Drive-thrus could accompany Harris Teeter on Merrimon Avenue

That’s not just a grocery store going in on Merrimon Avenue. Harris Teeter could be flanked by four other businesses, including two drive-thrus.

The developer is asking Asheville City Council to approve plans that include the drive-thrus. Council must change the zoning on two small lots that are included in the project in order for the developer, Charlotte-based Merrifield Patrick Vermillion, to build as proposed. The property is the 4.19-acre tract located at the corner of Merrimon Avenue and Chestnut Street, with borders along Holland and Eloise Streets. It was previously home to a furniture store and before that, home to the Deal Buick car dealership.

A representative of MPV said the property would need two drive-thrus to attract tenants. He hoped a bank and a coffee shop would set up there. “We think it’s very important to stick with two,” he said. “Those coffee shops are no question; they’re big draws.”

Residents and representatives of MPV gathered at a Dec. 5 meeting of the Planning and Zoning Commission to discuss the building proposal. Eleven residents spoke out against the plans, raising concerns about traffic, smells and fumes that could result from the drive-thrus and from the development as a whole.

“You don’t want Merrimon looking like Tunnel Road,” said Megan Kirby, who lives on Eloise Street. “This is too close in and too valuable of property to, I think, waste on a Chick-fil-A drive through.”

But Nick King, another nearby resident, said he is against the drive-thrus but thought efforts to protest them would be futile. “Isn’t it true that a fast food restaurant can be put there no matter what you guys decide tonight?” he asked the commission.

“Correct,” the commission replied in unison.

But the laws surrounding the land aren’t as simple as this exchange suggests. In order for MPV to use all the land their plans include, Council can strike a bargain.

However, the committee was unable to reach a consensus on the terms of the negotiations between the city and MPV, even after several hours of discussion. The commissioners split their vote: Three members voted to grant the developer’s terms and allow two drive-thrus on the property, one of which could be a fast food restaurant, and three members voted against the proposal.

Council will determine how to move forward with MPV’s plans at their Tuesday, Jan. 22, meeting. City staff will present the commission’s vote and relay a recommendation of their own: to allow only one drive through in the development. Council will hear public comment at that meeting as well.

To decide what will ultimately be built, the city will have to engage in a series of negotiations with the developer. The task is delicate because the land in question carries a patchwork of zoning statuses: A small portion is zoned residential; some is zoned commercial business, and the majority is zoned highway business.

In one sense, King was right: On tracts designated highway business, the developer has a lot of flexibility about what to build. The list of allowable uses includes gas stations and drive-thrus, according to city staff.

Typically, major suburban corridors are zoned highway business, according to Julie Fields, assistant planning director for the city. It’s unusual to see such a flexible designation near a dense, urban area like downtown Asheville, she told Xpress. “Highway business is a suburban-style zoning district, and when you get that close to the urban core, you’re looking for more urban-based zoning districts,” she said. “We consider that portion of Merrimon a gateway into the downtown, so we would expect a more urban style of development.”

Because the land in question — known as Harris Teeter Phase 2 — is not zoned entirely as highway business, the developer has to negotiate with the city: They’ll consent to certain city amendments to the project as a whole if the city agrees to bring the lots together into a unified zoning (highway business conditional zoning).

For HB CZ, Council can request whatever amendments it deems appropriate, but these requests don’t become law unless MPV agrees with them. And if the developers don’t want to negotiate with the city, they can abandon their request for conditional zoning. They won’t be allowed to develop the additional lots as planned (the ones zoned residential and commercial business), but they can continue to develop the land zoned highway business with all the flexibility it affords them.

“The conditional zoning gives [the city] an opportunity to get something that is less suburban and more urban,” Fields said.


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4 thoughts on “Drive-thrus could accompany Harris Teeter on Merrimon Avenue

    • Emily Patrick

      According to city staff, the HB zoning on the parcel in question dates from 1997, when the city overhauled most of the zoning code. If you take a look at Chapter 7 of the Code of Ordinances, you’ll find that the protocol dates from that year.

      In 1997, the parcel was occupied by a car dealership. The “highest” (most regulated) zoning under which a car dealership can exist is HB. Other possible zonings would have been regional business and commercial industrial. If the city had zoned the lot higher, the car dealership would have been non-compliant.

      You are right in saying that many uses are allowed on the property. Under the HB zoning, it could become a car dealership again. Other allowable uses include armories, golf courses, rec centers, nightclubs, cemeteries, gas stations and of course, drive-thrus and grocery stores. For a complete list of the allowable uses in HB and other zones, see section 7-8 of the code.

      All that said, it’s possible that the zoning could have been changed at a later date. The code makes it seem like city staff should be keeping an eye on these issues for an annual report. It also implies that any person could have raised concerns about the zoning at an earlier time. But no one did. A change to the zoning might have been easier to justify before the development got underway.

      However, even if the staff or community had seen the writing on the wall

  1. hauntedheadnc

    “This is one of the few walkable neighborhoods close to downtown and perhaps the only opportunity Asheville has to extend the urban core into Merrimon Avenue. This development will set the tone for further development along Merrimon. Do we want a high value walkable urban village, or do we want another Tunnel Road?”

    I believe the neighborhood wants another Tunnel Road. A few years back there was a very good plan for an urban village on this site, but the neighborhood fought it tooth and nail because it would have been too dense, too urban, and — above all — too tall, with buildings shooting up to the stratospheric height of almost ten stories!

    And so, now we have suburban-style grocery stores, and their generous parking lots and outparcel developments, going up chockablock along the street. This is much better than some nasty old tall building. You must remember that the prevailing mindset is that Asheville would have been so much better had someone not gone and built this nasty city right in the middle of it, and any expansion of that city is to be fought off at all costs. The last thing we want is to expand the urban core. The urban core must be kept trussed behind I-240, lest it escape and infect all corners of the city with that terrible density and walkability, and especially with its awful tendency to mix residential and commercial uses.

    No, suburban grocery stores are much, much better for Merrimon. They are, after all, what the neighborhood wanted.

  2. Emily Patrick

    It’s important to note that there’s no corridor plan for Merrimon Avenue. Plans exist for the Central Business District and Charlotte Street, but no plan has passed for Merrimon. Such a plan might prevent difficulties like this one from arising in the future.

    In 2010, Shannon Tuch, assistant planning and development director for the city, presented a history of Merrimon Avenue development issues to the Planning & Economic Development Committee. Here are some interesting excerpts:

    “The current four lane cross section is unsafe and frustrating for drivers and pedestrians

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