South Slope development approved despite traffic concerns

WELCOME TO THE NEIGHBORHOOD: Asheville City Council approved a 488-unit mixed-use development for the city's South Slope. The project also contains a 973 parking spaces for residents. Graphic by Tribute Companies

Downtown traffic is about to get a lot worse, according to Asheville City Council member Sheneika Smith

“Because this project is so massive and we’ve already accommodated for almost 1,000 parking spaces — which is equivalent to, we’ll say, 500 vehicles flowing up and down this major area where our bus terminal is — I can already bet this is going to be a disaster,” Smith said. 

The subject of Smith’s worries was a 488-unit mixed-use development for Asheville’s South Slope, which Council members approved in a 5-1 decision on Dec. 10. Smith was the sole vote in opposition to the project, with Mayor Esther Manheimer recusing herself due to the involvement of her law firm. The nearly 4.5-acre plan also contains 86,000 square feet of commercial and office space and a 973-space parking deck.

According to a staff report, the project, brought before Council by Wilmington-based developer Tribute Companies, includes 49 affordable single-bedroom units that will be offered to households earning up to 80% of the area median income ($53,120 for a family of four) for 20 years. The developer will also commit to adding 145 trees to the property — more than four times as many as required by current building code standards — to create an “urban forest effect.”

“We need more housing in the city; we need more housing downtown. This is not displacing old historic buildings — this is taking old parking lots and making them into housing. It’s got a significant affordable housing component. It’s got office space,” said Council member Vijay Kapoor. “It’s got all of the things that I think we really, truly need in a project.”

While Smith said she supported many aspects of the project, she remained concerned about how its associated traffic would impact the on-time performance of city buses. City Traffic Engineer Andrew Cibor told Council members that traffic studies conducted for the development had examined overall traffic delays and did not specifically consider bus performance. However, he added that the city’s Transportation Department had not raised concerns directly related to transit. 

“I do believe it was just a blind spot. But in noting that it is a blind spot, our traffic expert from the city, I don’t think I’ve heard that that individual is not worried. I think what I heard him say is that it wasn’t considered. That’s a big difference,” Smith said. “We’re already desperate for an improved transportation system and we can’t take another hit.”

Tribute subsequently agreed to include $30,000 in funding to be used toward traffic calming measures, such as speed humps, if requested by nearby neighborhoods or the city. Construction is anticipated to begin in summer 2020 and last 3 years. 

In other news

After being added only hours before the meeting, Council pulled a climate emergency resolution drafted by the city’s Sustainability Advisory Committee on Energy and the Environment from the agenda. Committee members had called an emergency meeting on Dec. 9 to finalize their iteration of the resolution after negotiations with members of Sunrise Movement Asheville, who had demanded a vote on a different version, fell apart in recent weeks. The decision to pull the agenda item came at Sunrise’s request after representatives agreed to resume talks with SACEE. Council is expected to take up the issue again in January.

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5 thoughts on “South Slope development approved despite traffic concerns

  1. Jones Douglass

    Significant? 49 units out of nearly 500 isn’t significant at all! When most people who work in the service industry can’t afford to live within 30 minutes of downtown… significant would be 30% not 10% just saying…

    • ConsumerRep

      The average US commute is just over 27 minutes. Not a problem. No ONE has the right to live where they can not afford to pay the going rate.

  2. indy499

    We’ve had a lot of clueless city council members over the years but Smith is in a class by herself.

    She professes to want better public transit but doesn’t seem to understand that efficient public transit is primarily a function of density. More people downtown= greater demand=ability to offer more frequency=more convenience and a further increase in demand.

    50 million more people are going to live in the US in the next 30 years. Some of them are going to choose to live around here. Yes or no isn’t the question.

    Density or sprawl are the two choices. At least 5 council folk figured that out. Surprising actually given our council.

    • Mike R.

      I actually think she was spot on in her concerns. Higher density, yes. But this behemoth, no. These massive box apartment complexes are a blight across America. They are cheap, wood construction and almost hotel like in their design. It’s all about maximizing profit for the developer. The trees they threw in for good measure probably only cost 100 each so we’re talking chicken scratch there. Someone mentioned that more important than the tree number was the amount of open space/dirt/land. I can assure you there will be little of that. So the trees will be spindly affairs growing through sidewalks.

      Regarding the affordable piece, the City, well actually the taxpayers, paid dearly for that. And guess what, the rest of the renters will pay for that as well. Very likley many of these renters will sublet on weekends for tourist cash. No way to monitor/control that in this type of complex.

      Finally, on the car numbers and traffic. it won’t be good. Asheville is literally cursed with some of the narrowest roads known. And there is really no way to widen most. And unless the city gets the ability to annex into the county and create the better kind of density we need (as well as a geometric shape that can be services efficiently by a bus system, mass transit is a no go. Besides, until gasoline prices go to the moon, people are not going to give up their cars. Even then, cars will get smaller and smaller. Mass transit in most southern cities is a joke and a half. It will never be efficient and/or cost effective.

  3. stosh

    N.C. , County, City, 100% at fault…. Need new laws . Look at Aspen Co. & Miami Beach, Fla. MAJOR IMPACT FEE’S…roads, sewer, water, affordable housing, schools, etc.
    Politician’s will get you every time. You have to pay ALL of them off!

    p.s I’m a capitalist pig, and former hotel guy, real estate developer, assisted living developer, owned and operated all..
    non party affiliated. Very charitable time & $!

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