Asheville City Council will convene Tuesday, Oct. 14, to discuss the “innovation districts” mentioned by Mayor Esther Manheimer in her Sept. 30 State of the City address, as well as attempt to settle a proposed rezoning on Sardis Road that Council members punted from their Sept. 4 meeting. Council also held an information session on innovation districts on Oct. 6 at the Public Works building.
In her State of the City address, Manheimer mentioned three innovation districts that Council will consider: South Slope, North Charlotte Street and the River Arts District. According to Planning Director Cathy Ball, creating these designations (also called municipal service districts or MSDs) allows a municipality to make infrastructure improvements to a certain portion of the city, as long as it follows the guidelines outlined by law:
“They’re in the city, but it’s defining these specific areas by certain boundaries in these districts. There are statutory requirements on how you can define those, and so we’re asking Council to … define a specific area that meets those requirements,” she says.
The city currently has one MSD — the Business Improvement District.
But what are the advantages to establishing a municipal service district? Why not just make the infrastructure improvements? One of the big keys, says Ball, is the way MSDs can be financed. An MSD designation allows the city to use obligation bonds to finance the improvement projects.
Such “bonds are an inexpensive way for cities to borrow money,” says Ball. “Because the city would leverage taxes and fees that we don’t [usually] levy. So if for some reason the city defaulted, the lender would be able to collect those revenues.”
One example, Ball says, is sales tax. Since sales tax is a guaranteed form of revenue, banks and other lenders are more amiable to buying up the bonds, since there’s a stable source of revenue that can be collected.
Furthermore, when a municipality uses obligation bonds for an MSD, says Ball, it must make the improvements in that district.
The move, however, does potentially create some complications: “The statutes allow the property owners within those districts to have an additional tax added to their property for improvements they would like to have,” says Ball.
Additional taxes in MSDs would only apply to property owners in those districts. However, Ball emphasizes, “that is not the intent of what the city wants to do. The city’s purpose in doing this is to take advantage of those special obligation bonds. But the action itself, of establishing the district, creates the opportunity for a future Council to increase the taxes within that district to cover different items applicable to it.”
Ball also says that any further increase of taxes in an MSD would have to be voted on in an open session of Council.
The proposed revitalization of the River Arts District has been well documented, but North Charlotte Street and South Slope would have their own projects, specific to needs, she explains.
“[North] Charlotte is a lot of improvement in the roadway for pedestrians — a multi-modal, complete street design,” says Ball. “South Slope is kind of a mix of doing some infrastructure improvements, but also the ability to do mixed-use projects that include affordable housing and can be financed in the same manner. The types of projects being envisioned are different in the three areas.”
For more information, including a map of the proposed districts, visit the city of Asheville’s website.
In other business Oct. 14
Council will be considering, once more, a request by Winston-Salem Industries for the Blind, which is seeking a rezoning of a plot on Sardis Road from Commercial to Residential Multi-family for construction of Greymont Village, a 356-unit, 14-building apartment complex. Four of the buildings are within city limits.
At the Sept. 9 meeting, Council members voiced their concerns regarding the agency’s reluctance to commit to workforce rent levels for a specified period of time. They also raised questions about fire safety: Since the project would only have one access road, it would require a higher-standard sprinkler system that would cost an additional $750,000 to install and maintain.
Mayor Manheimer asked the Industries for the Blind representatives to “reconsider” their stand, and Council voted 7-0 to push the conversation and decision to the Oct. 14 meeting. As of Oct. 1, the city had received no updates regarding Industries for the Blind’s plans.