Children, behave

When you do try to get involved in matters affecting your own neighborhood, you get some sympathetic nods but no relief.

These are hard times for citizens, regardless of where your loyalties lie. The amount of information coming at you is overwhelming, time is short, and when you do try to get involved in matters affecting your own neighborhood, you get some sympathetic nods but no relief.

If you’re like me, you’ll come away from that meeting swearing you won’t be bothered to come to the next one. What’s the point?

The Asheville City Council, which appoints the members of the Planning and Zoning Commission, has apparently decided that the need for infill will automatically override all complaints — even those concerning violations of the Unified Development Ordinance.

At their monthly meetings, P&Z members consider zoning matters large and small, including how noisy proposed projects might be and how much traffic they might generate in your neighborhood. Last month, the commission spent an hour debating the appropriate garage entrances for Building C of the Riverbend Urban Village project — and a little less than that listening to about 10 residents of the Iris Street neighborhood near Biltmore Village voice concerns about the 84-unit project bearing down on them, compliments of the Planning and Zoning Commission.

I don’t live on Iris Street, but I have been involved in trying to push back City Council and P&Z in connection with the Brotherton Commons project intended for Virginia Avenue in West Asheville.

It’s not that we citizens can’t understand the importance of infill in making Asheville more friendly to affordable housing. Virginia Avenue residents were amenable to something smaller than the 45-unit project we may get. And judging by one resident’s comments, the same was true for Iris Street. We understand that our notions of property are not sacrosanct and that we have to give a little to accommodate other people.

But it doesn’t sit well when our common-sense complaints are merely dismissed or handed off to Kendra Turner, the city’s new “neighborhood coordinator,” who took a few moments to speak to the disgruntled Iris Street residents. Having seen all this before, I was somewhat testy, and when I asked her if she knew anything about an appeals process, she did not. I even felt bad for her (after all, she’s just two months into the job) as I poked her with the stick of “Just what is your job?” asking if her role is merely to placate citizens once a vote has been taken.

The problem is that City Council appears hell-bent on telling citizens how much development they want, with Brownie Newman and Mayor Terry Bellamy (who works for Mountain Housing Opportunities) hiding behind their “affordable housing” mantra. When I tried to bend Newman’s ear about Brotherton Commons months ago, he stated up front: “I want you to know that I’m for affordable housing.” Fair enough. But I didn’t realize that in voting for affordable housing, I had somehow negated my ability to comment on and affect what goes on right down the road from me.

If that weren’t discouraging enough, I talked with Coalition of Asheville Neighborhoods Vice President Barber Melton (who has served on P&Z) during the break. When I asked her why residents’ fears that their just-over-one-lane road would be overwhelmed by commuter traffic didn’t seem to matter, she said the commission has no ear for traffic concerns, because all of Asheville has them.

That sounded all too familiar. More than 10 years ago — way before the 2025 Plan‘s infill agenda was put in place — Virginia Avenue residents first confronted the specter of Brotherton Commons. And though the long-running project has yet to be built, at every stage the number of units has been increased to give the developer the needed profit. Meanwhile, our concerns about traffic bottling up on a to-be-dead-ended Virginia Avenue, about water pressure, and about the safety of citizens walking their dogs and children down the street haven’t seemed to matter — and the Iris Street residents’ concerns didn’t matter on Sept. 6.

Apparently, City Council thinks its citizens are children who must be treated as such. And CAN has chosen to focus on things like the size of the Staples sign.

As far as I can see, that leaves residents with only two options. One is to vote against all those who refuse to treat you like a mature adult who’s capable of reasoning. But a much quicker approach is to get your neighborhood’s zoning changed so they can’t put the big projects on your street. If you look at a zoning map of Asheville — which you can do at the Planning Department on the fifth floor of City Hall — you’ll see how much of the city is zoned multifamily. For developers, that’s low-hanging fruit.

According to city ordinance, citizens can request a zoning study by submitting “a petition signed by 51 percent of the property owners in the defined area for which the zoning study is requested who own at least 51 percent of the property (acreage)” in question.

Talking to your neighbors is almost always more entertaining than attending city meetings, and here’s a chance to let City Council know you’ve had it with their mandates and with diddling over garage-door placements when what’s at stake are basic questions like “Can my kids and dog take a walk without getting run over?” The city would have you get a traffic-engineering study (which, believe me, will only prove their point). Get your zoning changed.

[Psychologist Marsha Hammond helped start the West Asheville Neighborhood Association. She can be reached at hammondmv@netzero.net.]

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