Vote for parks!
How do you convince Asheville voters to approve an $18 million bond issue? Form a committee to spread the word: "We're asking all Asheville voters to vote yes on May 11 for the Parks, Recreation and Greenways Bond Referendum," urged former Asheville Mayor Russ Martin, the front man for the Safe Parks, Strong Neighborhoods committee.
Members of the group -- campaigning on behalf of the bond issue -- represent a cross section of community organizations, such as the Coalition of Asheville Neighborhoods, the Chamber of Commerce, the Merchants' Action Coalition, Quality Forward, the Council of Garden Clubs, the Junior League, and a number of sports groups, Martin reported during Council's March 23 formal session. "The appeal and need for 'safe parks, strong neighborhoods' is universal," he declared.
The $18 million raised by the bonds would fund improvements to many neighborhood parks; the creation of new parks at Richmond Hill, Lake Craig, White Fawn and along the French Broad River; the development of greenways around the city; and the purchase of land for future parks, Martin explained. "All the benefits of these park improvements -- enhanced community health, increased safety and better environmental conservation -- all of these quality-of-life benefits will come to every Asheville citizen, for a very small cost, through the parks-and-greenways bond measure," he said, adding, "Please vote yes."
Council members thanked group members for their support and willingness to help spread the word, out in the community. Council member Barbara Field noted that the bonds would result in a small increase in annual property taxes -- about the cost of one pizza or two movie tickets, for the typical Asheville taxpayer.
Biltmore Park zoning
On March 23, Asheville Council members agreed to designate a new section of Biltmore Park as RS-8 (residential, single-family, eight units per acre). Annexed last December at the developer's request, the new, 23-lot section of the subdivision will actually feature lots more than twice the minimum size required by the RS-8 designation (one-eighth of an acre), reported City Planner Bruce Black. But the developers -- Biltmore Farms -- requested the higher-density classification so they could site homes closer to the street than lower-density, single-family zoning districts would allow, he explained (RS-2 and RS-4 require front setbacks of at least 25 feet, as opposed to RS-8's 15 feet).
On a motion by Field, seconded by O.T. Tomes, Council voted 7-0 to apply RS-8 to the 11-acre area.
New life for Gerber site?
The former Gerber Foods facility in south Asheville may soon find a new use: On March 23, Asheville City Council members agreed to rezone approximately 21 acres of the 49-acre site as Commercial Industrial.
The new classification will allow commercial, industrial or retail development on that section of the property, which sits at the corner of Hendersonville and Gerber roads, said attorney Craig Justus, representing Asheville Hendersonville Investors LLC. As developers for Gerber, which still owns the property, AHI had originally asked that all 49 acres be rezoned from Industrial to CI, Justus explained. The CI classification, they argued, would give them more flexibility in redeveloping the land.
But two Planning and Zoning Commission members voted against that request, citing concern that the city would be losing industrial land. City staff had also recommended delaying any rezoning until consultants complete an economic-development-strategy plan, Planner Black mentioned.
"It was our intention to develop the front part [of the property] for commercial [or] retail, and retain the rear as industrial," said Justus. "The front part is immediately developable to bring in [property]-tax dollars," he noted. But the rear portion -- including more than half of Gerber's now-vacant 600,000-square-foot facility -- is not marketable for other industrial uses, having been designed specifically for food processing, with low ceilings and sloped floors with drains, Justus continued. "It would cost $600,000 to $1 million just to demolish that obsolete ... building," he pointed out.
Justus offered a compromise: Instead of rezoning the entire parcel -- and losing an industrial site that has railway access -- rezone only the 21.57 acres fronting Hendersonville Road.
Council member Barbara Field approved, remarking, "The city has been accused many times of running Gerber out [of town]. I'm glad to see us working on something to bring the property back into the city tax base."
City staff, noted Black, also approve of the compromise.
Both Mayor Leni Sitnick and O.T. Tomes gave credit to staff and the developers for working together. And, on Field's motion, seconded by Tomes, Council voted 7-0 to rezone the front 21.57 acres as CI.