By Leslee Kulba-Asheville City Council told developers exactly where they can stuff their property rights last night. The city effectively put the final nail in the coffin of Frank Howington’s plans to develop an expanse of hillside in the Kenilworth neighborhood.
Neighbor Valerie Hoh, who has been among the most outspoken opponents of the development, questioned the judgment of two members of the Planning & Zoning Commission who voted against the three rezonings. She was taken aback because Chair Jeremy Goldstein and Nathaniel Cannady would, “put property rights above the safety and well-being of the neighborhood.”
For three and a half years, Howington has been trying to build apartments or some kind of high-density, Smart-Growth, infill development on his Kenilworth property. It is located near bus lines, and within walking distance to multiple jobs in the medical and tourism sectors. It is expected his private development would contribute handsomely to the city’s tax base.
But neighbors have backyards, and the infill development of Smart Growth belongs elsewhere. Neighbors are never adverse to change and good, green policy. It is the safety of the children that concerns them most. Kenilworth is hilly territory. Construction would cause mud to flow down hillsides, and recent flooding events have shown Asheville is not immune to sinkholes and landslides.
Howington, however, markets himself as a conservative and conscientious builder who isn’t going to take uncalculated risks. His web site states, “The exceptional performance of our properties speaks for itself.”
Through the years, a battle has ensued. Howington would propose plans, and then the city would thwart them. After plans for a large apartment complex were turned down, Howington returned to the design review process with plans to subdivide the property and build his project in two halves. The creative workaround was legal, so the city’s planning department swiftly drafted an ordinance outlawing it before the matter was heard by council.
That didn’t kill the vampire, so the neighbors urged the city to take the initiative to rezone Howington’s holdings in Kenilworth. In fact, the only “con” listed in the staff reports was, “The zoning change was not requested by the property owner.”
In her presentation before council, Planning and Development Director Judy Daniel noted there was no protest petition against the rezoning. That may have sounded good to the half-asleep, but protest petitions become valid when signed by a threshold of surrounding property owners. In this case, the would-be signers were the instigators.
Nobody at the meeting spoke on behalf of the developer, but the notes from the P&Z Commission paraphrase Howington’s legal representative, Tom Holman, as saying, the developer, “feels strongly that the proposals before the commission and the scope of the reduction is inappropriate.”
Just before council was about to unanimously approve the third and final city-initiated rezoning, Councilman Chris Pelly complimented the neighborhood organizations in Kenilworth for their patience and cooperation during the protracted process. Cecil Bothwell said “ditto,” and Mayor Esther Manheimer said the changes would serve as a model for how the city will go about making zoning more appropriate in the future.
In another public hearing, the owner of a swath of property in the northern extremity of the city limits requested a rezoning that would enable him to put up four instead of two houses. Neighbors had expressed concerns about the property being on a “steep slope,” with the need to control stormwater runoff and stave off potential landslides and sinkholes.
Bothwell made a motion to deny the request that was seconded by Gordon Smith. It failed for lack of support from other members of council. Another motion, second, and vote were then made to technically approve the proposal.
Council also quickly approved the expenditure of $2,208,000 on streetscaping plans for the River Arts District. The city will contract with CDM Smith, with whom it shared an award for work to date on the project. High kudos were given for Smith’s community outreach. A high priority of the endeavor will be to re-engineer the Norfolk Southern railroad bridge to adapt traffic patterns to the needs of the New Belgium brewing facility.
In Other Matters –
Four people addressed city council during the open public comment portion of the meeting. All asked council to appeal to science, as if matters were settled in black and white, once and for all. Jan Rosenthal asked council to do something to ban e-cigarettes, as the “stench” of the vapors was infiltrating the apartments of nonsmokers in her complex, along with its health hazards
Regular Timothy Sadler, who often addresses council on matters of legalizing pot, instead asked for a ban on fluoride. He sat with two others who asked council for legalization of the wacky weed. Dr. Milton Byrd asked for legalization of medicinal Mary Jane on the basis of research into the endocannabinoid system. Todd Stimson, who faces multiple felony charges for growing medicinal doobage, asked council to approve his resolution to legalize hemp for agricultural and industrial purposes.