Debate builds prior to Larchmont hearing

A 60-unit affordable housing apartment complex planned for East Larchmont Road has drawn both praise and protest from neighbors in the North Asheville neighborhood.

The complex is planned by Mountain Housing opportunities, a nonprofit whose mission is to champion and build affordable housing in the area.

The development is slated for the site formerly occupied by a Naval Reserve Center and would be made up of two buildings nearly 30 feet high. The project’s density requires a conditional zoning by the city of Asheville. See the development plans here.

Some neighbors, however, have come out against the project, asking the city to allow only about half the density requested. The amount of vehicle traffic that 60 units would create, they say, would jam roadways and intersections at Merrimon Avnue and Larchmont Road. Nearly 300 people have signed this petition opposing the project.

Says one email from Greg Palombi to both Asheville City Council and the P&Z Commission:

“I own the commercial building on west Larchmont just above the Swannanoa Cleaners building. I cross Merrimon Avenue daily at this intersection to do my banking, to run through north Asheville neighborhoods, and to patronize the local businesses. I would ask all of you to put aside your noble advocacy of affordable housing for a few minutes and come join me as we cross the road at this intersection between noon and 1:30PM or 4:00 to 5:00PM on weekdays. I don’t see anywhere in the current plan to address the problems that already exist at the intersection of Merrimon Avenue and Larchmont Road. There is a bus stop on the west side of the intersection that has had a significant increase in activity due to the current economic conditions that have [led], I assume, to increased ridership. People turning right to go north on Merrimon do not realize that there is a cross walk there. Eventually somebody is going to be injured or killed and to date nobody from the city or the state has seemed to interested in dealing with this problem. Now you want to change the zoning and add a significant increase in use of the intersection without any real plans for the impact. I attended the technical meeting yesterday and did not feel that this has been addressed at all, and approved with conditions seems to mean that we will deal with it later.

From talking with folks in this part of Asheville, it is clear that the support for affordable housing is very strong. Keep the density the same and the community will be supportive. Increase the zoning to make the numbers work because the land is $1,800,000 and you lose support. There are lot of people that will be directly and indirectly affected by this project in the immediate neighborhood as well as the city at large. Show us that the thousands of constituents that will be affected matter as much as the hundreds that will live in the MHO project.”

In another email to Council and P&Z members, Roger McCreadie wrote:

“Now comes Mountain Housing Opportunities, seeking to have the old Naval Reserve building site rezoned to accommodate 64 affordable housing units comprising two three-story, 40-foot-high buildings and designed to house at least 100 persons, all on a parcel of 2.5 acres. By now you will have read the excellent analysis, compiled by concerned residents, of the impact this proposed project would have on an already overburdened traffic corridor that traverses a residential section of Asheville highly prized for its beauty, its quiet, and the stability of its property values.

No right-minded resident of the affected area is opposed to the concept of constructing affordable housing units nearby. Ours is not a kneejerk, “not-in-my-back-yard” objection. But build a complex with a smaller footprint – one that would cause less disruption and would not open the Pandora’s box of more gerrymandered zoning. We ask you to act responsibly in this matter. In both the short and the long term, we will all be glad you did.”

A letter to Xpress also objects to the impact of the project. Patricia Poteat and David Moltke-Hansen write:

“With this letter, we join more than 250 residents of the Gracelyn subdivision and surrounding neighborhoods in north Asheville to protest the proposed rezoning of the Naval Reserve site behind the Grace Post Office on Merrimon Avenue. This rezoning would be necessary in order for Mountain Housing Opportunities to build the 60-unit, high-density affordable-housing complex it has proposed for the site.

The concerns of this diverse group are not about MHO, which does important work and has a good reputation. Moreover, the great majority of the petitioners support affordable housing, not just in principle but for the neighborhood. Were the 32 units allowed under current zoning to go on the site, most of the petitioners would welcome the development…

At 60 units on just over two acres, the density of the complex would be more than twice that of the rest of the surrounding residential area. In addition, the scale of the proposed buildings is much bigger than is characteristic of the adjacent neighborhoods, made up almost entirely of one- and two-story homes and small apartment buildings. For example, one façade of one building, including a retaining wall, would rise to a height of more than 80 feet! This is much taller than anything in the area except a church steeple…

Second [problem]:The implications of this density for the tenants themselves, especially in regard to increased vehicular traffic, lack of adequate sidewalks and parking, and the safety hazards these would present. The number of vehicles in the immediate vicinity of the site would increase dramatically. On-street, as well as on-site, parking would be required to accommodate residents and visitors…

MHO should build affordable housing at the Naval Reserve site. It should do so, however, on a scale and at a density appropriate to the neighborhood, as allowed by current zoning. It should also do so in a way more conducive to the safety and well-being of the residents served. It is true that, with 32 units instead of the proposed 60, fewer tenants would be served. One site, however, should not carry a disproportionate burden vis a vis the need for affordable housing in Asheville and, thereby, compromise both those living in the complex and those in the surrounding neighborhood.”

