for downtown parking for handicapped. Possible non-metered area.
10:32 p.m. City Council is visibly tired, slumping. They’ve been in meetings since 3 p.m.
10:33 p.m. Bothwell: I’m curious about providing off-street parking. Battery Park residents might be most at issue.
10:34 p.m. Bothwell: It’s my understanding that the Vanderbilt (apartments) has some kind of arrangement with the city.
10:35 p.m. Transportation Dept. Staff: Battery Park has their own lot.
10:36 p.m. Bellamy mentions City-owned surface lot in downtown, near old Flying Frog.
10:38 p.m. Newman: We don’t want to use high-demand street parking for long-term parking.
10:38 p.m. Bellamy proposes possible permit-only parking for Battery Park residents off O. Henry.
10:44 p.m. Davis: These spaces should not be used as storage.
10:44 p.m. Davis: I’m in favor of activating all the meters. Just because someone is handicapped doesn’t mean they are indigent.
10:44 p.m. Smith: There’s also the possibility for making some of this (parking) seasonal.
10:47 p.m. Manheimer makes a motion to activate all on-street meters, no longer giving exceptions to handicapped parkers. Public comment.
10:50 p.m. Several residents are hard of hearing, Bellamy restates motion. Amendment by Manheimer to create handicapped parking zones …
10:51 p.m. … without being subject to those parking fees.
10:53 p.m. Russell: I don’t think the City should be responsible for providing parking places for private residents.
10:56 p.m. Oast discusses option of placard for handicapped parking.
11:00 p.m. Battery Park resident speaks. Several cannot walk more an entire block.
11:01 p.m. Battery Park resident says that only 7-to-9 residents use on street parking.
11:05 p.m. Disability attorney says that none of the City decks currently meet disability guidelines. Not likely a viable option.
11:14 p.m. Joe Minicozzi from Asheville Downtown Association gives a presentation, encouraging activation of meters and placards.
11:17 p.m. Bill Griffin from Four Corners at Grove Arcade asks City to free up the on-street parking.
11:23 p.m. Smith is concerned solution for handicapped won’t be reached by 30 day interim period before meters are activated across city.
11:24 p.m. Motion passes 7-0.
11:26 p.m. Boards and commissions interviews discussion.
Photos by Jonathan Welch