A mixed-income housing project that’s been years in the making is now cleared for construction, following a unanimous June 27 vote by Asheville City Council. The conditional zoning approval will permit 221 units to be built at 311 and 319 Biltmore Ave., just south of downtown.
Charlotte-based developer Laurel Street Residential is planning two five-story, multifamily buildings for the roughly 4.6 acres between Biltmore Avenue and Lee Garden Lane, next to the new Maple Crest Apartments at Lee Walker Heights. The complex will feature one-, two- and three-bedroom units, as well as numerous community spaces and leasable storefronts.
In a presentation to Council, urban planner Clay Mitchell said 30% of those units would be guaranteed as affordable for at least 30 years. He said 45 units would be affordable to residents earning no more than 60% of the area median income (about $54,200 for a family of four) and 22 to those earning no more than 80% AMI ($68,000 for a family of four).
The affordable units would include two- and three-bedroom apartments, an aspect called “remarkable” by Council member Sage Turner. “For years in this community, we have heard this statement echoing that we don’t have enough family-sized units in general and that we don’t have enough family-sized units that are affordable,” she told the developer’s representatives. “Thank you for noticing that.”
Asheville has worked to bring affordable housing to the property since 2020, when the city bought it from Duke Energy for $5.3 million, using affordable housing bond proceeds. The city spent another $400,000 to prepare the site for development and signed an agreement with South Carolina developer Homes Urban, but the builder pulled out of the project in February 2022. As outlined in an August 2022 staff report, Asheville then agreed to sell the parcel to Laurel Street for $1 to incentivize a housing project.
Dionne Nelson, Laurel Street’s president and CEO, said her firm was ready to proceed with the project immediately. The developer estimated that construction would finish by the end of 2025, with all units leased by the following year.
Despite Council’s approval, several community members expressed concerns about the new development. Whitley English, a community health worker and board member of local nonprofit Just Economics, hoped the project could include more community spaces.
“I strongly believe that the commercial space on this property should be reserved for a community resource center, specifically catering to child care services,” English said. “Furthermore, this development could use additional recreational spaces for children. … Considering this, [the proposed development] falls short of the community’s needs.”
Vicki Meath, the executive director of Just Economics, and Jen Hampton, the nonprofit’s housing and wages organizer, also expressed concern that not enough units would be available to people earning 60% AMI and below. They said that many residents aren’t making 80% AMI, or about $23 an hour for a single person working a full-time job, and can no longer find affordable housing in Asheville’s steep market.
“I am really glad and hopeful for this developer to be working in our community, and I think there are a lot of things to celebrate about this development,” Meath said. “We really just want to make sure that we are getting the greatest benefit for our community and that we are getting true affordability.”