The Asheville City Council meeting scheduled for Nov. 17 boasts a full agenda featuring two hot topics – utility substations and changes to the city’s Homestay ordinance. Citizens wishing to comment on those issues may want to arrive at the Council chamber on the second floor of City Hall earlier than the 5 p.m. start time, as a full house seems likely.
At the beginning of the meeting, outgoing Council members Jan Davis, Marc Hunt and Chris Pelly will receive recognition for their service.
Council will vote on a substantial consent agenda, including:
- Authorization for contracting agreements with H&M Constructors for the 200 Bingham Rd. upfit and renovation project. Purchased by the Water Resources Department in February, the property will become the home of WRD’s Water Maintenance and Meter Services Divisions and the Finance Department’s Central Stores Division. The budgeted cost for renovations is $1,972,538, and will be funded by the Water Resources capital improvement projects fund.
- Adoption of a new ordinance to allow a franchise to operate a low-speed shuttle vehicle service in the central business district.
- Authorization for contracting agreements for design services for water main replacement projects with a construction value totaling $7,638,000.
- Authorization for a change order in the amount of $175,000 to increase the engineering design services contract for Schnabel Engineering South, PC, for the North Fork dam intake tower and conduit repairs project. Documents indicate that the increase is being requested due to delays in the bidding process for the construction contract, which was re-bid three times for various reasons.
- Request to allocate $320,000 in previously-collected user fees to technology upgrades for the Development Services department.
- Approval for a locally administered project agreement with the NCDOT to construct a sidewalk along US 63 (New Leicester Highway) from Patton Avenue to the city limits. The city will be required to provide a non-federal match of up to $726,000 and cover all costs that exceed the total estimated cost. This amount has already been budgeted in the approved capital improvement program.
- Authorization to extend the mass transit management agreement with First Transit, Inc. until June 30, 2016, to continue managing the daily operation of Asheville Redefines Transit (ART) System and to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with the local transit workers’ union. At the same time, the city will negotiate a new contract for management services for the ART system to begin on July 1, 2016.
Council plans to hear presentations from city staff and comment from the public on two matters: establishing zoning regulations specific to utility substations and amending the city’s existing ordinance regulating Homestays, a type of short-term lodging rental.
Whether by oversight or design, the unified development ordinance adopted by the city in 1997 does not include regulations specific to utility substations. No new substations have been built in Asheville since the 1970s.
The issue of zoning standards for utility substations has come to light as the result of Duke Energy’s plans to construct new downtown substations to meet growing demands for energy in Asheville. Within the past two years, Duke Energy has purchased three parcels for the purpose of locating substations . These include:
- Tracts on Hill and Gudger Streets., former Montford Commons property, comprising 16.93 acres
- 319 Biltmore Ave., former Matthews Ford property (close to Mission Hospital), 5.48 acres
- 226 Hilliard Ave., former Hayes and Lunsford property, 1.79 acres
Each property poses significant issues. The utility’s plans to locate a substation on the Hill Street site in Montford, which surrounds the newly-completed Isaac Dickson Elementary school on three sides, has generated intense public opposition, with parents and community members expressing concern about electromagnetic radiation, possible breaches of security, the unlikely potential for explosions and the incongruity of locating an electrical substation next to a new green school facility.
The Biltmore Avenue site abuts the city’s oldest public housing development, Lee Walker Heights. The Housing Authority for the City of Asheville (HACA) plans to partner with a private developer, Mountain Housing Opportunities, to relocate all of Lee Walker Heights’ current residents, demolish the existing buildings and rebuild the 96 affordable housing units plus at least 100 additional units to create a mixed-income community. However, Duke Energy’s plans to locate a utility substation on the Biltmore Avenue site that abuts the development complicate design and planning for the project and could reduce the appeal of the revitalized neighborhood.
The Hilliard Avenue site is located within a mixed commercial and residential area near the city’s Aston Park and two blocks from Asheville Middle School.
