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.