By Leslee Kulba-It was 2:00 p.m., three hours before the regularly-scheduled meeting of Asheville City Council. While the good citizens of the town worked away at their jobs, the city got around to publishing contracts for loans the city would execute with Eagle Market Street Development Corporation and Mountain Housing Opportunities. With the approval of the resolution, Councilman Gordon Smith spoke as if the urban renewal was a fait accompli.
Last month, city council approved loaning the partnership $2,867,618. The city had previously committed to giving the project another $1 million from its general fund plus $300,000 from its housing trust fund. Buncombe County had promised $2 million from its general fund and $300,000 from its housing trust fund. Other funding included $462,000 in federal HOME funds plus $5 million in federal low-income housing tax credits. This is in addition to HUD Section 108 grants, some of which were forfeited due to litigation and, if circular reasoning be permitted, the construction market. While presenting the documents to council and the public, Deputy City Manager Cathy Ball flashed the breakdown of funding sources, totaling $17.2 million, on the big screen for a few seconds.
The big dream is to give The Block a facelift while preserving its historical character. The new, mixed-use development is to be comprised of 62 apartments with rents for the “market-rate” units subsidizing identical rent-controlled units. 6770 square feet of commercial space and 3500 square feet of community space would be constructed as well. Curiosities, such as staying within budget by letting tenants do their own drywalling, were not raised in the current discussion.
Mayor Terry Bellamy, as she often does, took the press to the mat. The public, she argued, had been misinformed into thinking the city was just throwing money at the project. She emphasized the city would be loaning money to the developers, not giving it. The city shall, however, come up with the money via debt financing. On the bright side, staff kept its word and inserted language in the agreement promising, “The City will contribute no additional funds to the Project, despite any cessation to the Project because of Borrower exceeding the overall total construction budget.”
Bellamy felt The Block, though there is no shortage of creepier places downtown, had been neglected by the city. She said a former city council, on which she served, had made a promise to redevelop the area. Without explicitly playing any race cards, she spoke of inclusiveness and equal opportunity; even if it meant equally over-extending the debt capacity of minorities, and equally sharing the risk of growing real estate bubbles leading to the cliff-diving events. Smith wanted to add that the project was transformational with a lot of economic multipliers to boot.
Also Not on the Agenda –
Mayor Terry Bellamy asked Asheville Police Chief William Anderson to step up to the podium to address a rash of crime. Kenilworth made the news after a couple of victims of theft and assault tweeted an hour and 46 minutes until the police arrived. Councilman Cecil Bothwell wanted to be clear the problem had nothing to do with high turnover, as all beats remain fully covered. The argument that the breakdown was caused in part by new staff inadequately trained in the communications center was not broached. Declining morale was not discussed, either.
Anderson said the APD had made several arrests in Kenilworth. About eleven perps had been arrested in a couple months. A proliferation of criminals on that scale is anomalous for the city. Anderson said, as law enforcement authorities do for several reasons, the department is building the cases of the others. The APD had met with members of the Kenilworth Community to discuss the problem the night before.
There has also been a problem with vagrant crime downtown. “We’ve had a 52 percent increase in crime in the last two months in the Central Business District,” observed Councilman Jan Davis. At that level, it is moot to demand the normal parameterization of variables. Bothwell rehashed the problems with the chronic homeless, 25-30 people, known by name, who “ride the revolving door” of the criminal justice and healthcare systems. Each day, on average, one or two of these people are carried in an ambulance to the hospital. They divert the time and talents of emergency responders, police, hospital staff, and others into a Sisyphean cycle. Bothwell speculated the crime wave in the Central Business District was due to new synthetic drugs. Smith didn’t want to criminalize mental illness, and Bellamy lamented the brokenness of the state’s social services delivery system in general.
During public comment, Amy Cantrell, who has long worked in homeless ministries, noted that, effective September 12, the APD started arresting disturbers of the peace rather than issuing citations. She begged mercy for the down and out. Regular Timothy Sadler hinted that legalizing marijuana could cure what ails downtown. Mayor Bellamy added something must be done with the female exhibitionists in the CBD. Accepting that state law allows breaches of generally-accepted standards of decency; and wishing to respect the honor of families and merchants downtown, she eloquently suggested council make the first move and give the state cause to be engaged.