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New Council Approves Ends, Rejects Means


By Leslee Kulba-In spite of several scheduled public hearings, Tuesday’s formal meeting of the new Asheville City Council didn’t last long. Mayor Manheimer had need to make an appearance at a victory celebration held in her honor that night. So, after about two hours, council called it quits and continued the closed portion of the meeting to next Tuesday at 3:30 p.m.

Council continued the public hearing for a one public hearing that proposed a 192-unit workforce housing development on Sweeten Creek Road. Members of council were opposed to The Avalon for two reasons: It would be built on property zoned Industrial, and it would not provide subsidized affordable housing units.

Even though the property was zoned IND, it had lain fallow for ten years. One reason, project engineer Tom Jones argued, was that it was too small for industry – at least not the kind the city wants in terms of numbers of jobs created. The site had an area of only 12.33 acres. Complicating matters, the site was bordered by Sweeten Creek in front and the Norfolk Southern Railroad in back. An industrial use would probably require leveling the buildout area, but there was a drop of 58 feet between the road and the rail. Jones argued a prohibitive amount of dirt would have to be hauled to make use of the railroad practicable.

The Vice President of Triangle Realty, William Ratchford, argued his family business was not into flipping properties. They built them to last because they would continue to own them. Ratchford addressed the housing situation, arguing carbon footprints would be reduced by the provision of nearby housing for persons working in IND-zoned businesses in the area. There are already a number of apartment and condominium complexes in the area, but the developers argued the high cost of housing in Asheville was a direct result of supply and demand. By supplying any kind of housing, the city would be working toward making prices competitive. Ratchford said Asheville’s going rate for a three-bedroom apartment, at $1600 a month, was off the grid compared to market values across the state.

Lastly, downgrading the IND-zoned property was not unprecedented. City staff mentioned six downgrades that had occurred since the city noticed its IND-zoned properties were disappearing. The developers argued turning the property into anything that paid taxes would be to the city’s advantage. By a majority vote, council decided to wait another month for staff to prepare a report on the city’s stock of properties zoned IND.

In a second public hearing, council approved ten units of single-family housing to be built in the Shiloh neighborhood with the assistance of Habitat for Humanity. In a third, they approved a conditional zoning for the construction of the new Asheville Middle School. The new building will be squeezed onto the existing lot while students continue to attend the old school. When the new building is ready for occupation, the old school will be razed.

Two other public hearings on council’s agenda were postponed to a later date. All votes for the evening were unanimous.

By way of the consent agenda, council approved the pursuit of two, six-digit state grants. They authorized the pursuit of $100,000 from the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources Division of Parks and Recreation for the construction of the Beaucatcher Greenway. The “free” money from the state that can’t even pay its teachers would come with a required 25-percent match, which, of course, was already in the budget.

From the same department, council would also like to receive $500,000 for the Dr. Wesley Grant, Sr. Southside Center. Funds would go toward the second of three phases of construction, and would include the building of a playground, spray ground, and a portion of the Town Branch Greenway. Should the city be awarded the grant, it would be responsible for a 100 percent match, which, as well, is already in the budget.

When Biltmore Farms cozies up with government to get special laws and ordinances passed to pave the way for its job-creating, economy-stimulating investments; public outcry shames the nastiness. When Mountain Housing Opportunities needs a little help from its friends in government to build subsidized housing, that’s all cool.

MHO recently partnered with Eagle Market Street Development Corporation to try to get the decades-old urban renewal project off the ground. Showing more progress than any efforts to date, MHO had to come before council to request a modification to the drawdown schedule for their federal HOME loan, and a repurposing of funding. Unspecified complications in the paperwork for other funding sources were cited as cause to pursue a path frowned upon by HUD.

MHO also requested that the Eagle Market Place project be exempted from using an RFQ process to identify a project manager. Legislation passed this year allows for the exemption, and MHO is under such tight deadlines, they deemed it advisable to have the city hire a project manager for them for $49,500. Both requests passed council with flying colors.

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