But elsewhere, others are supporting the impact Larchmont will have on affordable housing.

In an open thread on Scrutiny Hooligans, Asheville Council member Gordon Smith responded to objections, saying he was in the corner of more affordable housing in Asheville.

“I’ve gotten emails against and in favor of this project. It’s the sense of this Council that promoting density on our transportation corridor will protect open spaces and offer a range of housing options adjoining main transit routes.

The alternative to density on our corridors is continued flight to the County or incursion into our well-established neighborhoods. Our tax base problems won’t be solved by maintaining the status quo.
I’m in favor of the Larchmont development on Merrimon for these reasons and more…

This city needs affordable housing, and we need it yesterday. If we’re not going to add density to our urban corridors, where will we do it? 60 units of affordable housing is twice as many as 30. Without other developers executing projects right now, it’s critical that we add to our affordable housing on our urban corridors whenever possible.

I’m a big fan of this Larchmont project, and I hope to see many more like it. Without affordable housing options near the city center, we’re going to lose open space, add traffic, add pollution, and lose diversity.”

And Ashvegas has collected several messages both objecting to and supporting the project:

Sarah Dickenson writes:

If you are interested, here are some facts, that I hope you will consider.
1) Traffic- there has been some concern that the building will add more traffic to Merrimon Avenue.

The City of Asheville has a sophisticated traffic study computer program that determines traffic volume and patterns. A building that holds 60 dwelling units would increase traffic by an additional car per minute during peak traffic time which is 4-6pm. That means that a building, such as the one proposed would only add one car per minute.  We all know that traffic on Merrimon Avenue is crazy. I do not think that one car is going to make a difference.

Mountain Housing Opportunities knows that neighbors are concerned about these traffic patterns, and they are buying a bus pass for all the residents of this building for a year. MHO tries to offer city bus routes to all of its properties, so that people without the luxury of a car, do have an alternative to transportation.

Another point, the 60 dwelling MHO proposed unit will have 32 one-bedroom units. Therefore, there will be less traffic on Merrimon Avenue than the study [indicates], because 32 units will only have one person in them.

2) Size

I have heard complaints that a 60 unit building is too big. You have to understand, to make an affordable housing project work, you have to have a certain number of units to leverage the cost of the units so that they are in fact “affordable.” Some people say that they are for affordable housing, but the building should be smaller. They clearly do not understand the math.

3) Zoning

That site is zoned “Institutional.” The “institutional” rating includes things like government buildings, health and fitness gyms, nursing homes, universities, assisted living facilities. This rating allows a 15-story institutional building to be built on that site WITHOUT a height restriction. If that site were not to have the zoning changed to residential, the owners of the new RUSH gyms, those lovely purple and orange buildings, could potentially build a 15-story orange and purple gym on that site.

That site is surrounded by a church, a neighborhood, a firehouse and restaurants. I am sure the folks who live beside there would love a 15-story Rush gym beside them. 

The rendering of the new Mountain Housing Opportunities building is beautiful, as are all of their buildings and homes. I would encourage you to drive by some of their properties and look for yourself. Or you can look at their website.

4) Money

Basically this project would create jobs. They hire local construction crews, architects, engineers, which is crucial when this industry is struggling,

The development will pay taxes, which it is not generating the same amount of taxes right now.

This project will not lower surrounding property tax values, which was found by a study by Beverly-Hanks. Actually MHO properties have been proven to increase the tax value of surrounding properties on every project they have. 

I do live right off of Merrimon Avenue. I was born and raised here. And I know that projects like this only make our city a better place to live.”

And one neighbor who still objects to the density, nonetheless said she was comforted by a Thursday meeting with MHO:

I am just in from tonight’s “adjoining neighbors only” meeting with Mountain Housing Opportunities. MHO unveiled their 3D renderings of the project and answered lots of questions from our small group. I must say that although I really object to the “need” to re-zone, I was reassured by what I saw. My major objection to the project has always been that it is too big and will look like someone dropped the Titanic down behind the post office.

