Seven meows in favor (and no “arfs” against) carried the motion to approve a new zoning use in Asheville’s Central Business District — the cat café. The proposed cat adoption center and café will expand Brother Wolf Animal Rescue’s efforts into the heart of downtown. In view of the many dog-centric businesses in the city, cat owner and Councilman Cecil Bothwell said this cat-oriented attraction is “long overdue.”
At City Council’s Tuesday, Sept. 8 meeting, three additional zoning changes passed without dissent: the closure of a public right of way between Wyoming and Keebler Roads; the rezoning of 200 Asheland Ave., from Regional Business to Central Business District (CBD) and a change to the intermediate height zone for the property; and minor changes to a commercial development plan for 700 Biltmore Ave., also known as the Commercial Properties at Biltmore, first approved in 2005.
More controversial was a zoning change for the Bethesda United Methodist Church property at 311 and 315 Old Haw Creek Road. City Planner Vaidila Satvika described the adaptive reuse of the existing Fellowship Hall to add co-working office spaces and a shared commercial kitchen. Also included in the project are ten tiny homes (of less than 500 square feet each), which will house students attending a 16-week residential program.
The property, which is adjacent to the Haw Creek Elementary School, sits on six acres and is used by four religious congregations. Church leadership requested a change from the site’s RS-4 residential zoning to CZ conditional zoning.
Larry Duggins of the Missional Wisdom Foundation of the United Methodist Church represented the project as the developer. Duggins described a wide range of community activities either currently taking place at the property or planned as part of the redevelopment project. He also described the Missional Wisdom education program for high school and college students, seminarians and adults. The program will teach students to consider tiny homes as a viable alternative for monastic living, affordable housing and housing for the homeless.
Three neighborhood property owners spoke in opposition to the project. One resident worried about the precedent the redevelopment would set and whether other churches with aging congregations would propose similar reuse projects, undermining the area’s neighborhood character and property values. Another property owner, Joel Bligh, objected to “trailer homes” inhabited by “transients” on the site. Barber Melton, a lifelong resident of Haw Creek, had no problem with the co-working and kitchen components of the planned development, but didn’t think tiny homes were a positive use for the site.
Lifelong Bethesda United Methodist member and Old Haw Creek Road resident Margaret King spoke in support of the project, saying a new and innovative approach to saving the church was necessary.
While Council approved of most aspects of the project, one component came under scrutiny and was rejected. After completing the ten permanent tiny homes, the educational program wanted its students to construct up to four tiny homes on trailer bases each year. The additional homes would not be sold for profit, but would be donated to groups who could use them. Councilman Marc Hunt expressed concern about the burden that perpetual construction activity would place on the surrounding neighborhood. Duggins said his group would still move forward with the project if the ongoing construction component was not allowed. The rezoning request was approved with that provision, 6-1, with Councilman Chris Pelly opposed. Pelly, a Haw Creek resident, favored approving the request in its original form.
Historic Preservation Master Plan
Council unanimously approved the addition of a recently-completed Historic Preservation Master Plan as part of the Asheville City Development Plan 2025. Historic Resources Commission Director Stacy Merten presented an overview of the plan, which she characterized as a tool for shaping the present and future of the city as well as preserving its past. HRC member and Montford resident David Nutter commented that historic preservation is about combining the “new and bold” with the “old and kept.” Jack Thompson, executive director of the Preservation Society of Asheville and Buncombe County, said that historic buildings form the foundation of the area’s heritage destination economy.
The complete text of the historic preservation plan can be found here.
Inge Durre spoke about an effort to preserve the Collier Avenue Woods, a half-acre property with 23 mature oaks near the Sawyer Motor Building on downtown’s South Slope. Durre urged council to work with the property owner to preserve the site as an undeveloped park. The owner, who has plans to build 50 apartment units there, is said to be open to considering exchanging the property for an equivalent parcel or otherwise participating in a conservation effort.
Six city residents added their voices to Durre’s call for saving the trees, many pointing out that the downtown master plan calls for parks to be located throughout the city at 2.5 minute walking intervals. This site is perfectly situated to serve that function for the South Slope area, the trees’ backers said. Asheville’s Tree Commission and the Sierra Club have indicated their support for plans to preserve the trees.
Bothwell reminded Council that “We can’t replace old trees. If the developer is willing to hold off for a while, we can find a way to do this.”
Councilmen Hunt, Jan Davis and Gordon Smith agreed that the site has a unique character and value, but stressed that the private sector will need to take on a significant share of the financial burden of preserving the trees. Council asked City Manager Gary Jackson to direct Planning & Urban Design staff to hold initial conversations with the Wilmington-based developer to gather more information.
Nick DiYorio of Chapter 124 of the Vietnam Veterans of America described activities planned for Sept. 9-13 in conjunction with the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall. Now displayed in Swannanoa, the wall includes the names of 152 fallen service members from WNC. According to DiYorio, Buncombe County Commissioners have pledged $6,000 to support the Traveling Wall, and he asked for financial support from Council.
The consent agenda for the meeting was approved, with the exception of Item H (a resolution to establish an open data policy for the city), which is to be heard in October. A complete listing of the consent agenda items can be found here.
Mayor Esther Manheimer reported that the North Carolina General Assembly is still in session and is still working to find consensus to pass a state budget. She and Bothwell are monitoring a legislative proposal to shift to the city fiscal responsibility for building and maintaining bike lanes for both city- and state-owned roadways.
Council agreed to re-appoint three current members of the HUB Community Economic Development Alliance (Julie Mayfield, Edward Hay and Jerome Jones) to a second term. Four qualified applicants to the Recreation Board (Dean Pistor, Helen Hyatt, Laura Carlson and Pat Dennehy) were appointed to fill the four available seats on that body.
Council opted to extend the search process for candidates to the Representatives from the Neighborhood Advisory Committee and the Sustainability Advisory Committee on Energy & the Environment on the Multimodal Transportation Commission due to a shortage of eligible candidates.
Finally, Vice Mayor Hunt detailed changes to the process for appointing members of the Tourism Development Authority. In the future, Hunt said, candidates for these positions will answer essay questions and attend a public interview session. For the upcoming opening on the Authority, the application period will be extended for two weeks and applicants will sit for a public interview immediately prior to the October 6 council meeting. No written essay questions will be required during the current selection process.
Council adjourned at 8:02 p.m. to go into closed session.