The Asheville community turned out in force for the June 7 meeting of the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission, with residents commenting on the proposed River Arts District Form-Based code, a 133-unit apartment development on Lyman Street, a self-storage facility in South Asheville and rezoning of a small church as housing in the Five Points neighborhood close to downtown. By meeting’s end at 8:45 p.m., the commission had voted to recommend that Asheville City Council approve each of the four requests.
The River Arts District form-based code will create seven new zoning districts that include residential, industrial and other uses, said city planner Sasha Vrtunski. She explained that each of the new districts has a distinct character with regard to how buildings will be located in relation to the street or sidewalk. One important aspect of the new code, Vrtunski said, is that it will require developers to locate new buildings close to the street, a land-use pattern that was popular in the 1920s and that therefore influenced much of Asheville’s early development.
Vrtunski outlined some of the steps in the process of developing the new code. The effort began in 2015 with the selection of a project consultant and a series of public workshops. A 10-person advisory board guided the process, which included public comment and stakeholder meetings in January. The city released the final draft of the code online on April 27. City Council will vote on whether to adopt the new code on July 25.
Public comment opened up at 5:19 p.m. with 13 people ready to express their opinions on the code. Some were concerned with the height stipulations, while others worried about the reduction of green space associated with industrial growth. Joshua Martin, a resident of the East-West Asheville area, said he supports many aspects of the code, but is concerned about the transition between the RAD and neighboring residential areas. He’s specifically focused on the strip of land on the west side of Craven Street, where the code will allow short-term vacation rentals. Downtown is currently the only area in Asheville where self-contained residential units may be offered for rental periods of fewer than 30 days; the proposed RAD code would allow the practice in some of the newly created RAD districts.
“The fastest, easiest, quickest way to make money is to build short-term rental units there in buildings,” Martin said. “So we won’t get the things that we actually want there, which is a diversity of businesses and commercial and residential and things that enhance the neighborhood, whether it’s restaurants or places for people to work and live near where they work. It’s going to be taken up by this irresistible incentive to have these vacation rentals.”
Stephen Edge, who chairs the East-West Asheville Neighborhood Association, echoed Martin’s concerns and those of other commenters, urging the committee to make sure “we retain spaces for us, not retain spaces for those who just want to come visit the great things that are here.” He said vacation rentals undermine the fabric of a neighborhood. Speaking of the type of building that might hypothetically be built under the new code, he said, “The fact that you have a single building right there next to residential that’s got a turnover potentially every day of 20 units, it destroys the feel of the neighborhood, especially a neighborhood that’s worked really hard to get where we are today.”
Vrtunski and commission members addressed the concerns expressed by residents, pointing out the inevitability of change in a growing area. “When you buy your house, you don’t buy your view,” Vrtunski said. “Things do change.”
Saying she expected the form-based code to position the area for rapid growth and development, commission member Laura Hudson expressed support for the proposed code. The commission voted unanimously to recommend City Council approve the code.
133-unit RAD apartment development
The property owner of a 2.8-acre parcel at 175 Lyman St. requested approval of a 133-unit apartment complex consisting of four new buildings, a parking structure and the restoration of the 1912 Carolina Coal and Ice building as a restaurant and office space. Now the location of J.R. Stone Sales, the property is adjacent to the future location of a roundabout to be built where the road takes a sharp bend.
All proposed residential multi-family development projects with 50 or more units must be approved by City Council.
Vrtunski said the city and the developer were negotiating the details of who will pay to build a sidewalk along the property on Lyman Street. She said the Asheville Area Riverfront Redevelopment Commission had voted unanimously to support the project.
The property lies in the flood plain of the French Broad River; buildings along the river must be elevated two feet above “base flood elevation,” according to the planning department’s staff report on the project. The report also explained that, due to the added expense of building in the flood plain, the developer did not plan to incorporate affordable units into the project.
Asheville resident Joe Archibald said he was concerned that people may not find the new complex welcoming. “There’s nothing that says ‘front door.’ The screening that’s on the lower level — I understand that you’ve got to elevate — but that kind of screening and everything about it just kind of says, ‘No, this is private. This is gated, this is not for you,’” Archibald said.
Other members of the public voiced concerns about the lack of green space and what kind of impact this development would have on the community.
Commission Chair Jeremy Goldstein responded to concerns about the project’s lack of affordable units. “We do just need more supply, we need more housing options,” Goldstein said. “I do think this would be a great project in this location. I think having more housing options and more units available, just more supply in general, particularly in this location, is important.”
The commission voted 3-2 in favor of recommending City Council approve the zoning request, with Guillermo Rodriguez and Jim Edmonds opposed.
Gerber Road self-storage
Principal Planner Shannon Tuch introduced a proposed three-story, 85,000-square-foot storage facility at 39 Gerber Rd. In addition to the storage building, Tuch said, developers plan to build a community park on a portion of the property rather than using it for a commercial purpose. She also noted that although the plans met most technical standards, city staff identified areas in which the proposed development failed to meet goals outlined in the city’s comprehensive plan, including housing, diversity and economic development. Staff recommended against approval of the project in its report.
Asheville attorney Bob Oast spoke on behalf of the developers, saying storage units are important for business owners, residents without a garage and others. Any new development brings with it traffic concerns, Oast said, but the storage units should not have a huge traffic impact.
Residents and staff of Givens Gerber Park, a senior apartment community adjacent to the project site, voiced support for the project. They commended developers for asking for the community’s input and for devoting space for a park. Some residents expressed concerns about parking and urged developers not to include on-street parking in the plans.
Goldstein commented that, though he is not a fan of storage units, the proposed project represents a good use of space in an area that already experiences high-impact traffic. Rodriguez urged the developers to consider a self-sustaining natural area in the portion of the property designated as a park to reduce maintenance.
The commission voted unanimously to recommend that City Council approve the conditional zoning request.
Forsythe Street zoning tweak
Tuch introduced a request for a zoning change at 28 Forsythe St. The property owners hope to convert a small neighborhood church into a four-unit, multi-family structure. One resident voiced a parking concern, urging the property owner to maintain parking on the property due to a lack of street parking in the area.
The commission voted unanimously to recommend that City Council approve the zoning request. The meeting was adjourned at 8:41 p.m. The next meeting of the Planning and Zoning Commission will be on June 22.