County advances affordable housing development on Coxe Avenue

COOL RESIDENCES: Buncombe County Board of Commissioners Chair Brownie Newman, far right, applauded the county's efforts to build as many affordable apartments as possible on county land centrally located in downtown Asheville. Photo by Greg Parlier

There may be an affordable housing development coming to the heart of downtown in the next three years.

The county Board of Commissioners voted 5-0 on April 2 to invite private developers to partner on a $59.1 million complex for 200 affordable units at 50 and 52 Coxe Ave., directly across from the Asheville Redefines Transit bus station and Rabbit Rabbit music venue. Commissioners Jasmine Beach-Ferrara and Parker Sloan were absent.

The complex will include 5,900 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor, a playground, lawn area, pedestrian plaza and parking deck, according to a presentation from the UNC School of Government’s Development Finance Initiative.

“These will be really cool places for people to live,” said commission Chair Brownie Newman. “I think people will be very eager to live there just because this is such an interesting location. There just hasn’t been much other development in our community in recent years that is going to be like this.”

As proposed, the project will include 42 units for residents making 30% or less of area median income, 119 units for those at 50-60% of AMI and 26 for those making up to 80% AMI, according to the presentation.

COUNTY LAND: A 200-unit affordable housing complex may soon replace the Buncombe County Election Services warehouse, Bureau of Identification and two parking lots in downtown Asheville. Screenshot courtesy of Buncombe County

The project will be largely paid for through the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program, a federal subsidy program for developers building rental housing for lower-income households. DFI projects the county will still have to find between $9.8 and $16.1 million from private or public funds, depending on what tax credit a private partner can obtain for the project, said Sarah Odio, associate director of the DFI.

Presented with two options, commissioners selected the 200-unit complex based on feedback they received from residents who participated in three community engagement sessions held earlier this year.

The alternative option would have created 130 affordable units and 2,200 square feet of potential commercial space. It would have also left a smaller funding gap of between $4.2 million and $10.4 million.

Because of the nature of the project, it would have cost the county slightly less per unit to construct the smaller development, but commissioners felt the need for affordable housing downtown was too great to limit the units in the project.

“Good, developable land is one of our most scarce resources. So being able to really efficiently utilize it, and make an important step toward [our 2030 goal of 1,850 affordable units] with such a small amount of property would be really, really valuable,” Newman said. 

Among other differences, the larger project will require closing Sawyer Street between Coxe Avenue and Ravenscroft Drive, which wasn’t necessary with the smaller project.

While commissioners said that wasn’t ideal, it was worth maximizing the number of units, and they hoped the plan’s design would increase pedestrian traffic in the area.

The project is slated to include about one parking spot for every two units, Odio said.

To comply with the tax credit program, the development will lock in affordability for 30 years.

The complex will replace the Buncombe County Election Services warehouse, Bureau of Identification and two parking lots. Buncombe County spokesperson Lillian Govus said a new storage facility is in the works to replace the warehouse, and the ID bureau will soon move to a county building at 35 Woodfin St. The timeline of these moves are still unclear.

The next steps include finding a private developer and ensuring the final design complies with federal and City of Asheville rules. At the earliest, construction couldn’t begin until 2026, Odio said.

More funding for Deaverview

The county is one step closer to acquiring a picturesque 342-acre West Asheville tract as a county park. Commissioners voted 5-0 to direct staff to pursue about $4.4 million in grant funding to make up the rest of the funding gap for Deaverview Mountain.

The land meets all the requirements of the federal Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership Grant, which the county will apply for through the N.C. Land and Water Conservation Fund with the support of Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy.

The land, in private hands for decades, was acquired by an anonymous conservationist in March 2023 with the intention of selling the land to SAHC, which then had three years to obtain federal and state grants to repay the buyer before turning it over to Buncombe County as a park or preserve.

If Buncombe receives the ORLP grant, it will match the roughly $4.4 million SAHC already received in land and water grant funding last October.

The county will find out if it received the grant award in November.

Several people who spoke during public comment urged the county to apply for the grant, excited to potentially have a county park so close to the city and the bus line.

“I hear from people all over the community how excited they are for this park, talking about this specific project and being able to conserve this mountain to have recreational access,” said Commissioner Terri Wells.

Short-term rental incentives delayed

Despite several residents coming to speak out against the county’s proposed changes to its short-term rental rules, commissioners removed an agenda item addressing proposed incentives for property owners to turn short-term rentals into long-term rentals.

Newman said staff members who had been working on the proposal could not be at the meeting, and commissioners would take up the matter at a later date.

On a related topic, the Planning Board will hold a public hearing on proposed restrictions to future short-term rentals Monday, April 22, at A-B Tech’s Ferguson Auditorium starting at 5:30 p.m. If approved, changes will come before the full Board of Commissioners for final approval.


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