Asheville City Council voted unanimously Nov. 14 to postpone a vote on a proposed 279-unit apartment complex in Arden over concerns around a shortage of family-sized units and a lack of renewable energy. The project was unable to get a formal recommendation to Council from the Planning and Zoning Commission at its Oct. 4 meeting; however, the developer asked to continue with the zoning approval process.
Georgia-based Flournoy Development Group, lead developer for the project, is requesting to have nearly 9 acres that front Long Shoals Road and Plott Place rezoned from Community Business II to Residential Expansion – Conditional Zone. The developer also is seeking a modification to allow 32 units per acre where 20 units per acre is the maximum, as well as permission to reduce the width of internal sidewalks from 10 feet to 5 feet.
The parcel is between Bojangles and the State Employees’ Credit Union near Lake Julian. The new apartment complex would be where several vacant single-family homes and a small mobile home park stand now.
At its meeting in October, the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission did not recommend approval of the project after a 3-3 vote over concerns regarding housing affordability, a lack of tree preservation and an increased potential for traffic crashes. The developer didn’t agree to the commission’s requests to preserve more trees and accept housing choice vouchers for all affordable units.
During the Nov. 14 Council meeting, several Council members expressed more concerns, voicing a desire for more family-sized units and a commitment to some form of renewable energy, especially since the parcel qualifies for an energy community tax credit bonus because of its proximity to the retired Duke Energy coal plant on Lake Julian, which shut down in 2020.
“If the applicant, or anyone in this area, was going to install a renewable energy system that qualified, they could get a 50% tax credit,” said City Urban Planner Clay Mitchell. “That’s a dollar for dollar credit against your taxes.”
“It’s a little bit of uncharted territory for us,” said Tom Burr, vice president of development for Flournoy. “We’ve been kind of learning as we’ve gone. We haven’t really implemented this on any projects in our footprint in the past.”
The project, which is estimated to cost $30 million-$50 million, would have one- to three-bedroom units, as well as a pool, a fitness center, a car wash and a dog spa. Plans include roughly 376 surface parking lot spaces, 24 garage spaces and 40 bicycle spaces.
The complex would include five residential buildings, with 10% of the units deemed affordable for those earning at or below 80% of the area median income. Up to half of the affordable units also would accept housing choice vouchers.
Burr noted the project will include bike parking, maximized windows for “passive energy efficiency” and approximately 20 electrical vehicle charging stations.
“Those, very soon, like within the next couple years, are going to be superbare minimum,” Council member Kim Roney said. “And especially because this lot has such an amazing potential, I’m surprised that it’s not a selling point, also, for folks who want to live in this new neighborhood. For me, electric charging and bike parking is a 10-years-ago conversation.”
Another concern was the scarcity of family-sized units, specifically ones offering three bedrooms. Of its 279 units, only 24 would have three bedrooms. With its proximity to three schools, Council member Sage Turner said it was a “rare opportunity” to commit to more three-bedroom units.
“It’s really unfortunate, because we don’t get too many opportunities to build close to so many schools. It could really be a dynamic, huge family complex, and it’s going to be 160-something one-bedroom units,” Turner said. “That doesn’t sit well with me.”
Burr said that the project was still very early in the planning process and that the final number of three-bedroom units had not been finalized. “We can go back and look at the unit mix again to try to add some three-bedrooms; I just can’t speak to it in detail because we haven’t gotten to the level of construction documents,” said Burr.
“We don’t have any requirements that say if you are going to build next to a school, you have to have more family-sized units, but I wish we could encourage you to do more,” Turner said.
After a brief discussion, the City Council sought a motion to vote on the zoning requirement; however, none of the members were willing to do so. Rather than deny the request, which would prevent the developer from reapproaching for a year, Council voted 6-0 to delay consideration. Mayor Esther Manheimer recused herself from the vote and discussion because the applicant is represented by Craig Justus, who practices at the Van Winkle Law Firm, where Manheimer is an attorney.
Council member Maggie Ullman said that she had higher expectations for the project and requested that the developer come back with more information.
“I feel like you have done a lot of diligence, and I see that you have put a lot of work into this. I see the responsiveness from the now 11-month process that you have gone through,” said Ullman. “I don’t think [the project] is poorly done, I just think to match our values and the values of the people who want to live there, I think we expect more.”
Prior to the vote on a continuance, Justus said they were willing to continue the conversation about concerns such as more three-bedroom units or adding solar to the project.
“As you have said, this is not really a criteria, so you are holding this project to something different than your ordinance says,” said Justus, referring to the Council’s hesitancy to approve the project over a lack of renewable energy. “We are willing to try and negotiate and work through that.”
The City Council unanimously voted to reconsider the conditional zoning request at its next meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 12.