Asheville’s infamous “Pit of Despair” may soon move one step closer to redevelopment. At Asheville City Council’s meeting of Tuesday, Oct. 27, members will review — and potentially approve — a concept plan for two city-owned parcels located at 68 Haywood Street and 37 Page Avenue.
The current proposal outlines a mixed-use park, complete with a central plaza, community garden, native planting beds, rentable kiosk, flexible seating areas and multistory mixed-use building for retail and office space.
Plans for the property have been a long time coming. A 2015 poll conducted by then-Council member Cecil Bothwell found that 86% of city voters backed a “public green space” on the site, and its disposition became a wedge issue in that year’s Council race. A visioning process began in 2016, and in 2017, Council unanimously directed city staff to seek design proposals.
It wasn’t until 2019, however, that Council entered a $292,000 contract with Charlottesville, Va.-based Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects to draft a concept plan for the largely vacant 2.35 acre site. Another series of community engagement sessions and surveys followed; feedback ranged from excitement over a new gathering space to concerns over the height of the proposed building.
Asheville’s Planning and Zoning Commission, Downtown Commission and Planning and Economic Development Committee have all approved the current plan, per staff reports. If Council concurs, an implementation and funding proposal will be considered at a later date.
In other news
Tuesday’s agenda includes a resolution to adopt a business inclusion policy that would “address race- and gender-based disparities in city contracting and procurement,” according to staff reports available before the meeting. The policy is intended to replace Asheville’s now-expired Minority Business Plan, which was adopted in 1998.
Proposed actions include maintaining a database of available small, minority- and women-owned businesses, providing certification training and networking opportunities and requiring city contractors to solicit applications from said businesses when seeking contracts.
Community members will also weigh in on the 2020-21 Action Plan for the federal CDBG and HOME Investment Partnerships programs, both administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. According to HUD estimates, the city of Asheville will receive $1,121,092 in CDBG funds and $1,768,014 in HOME funds for the current fiscal year.
A related public hearing will discuss updating the 2019-20 Action Plan to include $889,456 in federal community development block grant funds to “prevent, prepare for and respond to the coronavirus.” Staff members propose allocating $550,000 for rental assistance, $165,000 to emergency housing response for homeless populations and $174,456 — 20% of the total — for grant administration.
(Buncombe County recently submitted a grant proposal for $900,000 in COVID-19 relief from the same federal funding source. County staff allocated about $85,000, or less than 10% of the total, for administrative purposes.)
Consent agenda and public comment
The consent agenda for the meeting contains 10 items, which will be approved as a package unless singled out for separate discussion. Highlights include the following resolutions:
- A resolution to name two unnamed tributaries of the French Broad and Swannanoa rivers. Following a community engagement process led by local conservation nonprofit RiverLink, community members decided to rename the streams Haith Branch, in honor of educator and civil rights leader Lacy T. Haith, and Masters Branch, in honor of Rory and Hazel Masters, Haw Creek community members who worked to preserve area farming traditions.
- A resolution permitting City Manager Debra Campbell to apply for an $18,000 grant from the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality to increase backyard and community-based composting. The city would be required to provide a match of $3,600, or 20% of the awarded funds.
- A $15,000 technical budget amendment to reallocate previously approved funding in the city’s general fund to pay for a replacement Government TV broadcast server. The city’s current server, which records and stores Council meetings and other city content, is no longer working.
Prior to the meeting, Council members will attend a 2:30 p.m. work session on proposed hotel development regulations. The meeting will be livestreamed at this link; no public comment will be accepted.
The full meeting agenda and supporting documents can be found at this link. Due to COVID-19, Council will meet remotely, and the meeting will be livestreamed through Asheville’s Public Engagement Hub.
Members of the public who wish to speak during the meeting must sign up in advance at this link or call 828-259-5900 no later than noon on Monday, Oct. 26. City staff will then use the list of registered speakers to manage the speaker queue during the meeting.
Prerecorded voicemail messages can also be left at 855-925-2801, meeting code 6713; written comments can be sent to AshevilleCityCouncilOct272020@PublicInput.com. Emails will be accepted for 24 hours after each public hearing.