Asheville’s Planning & Zoning Commission approved all five requests presented at its March 1 meeting at City Hall. The North conference room was filled from the start of the meeting with locals sitting shoulder to shoulder.
Urban Planner Sasha Vrtunski introduced the first item on the agenda, the Asheville Art Museum’s 78,000-square-foot, four-story expansion plan at its original location at 2 South Pack Square. The museum has been under reconstruction since January 2016. According to Vrtunski, the goals of the institution’s expansion include accommodating a growing population and providing more space for exhibits.
After Vrtunski’s rundown, Pam Myers, the Asheville Art Museum’s director, said, “This has been a project in the works for quite a number of years and we are ready to go.”
Commission member and Asheville architect Laura Hudson briefly commented on the expansion and said it would be a nice addition to downtown. Myers responded with a statement on what the revised structure would mean for Asheville. “We feel like it will be an anchor in building for the future of our community and a home for art and culture for everyone,” she said.
No member of the public commented on the museum’s zoning request. The commission unanimously approved the site plan.
Biltmore Village hotel
Principal Planner Shannon Tuch introduced a site plan for a 117-room, five-story Baymont Hotel located at 2 Hendersonville Rd. and 29 and 33 Garfield St. just south of the Swannanoa River in Biltmore Village. Tuch explained that plans for the site had been in question due to the project’s location in a flood zone. The updated plans include revised parking areas as well as changes to the building’s exterior detailing and landscaping.
Board member and landscape architect Guillermo Rodriguez noted that one of the comments from a previous review of the plans pointed out that the architects had not been to Asheville before the plans were drawn up. “I think it really is important because they are so distinct that, well there’s nothing we can do about it now, but to put a building in its context, you really should visit the site first,” Rodriquez said.
Hudson commended the developers, saying it was important that they had made changes and addressed the city’s concerns. After local developers expressed support for the project during public comment, the commission approved the site plans with another unanimous vote.
While City Council voted on Feb. 14 to require all hotel projects over 20 rooms to come before the elected body for approval, projects submitted before the new rules went into effect (like the Baymont Hotel) will be reviewed and approved under the previous ordinance.
48-unit apartment complex in South Asheville
Tuch presented another site plan for a 48-unit, multi-family development proposed for the corner of West Summit Avenue and Scottish Circle in South Asheville. The project includes plans for one-, two-, and three-bedroom units, 10 of which will be designated as affordable for up to 10 years. The current project is a revision of a 2014 zoning application.
When public comment opened at 5:41 p.m., Darren Poupore, who is chief curator at Biltmore, quickly made his way to the podium. Speaking for several of his Scottish Circle neighbors as well as himself, Poupore said developers proposed only the bare minimum number of spaces required by parking regulations. Further, residents worry that a proposed sidewalk will damage the roots of existing trees.
“We are planning to hire an arborist to document the health of the trees, and we will sue the developer if there’s any damage to those trees,” Poupore said. “But we want to be proactive about this. We don’t want to go down that approach.”
Poupore said a group of neighbors had spoken with the project’s developers by telephone the previous day. That discussion, he said, concerned the possibility of a waiver or reduction of the city’s $10,200 fee-in-lieu of the sidewalk required by zoning. Poupore suggested that the city compromise and charge the developer $5,000 to forego the sidewalk, which would provide money that could be used for needed sidewalks elsewhere in the community while protecting the neighborhood’s trees.
Neighbor Karen Keating was one of several other members of the public who commented. “We understand that something is going to be built on here, but we would love to be able to have some in-depth conversation,” Keating said. “What are other options? Could it be made smaller? What concerns me is that just the minimum is being done instead of what is right for the community.”
Public comment closed at 5:59 p.m. The commission discussed the public’s comments and reminded those present that the body must approve plans that meet technical zoning requirements. With that, the board unanimously approved the project.
In an email sent on Friday, March 3, Poupore reported that City Manager Gary Jackson, Council member Cecil Bothwell and Tree Commission Chair Amy Kemp were following up on the question neighbors raised about reducing the fee for not constructing the sidewalk near the existing trees.
Day Care Expansion
Urban Planner Jessica Bernstein introduced plans for expansion of a child day care facility operated by the Jewish Community Center. Civil Engineer Chris Day said the JCC’s plans focus on making the center a safer and more expansive facility.
One neighbor commented on the plans, noting a concern about traffic. The commission unanimously approved the plans.
Bernstein also presented the final item on the commission’s agenda, a request to add short-term lodging to the allowed uses for an historic property.
In 2015, Asheville attorney Jim Siemens purchased the 1869 Patton Parker House at 95 Charlotte St. Siemens originally planned to use the property as a law office and to construct a new two-unit residential structure behind the main house. Siemens returned to the commission with a request to use that new structure for short-term lodging, as well as occasional special events. In a staff report, city planning staff noted that allowing short-term lodging would be reasonably consistent with the mixed-use commercial and residential character of the North Charlotte Street corridor and Chestnut Street. However, staff also noted that converting the new units to short-term use would remove those units from the long-term rental housing stock. Staff recommended that the commission deny the conditional zoning request.
“The Patton-Parker house is remarkable, the history of the house is remarkable,” Siemens said. “Thomas Patton was a remarkable individual. The Parkers that followed him have done remarkable things for the city and that shouldn’t be hidden under a bushel.”
No members of the public spoke during public comment. The commission approved the request on an 8-1 vote.
The next Planning & Zoning Commission meeting will be held on Wednesday, April 5.
For more of the latest city and county news check out Xpress’ Buncombe Beat.
Editor’s note: this article was updated with additional information about changes to the city’s hotel review process at 9:15 a.m. on March 3. The article was updated at 12:18 p.m. on March 3 to clarify Darren Poupore’s testimony to the Commission regarding his conversations with the developers of a proposed 48-unit apartment complex in South Asheville about measures to protect trees at the site.