A new code that would guide development in the River Arts District will head back to Asheville City Council after the Planning and Zoning Commission on Sept. 6 upheld its original recommendation to approve the code as drafted.
The RAD form-based code, which has been two years in the making, focuses on establishing the form and placement of buildings in an area rather than their uses. The code splits up the district into seven zones based on their location and their potential in creating a mix of development.
One major sticking point is whether short-term rentals would be permitted in the RAD. In the final draft of the code, released in April, lodging development and uses would be allowed in four of seven proposed zones. But after public input, some members of City Council became wary of the impact short-term rentals (a permitted lodging use) might have on the burgeoning neighborhood.
After much debate at its July 25 City Council meeting, Council voted 4-3 to approve the form-based code but eliminate lodging as a permitted use throughout the district. It also remanded it back to Planning and Zoning to consider the lodging issue. Council also directed the commission to consider whether to remove the area between the Norfolk Southern Railway tracks and the French Broad River from the form-based code until a clearer picture of the future of railway transportation emerges. Because the zoning ordinance motion did not pass Council by a 5-2 vote, it is required to hold a second vote after Planning and Zoning gives its recommendations on those two issues. At that time, a simple majority will allow the change to become city policy.
Lodging and looming buildings
Planning and Zoning Chair Jeremy Goldstein opened public comment on the RAD code at the Sept. 6 meeting by asking that comments first pertain to the two issues City Council had highlighted. Residents spoke out on both sides of the lodging issue. Lynn Brailsford, a resident of the East-West Asheville area, said she was concerned about the effect short-term rentals would have on the quality of her neighborhood. “I can tell you that adding that type of commercial activity really has an impact on those of us who have to live there,” she said. “When you’ve got houses that used to be occupied by neighbors that are now being occupied by people who come rolling in with their suitcases and rolling back out, who are partying at two in the morning when we’re trying to sleep.”
Aubrey Schierbeck, an owner of property on Craven Street, said she built her house six years ago and would like to eventually rent it out short term. “I would love the opportunity to be able to rent out my sole property on Airbnb, and I also wonder why, if downtown is so commercial and allowed for short-term rentals, why would we make it any different anywhere else?” she asked.
Some residents expressed concerns about allowed building heights in the RAD. Michael Caldwell said he is a resident of Lyman Hollow, one of the seven proposed zones. A maximum height of 80 feet is currently zoned for this area and the new code would bring this down to 65 feet, about five stories. Caldwell thinks this is still too high and proposed the maximum height be reduced to four stories. Caldwell argued that many property owners would lose their views if a big building was developed and blocked them.
A neighborhood for all
The commission quickly discussed the area between the French Broad River and the railroad tracks, agreeing that it didn’t make sense to take it out of the code and that they had not heard any convincing argument otherwise.
Regarding Lyman Hollow, Commissioner Laura Hudson expressed her confusion at the fact that the form-based code would reduce the allowed maximum building height, but that some community members want to see the maximum set still lower. “I understand it’s scary, all of a sudden people start talking about big buildings in your backyard, but sometimes we fear the worst, and this is good planning,” she said. “I think we as Ashevilleans have to work on this sentiment that once we have ours, we’re not going to make room for other people.”
Commissioner Tony Hauser spoke of personal experience on the inevitability of infrastructure blocking views in the growing Asheville area. He said an apartment complex built near his home blocked his view of Mt. Pisgah, but now 60 people live in affordable housing. He said sometimes it’s a necessary trade-off and that it’s unrealistic to think it can be escaped. “The last example I can think of view preservation was when George Vanderbilt bought everything he could see from his house, and I don’t think we have the capacity to do that anymore,” Hauser said.
The commission recommended the code stay as it was in its final draft that it originally sent to Council, rejecting Council’s suggestion to remove lodging as a permitted use in the district and its request to exclude the area between the French Broad River and the railroad tracks from the code. The RAD form-based code is scheduled to come before City Council on Oct. 24.
A request to remove the River Parking Reduction Area passed 6-1, with Commissioner Hauser opposed. There was no discussion and Hauser did not comment on his objection to the measure. The proposal is a response to a need for more parking in the in the River Arts District in the wake of recent development. It will next appear as an agenda item at Council’s Oct. 24 meeting.
County’s Deschutes property could be rezoned
The Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously voted to recommend approval of four agenda items with little to no discussion from staff or the public. All of the issues are scheduled to be taken up by City Council at its Oct. 3 meeting:
- Buncombe County received a recommendation for approval for rezoning a 137-acre parcel at 1568 Brevard Road from industrial to residential multifamily high-density. The county purchased the property in 2015 for $6.8 million in an attempt to attract Deschutes Brewery to set up operations there, a deal that fell through last year. The county requested a rezoning of the area for the purpose of selling the property for residential development. “While there has been no specific proposal submitted for the site, a change to a residential zone will limit the nonresidential possibilities for the parcel,” Glines stated.
- Forty-three parcels along the north and south sides of Haywood Road closest to the French Broad River were recommended to be rezoned from live-work to traditional, which allows for a “a more complete range of commercial activities” according to the staff memo presented by Assistant Planning Director Alan Glines.
- Commission voted to recommend making wording amendments to the Haywood Road form code, including allowing bed-and-breakfasts and reducing build-to-zone requirements to allow more flexibility for developers.
- New Classical Academy got the tentative go-ahead to rezone its property at 671 Sand Hill Road from institutional-conditional to residential multifamily low-density so that the school can expand.
Odds and ends
An item on the agenda concerning utility substations and related standards was withdrawn. Planning Director Todd Okolichany said planners held an impromptu meeting the day before and decided they needed more time to work through issues.
The Sept. 6 meeting was the last for Goldstein and Vice Chair Kristy Carter, as they have both served two three-year terms on the commission, the maximum allowed. According to Planning and Zoning Administrative Assistant Patti McFarland and City Clerk Maggie Burleson, City Council will vote on new Planning and Zoning commissioners in October and swear those members in. It will then be up to the Planning and Zoning Commission to elect a chair and vice chair.
The next meeting of the Planning and Zoning Commission is set for Oct. 4 at 5 p.m.