After more than six years and six separate appearances at Asheville City Council, the RAD Lofts development obtained its latest approval on March 10. Council narrowly voted to OK new affordability conditions for the River Arts District project, with members Sheneika Smith, Brian Haynes and Keith Young opposed.
First approved in October 2013, RAD Lofts will contain 243 residential units, 358 garage parking spaces and 17,000 square feet of commercial space, which developer Harry Pilos said would include a “New York-style” organic grocery store. That initial approval also required 5% of the units to be affordable for renters making 80% of the area median income ($53,120 for a family of four), with the remaining 95% affordable to those at or below the city’s workforce housing baseline, or 120% of AMI.
After claiming to face “difficulties securing financing for the project” because of those conditions, Pilos requested to change the portion of affordable units to 10%, with rents guaranteed for 10 years, and designate the remaining units as market rate. The new arrangement also had the development forgo a $764,000 Land Use Incentive Grant awarded by the city in 2015.
During the March 10 meeting, Pilos offered to accept Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers, a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development program to help low-income families pay for housing, for the affordable units. He also said that he intended to donate $100,000 to both the Asheville Buncombe Community Land Trust and THRIVE, a subsidiary of the University of North Carolina.
Mayor Esther Manheimer praised the development for meeting the goals of the city’s River Arts District Transportation Improvement Project, a multimillion-dollar investment plan meant to spur growth in the once-industrial area, and for contributing to “blended” incomes and housing in the neighborhood. She added that the property, currently a brownfield site, is contaminated from nearly a century of previous use as a steel fabrication facility.
But Smith, a three-generation native of the Southside community, said she did not support the development because of its potential to gentrify a historically African American neighborhood. The project, located at 146 and 179 Roberts St., is located in a census tract where a majority of residents are African American and roughly 40% live below the poverty line.
“By saying that, after redlining, [the] response to gentrification is some blended model — yeah, that is great for Asheville at large. But what my community cannot regain in that model, and other models on the table proposed right now, is a sense of belonging and a sense of ownership,” Smith said. “Hats off to your response to gentrification and the brownfield remediation, but there are some things that are not very satisfying to all.”
In other news
Fifteen people, including members of the Sierra Club’s Western North Carolina chapter, spoke during public comment in support of a 3-cent property tax increase proposed in January by Council members Young and Julie Mayfield. The plan aims to generate $4.5 million for public transit, tree canopy protection, home weatherization for low-income residents and affordable housing.
Council members will meet at 8 a.m. on Friday, March 13, at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center – Asheville for their annual retreat to discuss the upcoming budget and other priorities.