In an email to Isaac Dickson Elementary school families and Montford community members on Nov. 14, Mayor Esther Manheimer said the city was negotiating an agreement with Duke Energy regarding the three sites:
After extended discussions with PTO leadership and Duke, Duke is offering to put in writing their commitment not to apply for a permit for any of the three electric substation sites in the city (Hill Street, Ford Matthews, and Hilliard) until January 2017, and they will include in this issued statement that they will use this time to work closely with city leaders to find an alternate location to the Hill Street site. I would require this statement be issued before Tuesday evening. In exchange, Duke requests that council delay consideration of the substation buffering ordinance.
Once Duke is able to locate an alternate site, the council will resume consideration of the buffering ordinance. I would estimate that the proposed ordinance would come back before council in mid to late 2016.
Mountain Xpress will be following the progress of the negotiations and will update this article should City Council decide to delay hearings on a new city ordinance controlling screening, setbacks and other measures regarding utility substations.
City Council last considered Homestays, a specific type of short-term rental in which the primary resident of a home rents out one or more rooms to guests, at its Aug. 25 meeting.
At that meeting, after hearing extensive public comment, Council voted to increase the fine for violations of the city’s existing regulations on short-term rentals from $100 to $500. This fine applies to all types of violations, from renting a free-standing dwelling or an accessory unit as a short-term rental to renting a room or rooms without a current Homestay permit.
Rather than voting at that time on proposed changes to the city’s little-used Homestay ordinance, Council asked staff to complete additional study. The proposed changes would make offering Homestays an option to a larger number of Asheville residents by reducing restrictions and conditions for Homestay licensure.
On Oct. 20, staff presented revised Homestay ordinance recommendations to the Planning and Economic Development committee. Council members Marc Hunt and Gwen Wisler were present at the meeting; Jan Davis was unable to attend, according to Hunt.
The staff presentation addressed issues including:
- Adding language to specify that the Homestay operator must be present overnight when hosting guests
- Consideration of adding limits on the maximum number of days a Homestay may operate and/or the maximum number of guests permitted on any one night
- Limiting the number of Homestay permits to one per operator
- Off-street parking requirements
- Consideration of reducing the number of bedrooms that may be rented from three to two
- Whether or not a kitchen should be permitted within a space used as a Homestay
- Whether or not an accessory dwelling unit, such as a garage apartment, may be used as a Homestay
- Licensure and enforcement costs
Since the Oct. 20 staff presentation at the Planning and Economic Development committee meeting, the City Council election resulted in Vice Mayor Hunt’s losing his seat on Council. Two of those winning seats, Keith Young and Brian Haynes, indicated during the campaign that they favor loosening regulations on Homestays and other short-term rentals.
In a Nov. 7 article in the Asheville Citizen-Times, Mayor Manheimer said her views on short-term rentals have shifted. Though she remains opposed to the use of houses for short-term rentals, she now believes accessory dwelling units should be allowed as short-term rentals.
The city is also the subject of a lawsuit filed on Oct. 28 that argues its prohibition on short-term rentals is illegal.
Downtown/Central Business District coordinator
Finally, Council will consider a request to add a new staff position to serve as a dedicated liaison between the city and various stakeholders in downtown and the central business district. Half the funding for the position will come from parking revenues, while the other half will be drawn from the general fund of the Public Works Department.
According to a city memo:
This ongoing position will be responsible for coordinating City initiatives in downtown and the south slope, establishing and maintaining relationships with the multiple stakeholder groups involved in downtown Asheville, and be available to work directly with stakeholders and citizens regarding downtown issues.
New members of City Council will be sworn in at 4 p.m. on Dec. 1 in the council chambers on the second floor of City Hall; the next regular meeting of City Council will be Dec. 8.
The city’s agenda for the Nov. 17 meeting of City Council and supporting documentation can be found here.