The third in a series of community meetings called by Chris Peterson and his partners in Jasmine Developers LLC, concerning the eight-acre parcel on Merrimon Avenue formerly occupied by Deal Buick, was held July 12. Peterson had told attendees at a June 27 meeting that he would go back to the drawing board, but new drawings presented at the gathering appeared to include no changes to previous plans.
Senior Associate Stephanie Pankiewicz of LandDesign, the landscape architect for the project, explained to Xpress: “The purpose of this meeting was to follow up on some specific requests from the last neighborhood meeting which I attended, such as: 1) to see the entire project, not just the Phase 1 portion; 2) to see the shadow study for the plan; and, 3) to meet the architect so the neighbors could talk to him directly.” She added, “This was really an intermediate step before going back to the drawing boards.”
Jasmine is seeking a zoning change on the property from Highway Commercial to Urban Village. The change is significant for two reasons. Under current zoning, the parcel could be used for big-box stores and would then, presumably, continue to be mostly paved parking, as it has been for many years as a car dealership. The pavement has caused run-off problems in the adjoining residential neighborhood. However, under its present designation, there is a height restriction of 60 feet on all structures. Urban Village designation would eliminate the prospect of big boxes and the vast parking lot, but, under rules adopted by the city in March 2006, the height limit jumps to 150 feet. Jasmine plans indictate the company intends to take full advantage of the additional height allowed by that regulation.
Some residents of the Five Points/Claxton School neighborhood are worried about Jasmine’s proposal. Although many of the neighbors attending the meeting were supportive of the urban-village design for the Merrimon Avenue side of the acreage, most were not happy with the notion of two 150-foot-tall condominium structures to be sited on the Holland Street side. Mike Lewis, a member of the Merrimon Corridor Study Group and a longtime community-development activist, noted that new rules his group has hammered out over the past two years, which may be approved soon by the city, call for two-story buildings north of Weaver Boulevard and four-story structures south of Weaver. “The buildings you are proposing are way out of scale with the neighborhood,” he said.
The buildings would be somewhat taller than the Vanderbilt Apartments on Haywood Street and somewhat shorter than the Battery Park Apartments adjacent to the Grove Arcade. Atlanta architect Mark Lange said he believes the design will result in a streetscape like that on Asheville’s Wall Street. “I really like the streetscape outside of Laughing Seed restaurant, on Wall Street — a mix of six-story and two-story, old and new buildings. That’s what we’d like to achieve.” When Lange was describing a “pocket park” facing Holland Street, he said it was about 50 feet deep and 100 feet wide, “but we can make it as big as the city and the neighbors want it to be.”
Two attendees simultaneously asked “Eight acres?” to general laughter, and project civil engineer Marty Kocot piped up with, “Within reason.”
Neighbors pointed out that he had just described a downtown street with six- and two-story buildings, not 13-story buildings. Coalition of Asheville Neighborhoods President Joe Minicozzi told Xpress, “The only two eight-acre areas in town that have two buildings that height are Pack Square and the area near the Civic Center.”
Lange works for the Preston Partnership, an Atlanta-based company that has designed mixed-use developments in Atlanta, Orlando, Gaithersburg, Md., and Raleigh.
At the previous meeting, neighbors had quizzed Peterson about shade cast by such buildings. New materilals at the meeting included schematic drawings of shadows cast in March, June and December, at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Xpress asked Lange why the drawings didn’t include shadows from 6 to 9 a.m., when the buildings would be most likely to shade homes on Holland Street. Lange said he would prepare those drawings for the next community meeting. Lange also said he’d prepare section drawings that more accurately represent the height of the structures.
As drawn, the plans include stores, offices, a hotel and landscaping with wide sidwalks and a “festival plaza” that Lange said could be closed to traffic for special events. The goal, he said, is to create a walkable community where residents won’t have to get in their cars to shop or go to work in the downtown area. The whole development would be built over a parking deck, so most of the cars for condo residents and hotel guests would be underground, along with service truck docks.
Kocot stressed that the proposed design would also solve most of the stormwater run-off problems that currently affect Eloise and Holland streets due to the expanse of pavement around the former car dealership. He said that storm drains in the development would empty into cisterns, which would be used to water landscape plants on the property. “We’re trying to preserve the residential nature of the neighborhood streets,” he said. “We can’t promise to change everything you may see as wrong with the project, but we do promise that we will listen and address your concerns to the best of our ability.”
Peterson said he will convene another neighborhood meeting in the near future. In the meantime, neighbors and members of the Merrimon Corridor Study Group are going to compile questions and forward them to Jasmine Developers.
If the Urban Village zoning designation is approved, Council may impose a height limitation lower than the maximum permitted under its rules, but Jasmine partner Stephen Arnsdorff said the company needs to build the 13-story structures in order to minimize the building footprint. “That lets us build bigger amenity decks,” he said, referring to second-story patio areas facing Holland Street with swimming pools, barbecue pits and gardens for use by condo owners. “I think height makes more sense on that property; taller will look better,” he said.
The project will go before the city’s Technical Review Committee Monday, Aug. 6.
— Cecil Bothwell, staff writer