With only two items on the agenda for the Planning & Zoning Commission’s July 20 meeting, participants might have thought things would proceed quickly. Instead, both zoning requests received considerable attention and generated lengthy discussions.
The first request concerned a proposed single-family subdivision of 20 new houses to be built in the Shiloh community, which lies between Hendersonville and Sweeten Creek roads just south of Interstate 40. The developer for the project, Mountain Housing Opportunities, asked for the Commission’s support for its request to reduce the minimum lot size and width. Instead of a minimum lot size of 5,000 square feet, MHO requested 4,000; instead of a minimum lot width of 50 feet, MHO asked for 40.
Planner Jessica Bernstein spoke supportively of the plan’s approach: “Because of the mix of smaller lots and larger lots, it mimics a more traditional neighborhood,” she said.
Mike Vance of MHO said committing to affordable housing has been tricky due to lack of funding, but his organization will designate at least 20 percent of the Shiloh houses — that is, four houses — as affordable to those earning 80 percent or less of area median income. Vance said his own investigation of the Asheville market indicated that about 138 new houses are currently under construction in the city. Of those, 86 are priced below $500,000; none are priced below $200,000. He said prices for the homes in Shiloh would range from $190,000 to $230,000.
Privacy fences were another item of discussion. Considering the smaller lot sizes, some community members hoped that fencing could provide additional screening between the new houses and existing residences. Vance said, “We don’t really like the idea of a wrap-around wall. We want this neighborhood to feel like it’s part of the community and not separate from it; that’s not the look we’re going for.”
On 21 lots planned for the subdivision, 20 houses will be built. The unbuilt lot will be used to mitigate stormwater runoff, Vance said, and will also help the subdivision comply with zoning requirements for open space. He and city staff discussed options for ownership of the extra lot. Including the area in another parcel would make upkeep that property owner’s responsibility, while dividing the extra land into a separate lot held in common would require the creation of a homeowners’ association to provide for its maintenance.
Norma Baynes, a Shiloh resident and spokesperson for the Shiloh Community Association, said she was concerned about what she was hearing regarding homeowners’ rights and possible limitations on modifications to the homes in the future. Asheville Assistant Planning Director Alan Glines explained after the meeting that, since the MHO homes were being zoned under a conditional zoning process, any future changes by the homeowners could require approval from City Council. Shiloh residents didn’t seem to care for the idea that their future neighbors would be unusually constrained by the conditional zoning.
“If I bought a house, and I think I want to add something to it, I’d like to have the opportunity,” Baynes said. “I wouldn’t like if I didn’t, because then that’s putting me in a box.” Others voiced similar concerns and some confusion about what it would mean to have a homeowners’ association.
Commission member Laura Hudson told community members that, “We want these homes to tie into the existing fabric and feel a part of the community, give them the same rights.”
In the end, the Commission recommended that the new Shiloh homeowners have the same rights as those otherwise allowed in the zoning district. Future changes that otherwise conform to surrounding zoning standards, the board decided, should not require City Council approval, despite the conditional nature of the original zoning. The Commission further advised Council that privacy fencing should be limited to only some of the lots at the time of occupancy. Finally, city staff and MHO agreed that the developer will retain ownership and provide maintenance for the unbuilt lot, thereby avoiding the necessity of creating a homeowners’ association or making one homeowner responsible for maintaining the stormwater system for the neighborhood. With those conditions, the Commission voted unanimously in favor of recommending that City Council approve the development.
A hotel that’s personal
The second item on the agenda was a proposed five-story, 103-room hotel at 49 Tunnel Road, the second hotel to go through the new approval process for hotels since Council tightened its rules on hotel development Feb. 14.
The applicant, Marvin Mercer, told the commission that he and his partners had met with businesses owners in the area of the hotel and received no negative feedback. Since the hotel will be near grocery stores and restaurants and will not contain its own restaurant, city planning staff said, it should generate additional revenue for those businesses.
The owner, Twinkle Patel, a resident of Maggie Valley, told the commission that her vision was of a hotel that would serve not only tourists, but also those who come to Asheville on business. As a Western Carolina graduate, she said, she and her family come to Asheville often and have wanted to live in the city for years. “Approval of this project will have me and my family move to Asheville and manage the hotel full time, so this is definitely very personal for me,” Patel said.
Commission members challenged the amount of open space shown on project plans, concerned that it might not be optimal, especially considering the 104-car parking lot surrounding the hotel. Vice Chair Kristy Carter said, “I think, for Mrs. Patel, a part of becoming part of Asheville, if you’re going to be a citizen of our community, then you buy into our policies, which is multimodal. We want less parking, we want people using transit, we want people using their bikes, we want people using the sidewalks.”
During public comment on the hotel, several members of the Asheville community voiced support for the proposal. Resident Sandy Smith said she has been looking at the undeveloped area where the hotel will go up for years. “It is a delight to see something positive go in there,” she commented.
Hudson challenged hotel owners generally to include more open space in their development plans. “You’re doing a lot of things right. I mean, we don’t want to beat up on all the hoteliers, but you know, that’s the Asheville way right now,” Hudson said. “But we’re not doing this just to squeeze it out of you — this is an important aspect.”
Commission members asked project designers to incorporate 15 percent open space into the plans, even if doing so necessitates eliminating some parking. With that condition, the commission voted to recommend that City Council approve the project on a 4 to 1 vote, with Guillermo Rodriguez opposed.
The next meeting of the Planning and Zoning Commission will be held on Aug. 2.