However…

The homes of my neighbors and I will be 175 feet from the actually buildings. And evidently our properties sit higher than I thought. Standing in my backyard (which is front and center), I will be eye level with the edge of the roof. So for me, the only view blocked will be that of Subway, the post office, and the stop light… oh darn.

These renderings also revealed some architectural interest with several hipped (I think that’s the word) roof lines and bay windows. And I credit the project’s landscaper designer with really trying to address our concerns for screening combined with needs for garden sunlight.

Sure there are still concerns about housing so many people in one area and will they really integrate into the neighborhood?… probably not with a project so large. Traffic, particularly on Edgewood, will need to be effectively addressed if this comes to fruition.

So yes, it is still too big, but as far as aesthetics are concerned, I admittedly am “not as grossed out as I was before” (my words to MHO).

Now I’m ready to relax awhile.”

The Larchmont project is scheduled for a hearing before the Asheville Planning and Zoning Commission Wednesday, March 3. The commission meets at 5 p.m. in the first floor conference room of Asheville City Hall. Click here for the evening’s agenda.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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9 thoughts on “Debate builds prior to Larchmont hearing

  1. Lee

    Ms. Dickenson, just because an apartment unit has one bedroom it does not mean that only one person will live in that unit. HUD’s occupancy standards allow two persons per bedroom and up to five per two bedroom apartment dependent upon the household composition. Don’t jump to conclusions about how many people will live in the unit based on the number of bedrooms.

  2. Dean Hittleman

    The fear of what they could put in place of this project is wrong. I will gladly send you a link to the city “institutional zoning” rules. There is NO way anyone could put in a 10 story building there but they certainly CAN put the fear out there. I do believe that we are looking at the new “Staples” of the north. It will make everything around look small by comparison. Should make a lovely view from Gracelyn and Merrimon Ave. Also, when the Fire Department is hindered/blocked and their “response times” go up while waiting for the new traffic to move out of their way, SO WILL OUR COST OF FIRE INSURANCE as well as the number of casualties and amount of property damage. Watch the traffic accidents go up, up, up. I will not buy the one car per hour estimate because the people I know without cars actually have to have people come pick them up to take them somewhere and then bring them back to drop them off which results in double the car trips of the people who have their own cars. Think about how many working folks you know that do NOT own a car? Remember you heard it here first, but were already too committed to the project to really question your decisions to approve. Will the taxpayers views and questions be considered? Does 300 names and comments on a petition even make a blip on the radar to Planning and Zoning or City council? It will be surprising to see just who will be watching and paying attention!

  3. Jonathan Barnard

    I predict this will pass unanimously at both P&Z and Council. I only wish MHO would push for more units and for some units with larger numbers of bedrooms. (And I hope Council members urge MHO to be more ambitious in the future.)

    Almost everyone on Council claims to support higher density. If not here, on a site adjacent to a commercial avenue with bus lines and within walking distance of grocery stores, then where?

    This is low-hanging environmental fruit. If this project has any trouble passing, then I’m really going to start worrying about Asheville’s future as a “green city.”

  4. Concerned Neighbors

    To find the petition North Asheville Residents have been signing go to:

    http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/785-merrimon-ave/

    TO SIGN: Click on the link above. Read the petition, look at signatures and blog entries, key in your information. Click Sign. Signing this petition is FREE. ipetitions may solicit contributions after signing. Simply X (exit) out of this page. Your signature has been added. To check, click on the site again, click on the signature tab above, your signature should be the last number. Thanks!

  5. Barry Summers

    Small point: one of the letters above states that the proposed buildings will be 40 feet tall; in fact, the designs show that both buildings would be 30 feet tall.

  6. Wiley

    Barry,

    The UDO allows the buildings to be described as 30 foot tall structures. In this week’s Asheville Tribune, MHO allows that the real height of the buildings (as in measured from the bottom of the building to the roof) is in excess of 40 feet.

    Staples on Merrimon is 40 feet, just as a point of reference.

  7. Barry Summers

    I stand corrected. Someone sent me the elevations, and they actually show the peak of the roof to be 42’8″. The 29’6″ measurement is to the bottom edge of the roof (?). That’s what I get for only reading the developer’s submission.

    thanks for the factcheck.

  8. AshevilleforAsheville

    Is that Dean G. Hittleman of Woodfin (second comment from top, above)? The first petition signer? A.k.a. “Da Hittman”? Man, you do get around! If folks want a lesson in the power of the internet, particularly the power of social media, google “Da Hittman” and Merrimon, or Hittleman and Merrimon. Be sure to look at all 30+ unduplicated hits, with google’s “omitted results included.” Woodfin?! Who woulda thought?

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