Asheville City Council meeting roundup: New design standards and more

At tonight’s Nov. 23 meeting, Asheville City Council voted to pass the first major changes to come out of the Downtown Master Plan — new design standards that will result in less projects going directly before Council. Here’s a round up of Twitter updates from Xpress Senior Reporter David Forbes:

Council passes consent agenda, including $605,000 from parking funds to purchase lot located off Eagle St. 05:10:00 PM

Mayor Terry Bellamy asking Noise Ordinance Appeals Board to look at use of jake-brakes by truckers. 05:12:00 PM

Next up: City’s quarterly strategic plan and financial reports. 05:15:00 PM

Asst City Mgr Jeff Richardson presenting video focusing on city partnerships. 05:16:00 PM

Includes Riverlink cleaning up Dingle Creek,  AB-Tech for Oakley police center, WNC air quality on fire engine emissions. 05:21:00 PM

Video also highlighting 770 households participating in new recycling bin program. 05:26:00 PM

Financial report: Property tax revenue on target, sales tax above expected, license fees falling below, investments below. 05:31:00 PM

Permit revenue down 32% compared to last year’s, though some of that decline expected. 05:32:00 PM

Investment earnings down due to state of economy, old certificates maturing, new investments only available at lower interest. 05:34:00 PM

On expenditures aside utilities, personnel costs down, fuel costs might be rising, health care costs spiking. 05:35:00 PM

Council member Bill Russell: “Never been so happy to see a green dot” indicating above-expected earnings, on sales tax. 05:38:00 PM

City Mgr Gary Jackson: City’s fund reserves have increased. 05:39:00 PM

Council member Gordon Smith curious about rental prices, says he’s heard they haven’t declined. 05:41:00 PM

Economic Dev. Director Sam Powers: Asheville moving back to lower unemployment (7.9% currently). 05:42:00 PM

Smith: When tweeted unemployment numbers, a lot of people responded back with concerns aboutt underemployment, job market. 05:43:00 PM

Smith: “I think there are some folks those numbers obscure.” 05:44:00 PM

Bellamy: “Alarmed” about healthcare costs; why are they going up? 05:45:00 PM

Bellamy: “Costs have just exploded” Richardson: Have had a few “catastrophic claims” recently, think it will balance out. 05:46:00 PM

Gary Jackson introducing interim financial director Kai Nelson, who says search for a new director “is very difficult.” 05:50:00 PM

Nelson: Some departments have over 1000 deposits a month, current framework having trouble coding all that info, trying to cope. 05:52:00 PM

Council taking up zoning of recently annexed properties on Airport Rd. to commercial, hwy biz. Passes unanimously. 05:55:00 PM

Council now taking up new development rules from downtown master plan. 05:59:00 PM

In addition to new design guidelines, projects in downtown will have to be 175,000 sq ft to go directly to Council. 06:00:00 PM

Currently the threshhold is 100,000 sq ft. Proposed changes intended to make process streamlined, more transparent. 06:03:00 PM

Neighborhood activists, like PARC group, oppose new thresholds, assert damaging to democracy. 06:05:00 PM

New guidelines would also govern height, setbacks, call for lower heights of buildings on outskirts of downtown. 06:06:00 PM

New setback rules intended to make sure sunlight reaches sidewalk level. 06:12:00 PM

Also, no single side of bldg can be bigger than 145 ft, intended to avoid “huge, wide towers in downtown.” 06:14:00 PM

145 ft. limit is based on the side of the Flat Iron building. 06:15:00 PM

Public hearing on master plan revisions about to begin, Vice Mayor Brownie Newman asking about typo in report. 06:19:00 PM

Former Downtown Commission head Pat Whalen: I felt old rules didn’t work for new era, 100s of citizens spent 1000s of hours on plan. 06:20:00 PM

Whalen: “I don’t agree on all parts of the plan, but it’s not mine, it’s ours,” asks Council to respect work, input. 06:20:00 PM

Activist Steve Rasmussen praises plan on walkability rules, but wants more protection for views, historic bldgs. 06:22:00 PM

Rasmussen worked with Historic Design commission, says “didn’t touch threshold issue.” Personally believes current thresholds should be kept. 06:23:00 PM

Rasmussen: Thresholds act as “brake on the train” to slow projects that might be damaging. 06:24:00 PM

Downtown resident Rylan Hanson: Developers can’t be relied upon to have city’s interests at heart, Council shouldn’t change threshold. 06:26:00 PM

Hanson: “Need to be careful we don’t kill the goose that laid the golden egg” with new rules. 06:27:00 PM

Downtown Association Director Joe Minicozzi: Rules reflect long process, lots of community input, should be supported. 06:28:00 PM

Minicozzi: “This is a more transparent, more predictable process, it’s good for everyone, developers and citizens.” 06:29:00 PM

Downtown resident Susan Griffin: Support changes, “a reasonable way to look at future growth. The city will change, everything changes.” 06:31:00 PM

John Holt: Understands concerns about new rules, puts a lot of trust/power with staff and boards, but “we need to move ahead.” 06:33:00 PM

Asheville resident Karen VanAllen wonders about fate of historic buildings under plan. 06:34:00 PM

Staff: Several downtown buildings designated as historic landmarks, are protected. 06:35:00 PM

