Mountain Housing’s plan for Merrimon development out of scale with neighborhood

With this letter, we join more than 250 residents of the Gracelyn subdivision and surrounding neighborhoods in north Asheville to protest the proposed rezoning of the Naval Reserve site behind the Grace Post Office on Merrimon Avenue. This rezoning would be necessary in order for Mountain Housing Opportunities to build the 60-unit, high-density affordable-housing complex it has proposed for the site.

The concerns of this diverse group are not about MHO, which does important work and has a good reputation. Moreover, the great majority of the petitioners support affordable housing, not just in principle but for the neighborhood. Were the 32 units allowed under current zoning to go on the site, most of the petitioners would welcome the development.

Our and our neighbors' principle concerns about the proposed rezoning are two fold: First, the density that would result if the rezoning request were granted and the project were built as proposed. State zoning laws have as one of their priorities protecting the scale and character of residential neighborhoods. The present, judiciously determined zoning is appropriate, given that goal. The proposed rezoning would not be.

At 60 units on just over two acres, the density of the complex would be more than twice that of the rest of the surrounding residential area. In addition, the scale of the proposed buildings is much bigger than is characteristic of the adjacent neighborhoods, made up almost entirely of one- and two-story homes and small apartment buildings. For example, one façade of one building, including a retaining wall, would rise to a height of more than 80 feet! This is much taller than anything in the area except a church steeple.

Second [problem]: the implications of this density for the tenants themselves, especially in regard to increased vehicular traffic, lack of adequate sidewalks and parking, and the safety hazards these would present. The number of vehicles in the immediate vicinity of the site would increase dramatically. On-street, as well as on-site, parking would be required to accommodate residents and visitors.

The developer's stated hope that most residents would use public transport, thereby mitigating traffic and parking issues, is not realistic given the infrequency of bus service up and down Merrimon (once per hour). For tenants who would nevertheless use public transport, access would be hazardous given the lack of sidewalks and the need to cross Merrimon to catch a bus headed south toward downtown. A highly congested and accident-prone stretch of Merrimon would become even more so to the detriment of all but, most especially, to tenants of the proposed development.

MHO should build affordable housing at the Naval Reserve site. It should do so, however, on a scale and at a density appropriate to the neighborhood, as allowed by current zoning. It should also do so in a way more conducive to the safety and well-being of the residents served. It is true that, with 32 units instead of the proposed 60, fewer tenants would be served. One site, however, should not carry a disproportionate burden vis a vis the need for affordable housing in Asheville and, thereby, compromise both those living in the complex and those in the surrounding neighborhood.

— Patricia Poteat and David Moltke-Hansen

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16 thoughts on “Mountain Housing’s plan for Merrimon development out of scale with neighborhood

  1. Alan

    This elitist NIMBYism is against both smartgrowth, and with it the environment, and property rights, and affordable housing. Shame on you.
    Limited unit density would fail to support bus adequate bus service and still force everyone into polluting cars.
    Please eliminate all parking requirements and allow landowners to supply as little parking, for as many units, as they wish, for BOTH the environment AND property rights.

  2. Dirk Diggler

    the 2.3 acre tract is ZONED for 37 apartments MAXIMUM!!!

    if this were a private developer wanting more density the screams of oppressive capitalism would be heard to Mt. Pisgah! this deal REEKS of insider corruption. MHO is not as innocent as they like to portray. Shame on them when there are other available properties for smaller infill to make up lacking needs. You do want cheap housing spread around, right?

  3. ironhead

    The Chairperson of the Asheville Planning and Zoning Commission is Cindy Weeks. Cindy Weeks is employed by Mountain Housing. I understand Ms. Weeks abstained from voting on this decision. I don’t believe the abstention clears her of an obvious conflict of interest.

  4. Neighbor

    Alan, much as you might like, it’s impossible to make your epitaph stick (‘elitist NIMBYism’) when the authors are clearly requesting that 32 affordable apartments be built on the site.

  5. Carrie

    While the authors make good points, I disagree with them. We are in desperate need of this housing in Asheville and the scale of it doesn’t seem obscene to me at all. The small apartment buildings they speak of (to show what the neighborhood is already like) will never be affordable to many people that work downtown because they are just that, small. Owners can’t afford to charge such little rent.
    The more places opening downtown and the workers they require make this necessary. Sorry that the building won’t look exactly like everything else but we are growing and surrounding neighborhoods have to grow and change as well.

  6. Neighbor

    Carrie: As of Sunday, there were 27 vacant affordable apartments (comparable to the Larchmont’s rents)within easy reach of the project site. Would the proponents prefer that one particular developer obtain a monopoly, just because it ‘can’t afford to build fewer than 60 units,’ even with significant amounts of public funding, and the existing vacancies in the community remain vacant? [see MtnX classified ads]
    As for ‘growing and changing,’ you make a good point. After careful expert analysis, with ample public input, perhaps it’s time to update and codify changes to zoning ordinances, City-wide. Until then, the neighborhood has a right to expect that the existing codes will be upheld and enforced.
    And, by the way, it’s ‘buildings,’ plural.

  7. Carrie

    Just by google mapping and “walking” around it doesn’t look, to me, that this site and the proposed size is not in a horrible location. It’s a vacant lot pretty much surrounded by businesses and a church, which I believe is in support of the project. When first hearing the complaints I thought they were squeezing it in between two small houses or something.
    Also, it is in city limits and Asheville, although smaller, is still a city. Density building like this does a lot of good for a larger amount of people to enjoy it rather than building just your typical high-rise and expensive condos.
    Another one of their complaints in the letter was lack of sidewalks which the builders want to install. So, problem solved on that one!
    I just hope this isn’t another example of the “I’m here now and therefor there are enough people and nothing can change” attitude that I’ve heard way too many times here in Asheville.

