It’s been a month since Asheville City Council last convened. The break has no doubt been pleasant, but the elected officials will face a busy agenda on Tuesday, July 25, tackling a new zoning ordinance for the River Arts District, a referendum on establishing election districts for City Council, a new Tunnel Road hotel, a self-storage facility and a plan to leverage $10 million in bond funding to promote the development of 485 units of affordable housing, among other items.
Items the Council will consider as part of its consent agenda include:
- A request that the Buncombe County Board of Elections create four additional early voting sites during the week preceding the 2017 City Council general election.
- An ordinance to allow city restaurants to begin serving alcohol at 10 a.m. on Sundays, as allowed by Senate Bill 155, which passed into law June 29.
- An agreement with McDonald Transit for the operation of the Asheville transit system. The new contract necessitates a budget amendment of $441,000 for transit system maintenance and operation.
- A new lease agreement for city-owned space operated as a climbing gym by Climbmax at 43 Wall St.
Presentations and reports
City Council will hear a report on progress toward Council’s strategic priorities.
The first item on Council’s public hearings agenda, a proposed apartment development at 175 Lyman St., will be continued to Council’s Aug. 22, meeting.
Next up: a self-storage facility proposed for 39 Gerber Road adjacent to Gerber Village and Givens Gerber Apartments. While the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission voted 5-0 to recommend that Council approve the three-story, 85,000-square-foot facility, city planning staff members aren’t so sure it’s a good idea. A staff report explains that the Gerber Road facility is the eighth application for a new self-storage facility the city has received over the last two years. Six have not required City Council approval and one (at 890 Hendersonville Road) was denied by Council. In addition to those eight applications, 19 other self-storage facilities already exist in the city. City staff recommends against zoning approval for the Gerber Road facility.
Planning and public engagement aimed at developing a form-based code for the River Arts District have been underway for the past two years. Unlike more conventional approaches to zoning, form-based ordinances focus on establishing the form and placement of buildings in an area rather than their uses.
The proposed form-based code would create seven zones within the River Arts District, including residential, commercial, industrial and open space or public use areas. In four of the seven zones, short-term rentals would be permitted. Short-term rentals — renting out residential space to visitors for stays of fewer than 30 days — are not allowed in most parts of the city, and some members of the adjacent East West Asheville community have opposed allowing the practice in the River Arts District.
According to a staff report, the city’s Asheville Area Riverfront Redevelopment Commission voted 8-5 in support of the new code, while the Planning and Zoning Commission voted 5-0 in favor of it.
The RAD Lofts, a mixed-use development that will include 235 apartments at 146 Roberts St. in the River Arts District, was first approved by City Council in 2013. Developer Harry Pilos has returned to Council twice since getting the initial nod, seeking tweaks to the zoning approval. The current request asks for slight modifications to the building area, footprint, parking and retail space components of the most recent approval, which was granted on Jan. 10.
Council will consider a proposal to eliminate a 2011 loophole in the city’s parking ordinance that allowed building owners in the River Arts District to provide significantly less parking than building owners in other parts of the city. The 2011 River Parking Reduction Area was instituted to encourage redevelopment in the River Arts District, a staff report explains, but development since that time has resulted in a general shortage of parking. The city’s Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously recommended removing the parking exception at its June 22 meeting. The parking standards included in the proposed River Arts District form-based code will, if passed on July 25, require slightly less parking than in other parts of the city.
The final public hearing for the night concerns a proposed hotel at 1500 Tunnel Road on the eastern edge of the city. The 86-room, five-story Hotel Krish would be located immediately east of an area of other hotels and commercial development, including a four-story Holiday Inn at 1450 Tunnel Road. Further east, outside the city limits, the hotel site abuts a residential area. The Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously voted to recommend approval of the project; city staff also recommends approval.
Council again will take up consideration of creating election districts for seats on Asheville City Council. The city’s charter presently stipulates that Asheville voters select six representatives and one mayor in at-large, city-wide elections.
After legislation advanced by now-retired Sen. Tom Apodaca of Hendersonville to impose district elections on the city failed in 2016, Apodaca’s successor, Sen. Chuck Edwards, tried again this year — and achieved a different outcome. Edwards’ bill became law on June 29; it requires the city to create election districts by Nov. 1. According to the law, representatives must live in and represent one of six districts. Under the new law, the mayor would continue to be elected in an at-large process.
In a recent poll on the district election issue, a majority of Asheville voters surveyed said they’d like the chance to vote on whether to create election districts. To give city voters their wish — and, quite possibly, to lay the groundwork for challenging Edwards’ law in court — Asheville City Attorney Robin Currin proposed a specific strategy to the members of City Council.
State law, Currin advised, allows the city to amend its charter to create election districts and, at the same time, to set a referendum on the change by city voters. To provide the best basis for either adopting the new system or fighting it, Currin recommended that Council adopt the form of district elections required by the new state law: six individual districts with one resident representative for each.
Council held a public hearing on the proposed change to the city’s charter and the associated referendum at its last meeting; one member of the public, Vijay Kapoor, spoke on the issue. Kapoor has filed to run for City Council in 2017. On July 25, Council will vote on amending the city charter and, at the same time, scheduling a referendum to place the change on city voters’ November election ballots.
Council’s second item of unfinished business is a proposal to create a program for using $10 million of the city’s $74-million 2016 bond referendum to encourage the development of affordable housing. If approved, the program will seek to support the development of 485 affordable housing units by contributing $5 million to the city’s affordable housing trust fund (which makes low-interest loans to affordable housing projects); establishing a land banking effort with $3 million; starting a community land trust with $1 million; and dedicating $1 million to a down payment assistance program. The proposal estimates that each affordable unit will receive a city subsidy of approximately $20,000.
In the new business portion of its agenda, Council will consider a resolution in support of the Buncombe County Age-Friendly Community Initiative, which will promote action to create “an age-friendly community that is safe and secure, has affordable and appropriate housing and transportation options, and has supportive community features and services,” according to a staff memo.
Council will also vote on which applicants to interview for a number of appointments to city boards and commissions.
Council will hear comment from members of the public on items not previously discussed on Council’s agenda.
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.
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