Downtown on the march: zoning changes allow for more density, height

Recently, more property owners are requesting inclusion in the city of Asheville’s downtown zoning, meaning that denser, taller development will be allowed in more areas in the future. This may also prove the trickle before the flood, as the city is already studying a major extension to downtown’s official borders.

Property owners on Asheland Avenue — the site of Keller William Realty and most recently, the nearby 172 Asheland Avenue, an office building — have requested that their properties be rezoned to the same classification as downtown Asheville. According to city staff, owners of other nearby properties have also asked about the change.

Alan Glines, the city planner who specializes in the downtown area, notes that both properties, and many others nearby, are zoned Regional Business District, a designation that fit an earlier time when much of district was abandoned and the city relied more heavily on suburban-style development.  “Back in the day, downtown was still sort of taking off, so the area around Hilliard and Asheland felt more like the edge of downtown,” he says. “Then, the suburban model fit them. There’s no requirement for [development] to [be next to] the street, and parking generally surrounds the building.”

That designation doesn’t allow development on the height or scale as the Central Business District zoning of downtown.

“Some of the property owners on the edges see that in the future it’s going to benefit them if they’re CBD-zoned and part of a more mixed-use, urban district rather than regional business, which is kind of this relic,” Glines adds.

While neither owner has cited any near-future development plans, the classification does give them more options later, and Glines notes that the rezoning can also increase a property’s resale value, because there are more choices for future developers without the cost of seeking separate rezoning or requesting special exceptions for a new development. The buildings also have a more extensive set of design requirements, including making any future developments more oriented to walking and less to driving.

The push is tied with increased business interest in the areas south of downtown’s traditional core, including the South Slope.

“They feel like they’re going to benefit from that, and they don’t want to miss that,” Glines says. “I think people are on the right track.”

Keen to extend the possibility of that development and avoid the conflicts (like the recent one on Merrimon Avenue) that can come up when zoning that planners and residents view as archaic remains, city staff plan to rezone swaths south of downtown to allow for a more urban style of development, and there’s already discussion on the Downtown Commission.

“We’re getting to it, I think we’re going to work on it towards the end of this year,” Glines says. “It’s going to take meetings with lots of property owners. We have to decide what will happen if we get someone who doesn’t want to be included, is it worth extending the zoning anyway?”

He says, “The commission and staff will reach out and make sure people are informed.”


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