  8. Neighbor

    If you’re referring to someone who is against over-crowding for environmental, health and safety reasons, count me in. Granted I’ve only been here for 34 years, volunteering on housing, transportation, civic and community nonprofit boards, so what do I know about Asheville?

    ” It’s a vacant lot pretty much surrounded by businesses and a church..” Oh, really? Tell that to the neighbors whose back yards adjoin the site. But I commend you for your Google research.

    High-rise expensive condo’s vs. 60 apartments? That’s a false dichotomy. How about a smaller scale affordable housing complex?

    The developer wants to install sidewalks on property they don’t own? Yep, as you say, “problem solved on that one!”

    Build Baby Build. The new super-sized Asheville, coming to a neighborhood near you.

  9. Carrie

    Well, I’m not sure I’d be happy about any large building going in on that site if I were those neighbors-be it 37 or 60 units. I would imagine a protest over the smaller as well. But they don’t own that lot and don’t have a right to lovely view forever. (Of course I’m not sure it’s lovely now or what their view is)
    As far as the sidewalks, I might be naive but, if the development is paying for it why would the PO object?
    As far as your environmental, health, and safety concerns what are they? It’s not like this complex is going to attract people far and wide like it’s the next gold rush or something. It’s being built for people who work right here in our city and now won’t have to commute so far, won’t have to drive (a percentage), and will be more a part of the city they work in.

  10. Neighbor

    What’s the loss of a beautiful mountain view when you live in this beautiful mountain city? Frankly, that’s not a main concern I’ve heard expressed by neighbors who will be looking at and hearing the sounds coming from 100 tenants in two massive 3 story buildings just beyond their back yards. Although, the views are still being touted by some as a reason to move to North Asheville (for example, see the website for Reynolds Mountain, an upscale development a stone’s throw up the road). But, as you say, we in the neighborhood “don’t have a right to lovely view forever.” I’m curious to know what rights you believe the neighbors do have? Apparently, not the right to expect over-zealous developers to comply with zoning ordinances.

    While taxpayer funds may foot the bill for infrastructure improvements, it’s hard to imagine the sidewalk solution being quite as simple as you imagine – aside from the fact that the property is not owned by the developer. The sidewalk would have to run across the only (2 lane, one way) vehicle exit from the very busy Post Office. Without pedestrians, it’s already a dangerous situation, both at the exit onto Larchmont and on Merrimon. With pedestrians, it’s a potential disaster.

    The concerns mentioned refer to traffic and pedestrian safety, vehicles and their exhaust pollution wafting upwards into people’s back yards, noise pollution from so many people and vehicles in such a small space so close to peoples homes, obstacles to fire trucks responding to emergencies on the only road out.

    No concerns at all about the tenants as you suggest. Many in the adjoining neighborhood would qualify to live there.

    Smaller, lower is fine. More room for parking, less encroachment, a better, safer, less crowded environment for all.

    Re-think; don’t re-zone.

  11. Carrie

    Your pedestrian danger argument is just nonsense. Walking anywhere where cars and people on foot come together can be dangerous… most people look both ways whether driving or walking. It’s no more dangerous than every time I step off a curb to cross any street.
    Your fire truck scenario is equally absurd. The fire trucks don’t seem to have an issue going on to Merrimon and maneuvering around traffic to get to their destination… no problems with the “vehicle exit from the very busy Post Office”?

  12. Neighbor

    Public comment:

    I work at the Larchmont Rd. Fire Station and am very concerned about this development. The issues of traffic and illegal parking on Larchmont are huge concerns for our response from Asheville Fire Station 7.

    I don’t think you mentioned how long you’ve lived in the Melrose/Larchmont neighborhood. You don’t give the appearance of knowing any of what you claim first-hand, so let us know.

  13. Carrie

    I don’t, I live downtown. I’m only stating my opinion and my first-hand knowledge isn’t much. Just driving on Merrimon 1-2 times a week. It is my opinion that the benefits of this project will, over time, out way the potential problems. It will take time to see the good but, I think, we will.

  14. Neighbor

    I appreciate knowing that your accusations about my information, disputing my verified claims as ‘absurd’ and ‘nonsense,’ were just off-the cuff, with only guess work to back you up.

    Perhaps you’ll also be of the opinion that 32 apartments on little more than 1.65 acres of usable land is indeed a beneficial project, with more space for set-backs from neighbors, more space for adequate parking, more space for living, and less traffic and congestion overall.

    That will guarantee we’ll see the good in this venture in the end.

  15. Alan Ditmore

    If there are 27 vacant units GOOD! The owners will have no choice but to continue to make them MORE AFFORDABLE until they are filled. And there is no such thing as “out of scale”.

  16. Neighbor

    …vacant units with comparable rents to what is being proposed. But, you may be right: an under-bidding war would certainly help more renters, although not rental property owners and rental housing developers.

    Zoning laws affect land use, lot size, building heights, density, setbacks, and other aspects of property use – in other words, scale.

    So, are you anti-zoning altogether? We’ve been hearing warnings about the dreaded stip mall or office skyscraper alternatives for the site. I guess you’re not one who’d be bothered by that since “there is no such thing as “out of scale”.

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