Asheville City Council approved a zoning amendment to allow a drive-thru Starbucks on the corner of Brevard Road and South Bear Creek Road at its Jan. 9 meeting. The Planning and Zoning Commission approved the amendment at its Dec. 6 meeting.
The property, at 141 and 147 S. Bear Creek Road, was rezoned in 2018 for a TownePlace Suites Asheville West by Marriott, but the zoning specifically prohibited a drive-thru because of the primarily pedestrian environment.
Bear Creek Holdings LLC sought to remove the restriction in 2021, but the commission denied the request over concerns for pedestrian safety and accessibility.
The new proposal includes several revisions designed to increase pedestrian safety, such as installing a high-visibility crosswalk on South Bear Creek Road, a sidewalk connecting the existing hotel and the Starbucks, and a commitment to make a “best effort” to minimize potential conflicts between pedestrians and vehicles using the drive-thru lane.
Council member Kim Roney, who voted against the rezoning request, said she had similar concerns now as she did in 2018 regarding “the future of how we move as a city.”
“Are drive-thrus really the best for our tax base, for safety, for traffic concerns, for the ways that everyone moves, including people who drive cars?” Roney asked. “I am not sure that this type of land use is in the best interest of the city.”
A similar concern was expressed during public comment by Claudia Nix, chair of the city’s Active Transportation Committee. Nix said she believes the project is not in the best interest of pedestrians and bicyclists, particularly with the city’s plans to tie the corridor into nearby recreational areas.
“Typically, drive-thrus have long trails of cars waiting and spewing their emissions, which is not appropriate for people who are walking and biking,” Nix said. “This area is planned to be a major corridor and connect our recreational areas in Bent Creek, the WNC Farmers Market and the Asheville greenway system. … I think it’s very important that we think about the future and the conditions we are going to put people in as they travel using active transportation through this area.”
Derek Allen, an attorney representing the applicant, noted after public comment that the proposed project’s location is “very much a vehicle corridor.”
“The project is between I-40 and I-240 and is kind of tucked into the cloverleaf of the exit system for [I-40],” Allen said. “People want to be able to go through a drive-thru and pick up a cup of coffee. They don’t want to have to get out and they don’t want human interaction, especially when they are on an interstate like I-40.”
Following a brief discussion, Council passed the rezoning request in a 4-2 vote, with Council members Maggie Ullman and Roney opposed. Council member Sage Turner was absent.
In other news
City Manager Debra Campbell introduced newly hired Asheville Fire Chief Michael Cayse, who began the post Jan. 2. Cayse has worked in fire service for 34 years, most recently as district chief of special operations for the Cincinnati Fire Department. He held several other positions within the Cincinnati Fire Department, including roles in fire suppression and human resources.
Cayse has a bachelor’s in fire safety engineering and an associate degree in fire science technology from the University of Cincinnati, as well as a Master of Public Administration from Northern Kentucky University. Cayse has received several fire-related certifications and awards and published several articles in professional and academic journals.