Newman makes motion to approve wording part of new rules, says he supports both that and threshold changes. 06:36:00 PM

Newman: “Trying to create a set of policies to encourage investment and growth in downtown” instead of sprawl. 06:38:00 PM

Newman: plan preserves more of a role for Council in downtown development than many anticipated. 06:39:00 PM

Newman: “Big buildings in downtown have always been controversial.” Notes City Hall, Jackson bldg once disliked by many. 06:41:00 PM

Smith: Strict design rules achieved by consensus of master plan committee. “That was miraculous!” 06:42:00 PM

Russell has concerns about infringement on property rights, but respects effort, likes new approval process, will support. 06:44:00 PM

Council member Esther Manheimer: Way master plan came together “was so Asheville.” 06:45:00 PM

Manheimer: With new rules city “will say how high your building can be, exactly what it has to look like” a good effort. 06:46:00 PM
Council member Jan Davis likes plan overall, has concerns about rules governing outskirts of downtown. 06:47:00 PM

Davis: Outskirts a concern because that’s where most of downtown’s expansion will take place. 06:49:00 PM

Bellamy: Process was comprehensive, tonight is just the first phase. A lot of community input given upfront. 06:52:00 PM

Bellamy doesn’t believe opponents have given rules “a fair shake” believes rules represent best of city. 06:53:00 PM

Council passes new design rules unanimously. 06:54:00 PM

Bellamy: Even now “we can’t reject a building just because we think it’s ugly.” 06:54:00 PM

Bothwell opposes new thresholds. “Haven’t heard a reason that makes sense… seems fairly arbitrary to me.” 06:56:00 PM

Bothwell: 100,000 limit already high, “reminds me of environmentalists who constantly compromise up… It’s always giving in” 06:57:00 PM

Bothwell: “w]We’re the voice of the people.” Staff, boards can get too attached to projects to assess them objectively. 06:58:00 PM

Bothwell tries to make friendly amendment to minimally increase threshold, Newman doesn’t accept it. 06:59:00 PM

Newman: Stricter rules don’t work without higher threshold, will result in sprawl. 07:00:00 PM

Newman: “People say they don’t want Asheville to become Charlotte” but that’s what stricter rules and “unpredictable process” create. 07:01:00 PM

Bothwell: “What’s the rationale behind 175,000?” Newman: “No magic behind that #” but did come out of community process. 07:02:00 PM

Bothwell: “Respect [input] tremendously” but doesn’t think threshold had that level of discussion, received 150 emails against. 07:04:00 PM

Newman: “I just disagree.” Smith: “I got those e-mails too” thinks compromise is possible. 07:05:00 PM

Smith broaches raising threshold to 137,000, Bothwell makes motion to do so. 07:07:00 PM

Bothwell’s amendment fails 2-5, with only he and Smith supporting it. 07:08:00 PM

Correction: 137,500 feet. 07:08:00 PM

Bothwell makes amendment to apply conditional zoning process to all projects above 175,000, fails 3-4 he, Davis and Smith supporting. 07:13:00 PM

Bellamy: critics are misinformed, as rules only apply to downtown, not to other neighborhoods. 07:14:00 PM

Bellamy: new rules give assurance that if developer follows rules, guidelines, meets goals, will get approved. 07:14:00 PM

Bellamy: We’ve gone over this for awhile, know details, most of public only heard about this last week. 07:16:00 PM

Council on break. 07:17:00 PM

New threshold rules pass 6-1. Bothwell against. 07:17:00 PM

Council now considering an ethics code. 07:22:00 PM

City Atty Bob Oast: Council has “good ethical compass… You make my job easy” changes consolidate existing rules, laws. 07:24:00 PM

New state law includes mandatory training sessions, city ethical code supplements. 07:26:00 PM

Code spells out sanctions for gifts, favors, use of confidential information, emphasizes need to respect others, process. 07:29:00 PM

New ethics code adds provision for censure by Council. 07:30:00 PM

Bothwell asks for clarification on “grey” provision that Council members behave well. 07:32:00 PM

Bothwell: “I mean, I wore Birkenstocks to Council meetings over the summer. Some might consider that harmful to city’s image.” 07:33:00 PM

Bothwell reminding citizens to keep their sidewalk clean. 07:34:00 PM

Bellamy implores people to send Council “e-mails about what they’re thankful for, we’ve had a lot of not-so-good e-mails lately.” 07:37:00 PM

Meeting adjourned. 07:38:00 PM

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3 thoughts on “Asheville City Council meeting roundup: New design standards and more

  1. J

    Council passed the new “tough-knuckled” ethics motion. One of the new provisions is: “Not reaching conclusions on issues until all interested parties have had an opportunity to express their position.”

    Uh-oh. Looks like we might have to start censuring Gordo weekly.

  2. Jake Quinn

    Props to Rasmussen and Bothwell, the two brightest lights at last night’s meeting.

    Terry, Esther and Bob: your ethics policy is pathetic, but then you knew that.

  3. BigAl

    So, in summary:

    Mayor defends right of buildings to be ugly. (buildings cannot decide between being grateful or offended)

    Floorspace threshholds threaten Democracy (gasp!)

    Birkenstock-wearing councilman (snicker) morphs into jack-booted sidewalk-sanitation-nazi (Ve haff vays to mek you sweep!)

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