Once again, Asheville City Council will direct its attention to the future use of two challenging pieces of publicly-owned property in downtown Asheville: the vacant lots facing the Basilica of St. Lawrence and U.S. Cellular Center on Haywood Street and Page Avenue.
Unlike previous failed schemes for the properties, however, the proposal City Council will consider at its regular meeting on Tuesday, March 8 doesn’t feature a developer, a structure or even a specific future use. Rather, Council will review a plan of action created by the Asheville Design Center (ADC) to undertake a comprehensive, community-based effort to determine the community’s vision for the property.
According to a staff memo prepared by planning director Todd Okolichany and communication and public engagement director Dawa Hitch, the proposed planning process aims to “…effectively sort through conflicting expectations, values and ideals for downtown parks and other types of public spaces in general; however, there is a current desire by the City Council to engage the public in an open process for a future vision for the Haywood Street properties so that these properties can begin to contribute to the downtown’s dynamic environment and vibrancy.”
To that end, Council will vote on three measures: an agreement to enter into a contract with the ADC to lead the public engagement effort, a budget amendment for $15,000 to fund the ADC’s services and the composition of an advisory team to work with ADC on the initiative.
The Asheville Downtown Association, a group representing downtown business and cultural interests, released a statement on March 3 in support of the ADC’s proposed process. The group also announced that it is committing $5,000 to the community planning project. The Friends of St. Lawrence Green have also pledged $5,000, while an anonymous donor has pledged $1,500, Michael McDonough $500 and the Downtown Asheville Residential Neighbors (DARN) $200.
“Given the Asheville Design Center’s history, knowledge and experience with this space, we feel they are best suited to lead an independent process that allows all citizens to weigh in on all possible options for the site,” wrote Byron Greiner, issues committee chair for the Asheville Downtown Association. “We want to ensure that there is a true public input process where all potential outcomes are on the table, as well as discussion of how each would be funded initially and on an ongoing basis.”
The proposed advisory team will include the following representatives:
- City of Asheville Recreation Board
- Asheville Downtown Commission
- Historic Resources Commission of Asheville & Buncombe County
- Public Art and Cultural Commission (PACC)
- Buncombe County liaison
- Asheville Downtown Association
- The Basilica of St. Lawrence
- Friends of St. Lawrence Green
- Grove Arcade
- Battery Park Hotel/Vanderbilt Apartments representative(s)
- Downtown Asheville Residential Neighbors
- Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce
- Three at-large members appointed by City Council in the same process as boards and commission appointees
The proposed process will span about seven months and will culminate in the creation of a set of recommendations for the area. The recommendations may then be used to undertake a design competition or other solicitation for design services. As the staff memo to City Council points out, no funds have been allocated for the design, construction or maintenance of the space.
Staff also will present options for a city-owned building adjacent to the study area at 33-35 Page Avenue. Formerly the home of Sister Cities Asheville, the building was determined by a city building inspector to be unsafe for occupancy in November last year. City Council will consider options for stabilizing or demolishing the building, along with associated costs.
Presentations and reports
Council will hear a report on the masterplan for the redevelopment of the Lee Walker Heights public housing community on Wilbar Avenue on Asheville’s rapidly-developing South Slope. The project aims to replace the existing 96 units of public housing and to add a minimum of 200 mixed-income units to create a diverse, sustainable and walkable neighborhood.
Council also will hear an update on Asheville Police Department’s implementation of body-worn cameras. Unlike most items placed on Council’s agenda, no additional documentation outlining the police department’s proposed policy for body camera footage is included with the agenda. No documents were shared at the discussion of the policy at the monthly meeting of Council’s Public Safety Committee on Jan. 25.
Minutes of the Jan. 25 meeting show that Chief Tammy Hooper related that video recordings will not be considered public records due to their investigatory nature. Unless a specific encounter is flagged for longer retention, recordings will be deleted after 60 days. All encounters between officers and the public will be recorded except for cases involving child abuse, hospital treatment or at the subject’s request that the encounter not be taped. According to Hooper, the only circumstances under which recordings would be released would be in the case of a specific concern about an interaction. The release would be at the chief’s discretion.
A budget report for the second quarter of the 2015-16 fiscal year will be given. Based on collection trends, staff currently estimates that revenue will exceed the annual budget by $350,000. Expenditures are projected to come in at $1.2 million under budget for the year. The city began the fiscal year with an unassigned fund balance of $16.6 million, and it projects that the unassigned balance will be $18.2 million at the close of the fiscal year on June 30, 2016.
A public hearing to consider renaming two disconnected portions of Merritt Street to “Bird Dog Way” for the south section and “Merritt Park Lane” for the north section will be held. The impetus for the change came from property owners along the south section of Merritt Street, who suggest that renaming the sections will eliminate the possibility of confusion for emergency responders.
Board and commission appointments
Council will consider applicants for seats vacated by Julie Mayfield upon her election to City Council. Mayfield’s seat on the city’s HUB Community Economic Development Alliance will expire on Aug. 22, 2018, and her seat on the Multimodal Transportation Commission will expire on July 1, 2018.
For the HUB Community Economic Development Alliance seat, Council received 11 applications.
For the Multimodal Transportation Commission seat, Council also received 11 applications. Council will consider which, if any, applicants to interview for the seats.
City Council will meet at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, March 8 in Council chambers on the second floor of City Hall. The full agenda and supporting documents can be found here.