A zoning battle over 13 years in the making comes to a head at Asheville City Council’s upcoming regular meeting in council chambers on Tuesday, Oct. 9. Reid Thompson, the owner of 28 and 32 Maxwell St., seeks to rezone those properties from residential to lodging expansion, thereby allowing their short-term vacation rental use — because the activity of Greenlife Grocery, he says, has made it impossible for him to keep long-term tenants.
Urban planner Joe Minicozzi, representing Thompson, presented the evidence to the city’s Planning & Zoning Commission on July 19. He provided evidence of routine illegal use and parking on Maxwell Street by trucks associated with Greenlife operations, with documentation stretching back to 2005. Minicozzi also offered letters from Thompson’s previous tenants specifically naming the nuisances associated with Greenlife’s violations as the reason they left the properties.
Thompson turned to Airbnb as a way to generate income from the properties in lieu of long-term occupancy, Minicozzi said, but the city prohibits this use unless it grants a zoning exception. As previously reported by the Citizen Times, Thompson had accumulated $850,000 in fines as of May 10, with each additional day’s violation assessed at $1,500.
The Planning & Zoning Commission voted 5-2 to approve the rezoning, and Council consideration was originally planned for Aug. 28. Minicozzi explained in an Aug. 22 email to Xpress, however, that city staff had postponed the hearing in favor of private mediation on Sept. 5 to “see if there is a settlement in there somewhere.”
A memo to Council from Todd Okolichany, the city’s planning and urban design director, indicates that the two parties reached no such agreement. “The petitioner has been cited for illegally operating STVRs on the site and is seeking this zoning change to legitimize this infraction,” he wrote. “There is no community benefit noted by changing the zoning of these two properties.”
Council will be tasked with resolving the contradictory recommendations of staff and the Planning & Zoning Commission. It is unclear, however, what impact their decision might have on the city’s ongoing civil action in Buncombe County Superior Court, which aims to reclaim the violation fines that Thompson, to date, has not paid.
In new business
Council will hear an update on the Asheville Fire Department’s Community EMT program, which aims to address public safety in the city’s downtown and South Slope areas. A particular goal for the program’s two-person bike teams is providing assistance and outreach to “vulnerable populations,” such as opioid users and people experiencing homelessness.
In a presentation provided to Council before the meeting, interim Fire Chief Chris Budzinski noted that the program facilitated 117 interactions over a 16-day pilot period at a total cost of $12,000 in labor and equipment. He cited consistent staffing and weather as the two main challenges facing the operation.
Council will also consider a zoning change at 511 Brevard Road to permit the construction of a 106-room Mainstay Suites Hotel. A hearing on the rezoning was originally scheduled for Aug. 28 but did not take place; a comparison of project memos from August and the present indicates that the major change in plans is the elimination of drive-through restaurant uses on an outer portion of the property in the later proposal. Staff supports the application as an appropriate use for a heavily trafficked area.
Council will also consider items on its consent agenda. Unless specifically singled out for separate discussion, these items are typically approved as a package. Highlights include the following:
- Second reading of an ordinance granting a franchise agreement to Tuk It, LLC, to operate electric rickshaws throughout downtown, Biltmore Village, the River Arts District and Montford. The ordinance was originally on the consent agenda for Aug. 28, but Council member Sheneika Smith asked for the Multimodal Transportation Commission to review the agreement before approval.
- Resolution establishing an Equity-Based Vision Zero Task Force to reduce Asheville’s number of traffic-related fatalities and severe injuries. The effort would require no additional city funding but would redirect current staff and resources.
- Resolution approving an additional $5,000 in funding from the Asheville Police Department budget to reimburse 21 CP Solutions, the consulting group that reviewed the Aug. 25, 2017 police beating of Asheville resident Johnnie Jermaine Rush, for travel expenses for their trip to present findings on Aug. 28.
Asheville City Council meets at 5 p.m. in council chambers on the second floor of City Hall at 70 Court Plaza, Asheville. The full meeting agenda and supporting documents can be found here.