This would be the third form-based code to be adopted by the city, the others being applied to the Central Business District and Haywood Road. The plan divides two square miles along the French Broad River into seven districts, each with its own controls on setbacks, building heights, and allowed uses.
Presenter Sasha Vrtunski said form-based code was about placemaking. When asked by Smith to describe what that “term of art” meant, she replied, “Form-based code really looks at the public realm. So, we’re not just interested in the building itself. When we’re a pedestrian, a bicyclist, or even driving through a district, we know we’re in a special place, by kind of the environment we’re in. It may be unique. Some suburban development tends to not be very unique and not a placemaking type of development. But places that look like our downtown, Haywood Road are something that people did just as a matter of course, back in the 1900s. Then we got away from it. So, really planning is trying to get back to that placemaking mode, where our zoning reflects that desire, to create unique places.”
During public comment, several people spoke against the plan. Most were industrialists who had heard about the planning for the funky, avant-garde scene, but did not imagine it was going to extend to their neighboring mills and manufactories. While all existing uses would be grandfathered-in, any substantial reconstruction to accommodate the existing uses would be considered nonconforming – and the factories are in the floodplain.
Realtor Mac Swicegood saw the zoning as, “an effort to put all the industrial uses on the river out of business by enacting a set of standards that are unrealistic for industrial uses,” and that, “due to political whim.” Others advocating the status quo for industries between the railroad and river included realtor George Morosani; Albert Sneed, representing Asheville Wastepaper; Scott Welch of Consolidated Waste Services; and Jerry Sternberg. Sternberg self-described as the unelected, unpaid president-for-life of the River Rats, a group of industrial interests loosely organized to protect their businesses and property rights. He said council, like Dr. Harold Hill in The Music Man, was trying to pull a scam.
Jonathan Wainscott said industry was leaving the district and proximity to rail was not essential for those left. Only Silver-Line Plastics continues to use the railroad. Perhaps facetiously, he added if the city were to force Silver-Line out, labeling it an “economic remnant” as it did 12 Bones, it could remove the tracks, and that would allow the city to do some flood mitigation. That line of reasoning led back to Sternberg’s comments, that the city could then become more like Knoxville or Chattanooga and build its Disneyland.
Hannah Choueke said the city should not ban short-term rentals in the RAD. The restriction prevents citizens from capitalizing on their property and sends a message that “the city only wants international corporations to invest in the community.” She said, “If the RAD can accommodate an international brewery like New Belgium, it can certainly accommodate a small STR across the street.” After talking about public urination, graffiti, and physical threats following the Third Eye Blind concert at New Belgium, she asked, “What are small property owners/small business owners supposed to do? Are we supposed to sell our lots to large hotels? Are we supposed to turn [them] into bars instead?”
Smith made a motion to approve the proposed code with an amendment to ban STR’s. A supermajority was needed, but the measure only achieved a 4-3 vote; Cecil Bothwell, Brian Haynes, and Keith Young opposed. That triggered a second reading, but council decided to remand the matter to the Planning and Zoning Commission as well. Bothwell sympathized with the industrialists, believing they had been caught blindsided, and questioning the wisdom of land-use planning when large, near-term uncertainties loomed with the realignment of I-26 and the sale of the railroad.
A related issue was also remanded. Vrtunski said many RAD business owners had expressed concerns that they were losing customers due to insufficient parking. The form-based code would lift the existing parking reductions.
Councilor Julie Mayfield responded, “I understand that property owners in the RAD want parking, or they think that they want parking; but mandatory minimum parking requirements don’t create the kind of walkable, pedestrian community that we are trying to create here. … Artists get traffic from people walking by their studios, not people pulling into the parking lot.”