Asheville City Council Sept. 28 meeting
- Kenilworth residents up in arms re proposed development
- Council members debate expanding affordable-housing incentives
Asheville City Council members unanimously rejected the proposed 100-unit Caledonia Apartments at their Sept. 28 meeting.
Kenilworth residents turned out in force, filling the Council chamber and an overflow room downstairs. Many wore stickers proclaiming “Concerned About Kenilworth.”
To hear Teddy Jordan tell it, the site is too steep, the project would be out of scale with its surroundings, and it would add too much traffic to a neighborhood already “at capacity.”
“Planning in this manner is like having another baby while already having three toddlers in diapers,” Jordan, who is president of the Kenilworth Residents Association, told Council. “We are not opposed to thoughtful development; we recognize the potential for infill projects. This is the fourth major project in Kenilworth to come before Council in the last five years. ... Collectively, that represents a 40-percent increase in housing units in Kenilworth.”
Earlier, Clay Mooney, a local landscape architect representing developer Frank Howington, had touted the development as bringing much-needed mixed-income housing to the area.
“We're proud of this project,” Mooney declared, saying it was an innovative way to build a project on a slope without disrupting the landscape. “Hopefully, when other developers come down to the Planning Department, this is an example of what can be done on a sloped site with some creativity and ingenuity.”
The structures, he added, would be energy-efficient and feature underground parking; a storm-water system would be designed to handle a 100-year storm. Howington could have built a 50-unit complex on the site without coming before Council, but the denser development needed an exemption from the city's open-space requirements, which the developer claims would have disrupted more land. The forested, sloping site is currently zoned for institutional use.
Council member Esther Manheimer praised staff for their efforts to meet Council's goal of promoting denser development that’s close to major transit lines and the central business district. “I'm a supporter of urban-infill development,” she noted, adding, “It's not always a wonderful thing.” Manheimer cited concerns about the slope and the impact on the neighorhood's “natural beauty.”
A parade of Kenilworth residents denounced the project, calling it a “monstrosity” and showing photos to support their contention that the project would be “out of harmony” with the existing single-family homes.
“When I see the pictures of what's being proposed here, I get physically sick to my stomach, because the aesthetic value of our incredible city is going to be destroyed, bit by bit,” resident Cliff Yudell told Council. “This is just one chunk. I'm here to ask you, as stewards of the aesthetics that affect us in our very souls, not to let this man do this for the sake of money.”
Resident Miller Greggs questioned the very notion of dense development, a key concept in what’s often termed “smart growth.”
“How much density is enough? When will we be full?” she asked, adding, “Density, to me, seems to be something that describes Atlanta or Charlotte but not Asheville.” Development suitable for Asheville, said Greggs, would be defined by words like “smart, green, creative, nestled-in, peaceful, special.” The Caledonia, she predicted, would also reduce her property’s value.
“The Kenilworth Inn [a larger-scale building that Howington converted into upscale apartments] is enough,” asserted Greggs. “The addition of this building, which is much more visible, would detract from the very charm the inn creates.”
After the residents had spoken, Howington pleaded with Council to approve the development. “Right now, believe it or not, we are in an incredible crisis for housing in this city. We need to promote housing; we are desperate for it,” the Biltmore Forest resident maintained. “If not here, in institutional zoning, then where? Where are you going to allow it?”
But City Council wasn't convinced, and Vice Mayor Brownie Newman quickly made a motion to reject the project.
“It's incompatible with the scale and character of the area and doesn't meet the city's standards,” he said, getting a quick second from Council member Cecil Bothwell.
Council member Bill Russell noted that he's usually “a big believer in property rights, and things are going to change, and property's likely to be developed. But at the same time, we have our standards, and we have to feel confident all of those are being met. I've walked those roads, and I've driven them. There are some pretty steep, scary turns.”
Howington briefly considered withdrawing the project before the vote, since once plan was rejected, he’d have to wait a year before bringing anything similar to Council for consideration. But he declined after learning that the project would have to be significantly different to stand any chance of passage.
New incentives for sustainable development?
Council members also debated a proposed “Transformational Development Projects Incentive Policy,” which would expand the range of projects eligible for various incentives the city offers to encourage certain kinds of development deemed desirable. In addition to a 50-percent fee waiver, the city currently makes qualifying affordable-housing projects eligible for financial support. The discussion concerned establishing additional criteria — such as infill, energy efficiency or being located along specified transit corridors — to encourage types of development deemed desirable.
But despite apparent broad agreement on the need for such a move, they seemed divided on the details. In the end, Council members decided to send some of their suggested changes back to staff and consider the revised resolution at a later date.
Requiring developers to prove the incentives are needed for a project to succeed is unduly “amorphous,” said Bothwell, because developers might be tempted to make that claim even if it weren't true.
Newman, too, seemed dissatisfied with the degree of subjectivity, saying he'd be happier with stricter, less-ambiguous standards. “Developers,’” he noted, “should know, 'If I do this, I will get this incentive.’”
Mayor Terry Bellamy, meanwhile, seeking to draw a lesson from the evening’s proceedings, pointed out: “What we don't want to happen is something like tonight, where [a project is perceived as] too transformational. That word could be controversial, because of the impact of what ‘transformative’ means to some.”
— David Forbes can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 137, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.