Downtown development rules up for debate at Sept. 27 meeting of Council

The roof of Asheville City Hall.

For nearly a year, the city’s planning and urban design department has been collecting public input on how well the rules governing development in Asheville’s downtown strike the balance between public oversight and the needs of private businesses. At the Sept. 27 meeting of Asheville City Council, the results of that information-gathering effort, plus the department’s conclusions and recommendations, will come up for discussion and debate.

Other items on Council’s agenda include resolutions regarding the rights and cultures of indigenous people and nations, a zoning request by the Greater Works Church of God, building standards in the navigable airspace of the Asheville Regional Airport and an update on Asheville Sister Cities.

Proclamations

Council will declare Sept. 27 Aviation Careers Appreciation Day.

Council will consider a proclamation in support of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. In a Sept. 23 press release, Council member Gordon Smith outlined the reasons for the proclamation:

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has been embroiled in a fight to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) construction project.

The project is currently planned to traverse the traditional treaty territory of the Standing Rock Sioux, cross near the northern boundary of the tribe’s reservation and tunnel under the Missouri River at Lake Oahe, North Dakota. The tribe maintains that they were never consulted about the project as required by federal regulations which govern the Army Corps of Engineers when issuing federal permits. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe also have several cultural sites, burials and historic sites which would be negatively impacted by the pipeline project.

In January, the press release continues, Council created Indigenous Peoples’ Day “to replace Columbus Day in recognition of the contributions of Native communities including the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians which is located 50 miles west of the city.” According to its Sept. 27 agenda, Council will proclaim Oct. 10 Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Consent agenda

Council will set an Oct. 11 public hearing on the potential award of Land Use Incentive Grants to the Beaucatcher Commons LLC affordable housing project on Simpson Street. At its previous meeting on Sept. 6, Council approved a conditional zoning request for the 70-unit project; all 70 units will be affordable to those earning at or below 60 percent of area median income for a period of 20 years.

The project has previously been approved to receive a city Housing Trust Fund loan of $300,000. If approved, the total amount of tax abatements the LUIG would provide over 11 years would be $248,710. The grants could also provide a rebate of fees for various city permits with a maximum potential value of $125,000. If the LUIG awards are approved as proposed, the city’s total support for the project (including its Housing Trust Fund loan) would equal a subsidy of $9,625 per affordable unit.

Also in the consent agenda are approvals for engaging Schnabel Engineering for the design phase of the North Fork Dam improvement project and executing utility easements between the city and Duke Energy Progress in the River Arts District along Riverside Drive.

Presentations and reports

Asheville Sister Cities will present its annual report on the organization’s activities.

Public hearings

Council will hold a public hearing on a zoning request from the Greater Works Church of God to re-establish a place of worship at its property at 25 Forsythe St., a 1.44 acre parcel with a church building in the Five Points neighborhood.

The church has proposed an alternate zoning compliance plan which requests modifications of city standards for parking, landscaping and setbacks. The church has agreed to allow neighbors to continue to use some of the facility’s parking; at the Sept. 13 meeting of the Planning and Zoning Commission, city planning staff shared letters from neighbors in support of the project. P&Z unanimously recommended approval of the church’s zoning request.

Despite the neighbors’ support and P&Z’s recommendation, city planning staff recommend against approving the request because its increased parking and reduced setbacks and buffering measures do not conform to zoning regulations concerning special land uses within a residential neighborhood.

Council will also hold a public hearing on a proposed zoning amendment to limit the height of structures within the navigable airspace of the Asheville Regional Airport. Federal standards limiting the height of buildings within the approach and departure pathways that extend beyond the airport property apply regardless of whether municipalities call out those standards in their ordinances. The city planning department recommends amending the city zoning code to incorporate the height limitations, however, to fully communicate the requirements and to avoid the possibility of an unintended violation. P&Z unanimously recommended that Council adopt the amendment.

Unfinished business

Council will take up consideration of potential changes to downtown development standards. At Council’s direction, the city’s planning and urban design department has solicited input from the community and from downtown stakeholders about possible changes to how the city and Council provide oversight for proposed downtown development projects.

The issues under consideration fall into four categories: the size thresholds that trigger different levels of review and approval, the specific nature of the review for large projects, standards for review of hotel projects and communication with the public during development review.

Development review thresholds

According to a staff memo, the following standards are now in place for review of projects downtown:

Level II projects are proposals that have a gross floor area of greater than 20,000 square feet but not exceeding 175,000 square feet, with a height not exceeding 145 feet. These projects are reviewed by the Technical Review Committee (TRC), the Downtown Commission (DTC) and the Planning and Zoning Commission (PZC).

Level III projects are those projects that have a gross floor area greater than 175,000 square feet and a height taller than 145 feet. These projects are reviewed by the TRC, the DTC and the PZC with final review by City Council following a review process that differs depending on the location downtown…

Staff recommends leaving the current standards for size-specific review of projects in the downtown area in place. While input was received for both amending and retaining the current standards, staff concludes that the standards are fulfilling their intended function, which was to provide predictable standards and outcomes for developers wishing to build in downtown Asheville.

Review process for large projects

Currently, projects that meet the threshold for Level III review in the traditional downtown core (a smaller area within the Central Business District) are reviewed through a different process than Level III projects outside that area but within the CBD.

Large downtown core projects are reviewed through the conditional zoning process, which allows information gathering and communication between Council and the developer prior to Council review. Large projects in the CBD but outside the core are reviewed through the conditional use permit, which is a quasi-judicial process that does not allow Council members to communicate with developers about the project prior to Council review. The CUP process requires Council to vote according to the project’s compliance with seven standards; the CUP process does not allow Council to suggest additional conditions to the developer, while the conditional zoning process does.

Staff recommends adopting the conditional zoning process for all projects in the CBD to provide Council with the ability to communicate with developers outside of the public hearing and to allow more discretion in Council’s application of zoning standards.

Hotels

The staff memo recommends that zoning ordinances be amended to require Council conditional zoning approval for hotel projects of 50 rooms or more in the CBD.

If this threshold had been in place beginning in 2010, all of the [nine] hotel proposals [brought during that time period] would have been reviewed by Council (as the ordinance stands today, only two were). If the change is approved, Council will have the opportunity to consider each proposal individually along with the potential impacts of these projects, and communicate with the developer throughout the development review process.

Public outreach

Staff recommends that public outreach requirements be expanded to provide the public with more opportunities to learn about proposed projects in the CBD earlier in the review process.

New business

Council will consider a request from Pisgah Legal Services to rent facilities at the city-owned U.S. Cellular Center at a reduced rate for the organization’s sixth annual Poverty Forum on Oct. 5 featuring speaker Marian Wright Edelman. Council previously approved a reduction in rental rates for Pisgah Legal Services’ use of the facility for registration for the Affordable Care Act.

The Poverty Forum has previously been held at the Diana Wortham Theater, which is not large enough to accommodate the crowd expected to attend this year’s forum due to the popularity of the speaker.

Board and commission vacancies

Vacancies exist on the following city boards and commissions: Community Action Opportunities; HUB Community Economic Development Alliance; and Neighborhood Advisory Committee (must represent 28806 or 28728 zip code). The deadline to apply is 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 5. Call 259-5839 for an application form.

 

 

Asheville City Council meets at 5 p.m. in Council Chambers on the second floor of City Hall; the full agenda and supporting documents for the Sept. 27 meeting can be found here.

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About Virginia Daffron
Managing editor, lover of mountains, native of WNC. Follow me @virginiadaffron

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