Asheville City Council chambers were as packed as they've been in quite awhile as development teams, UNC Asheville staff, Boy Scouts and advocates of clean energy and civil liberties all filled City Hall for the Oct. 22 meeting. The meeting started noisy, too, as city staff, fire marshals and police officers all worked to get the crowds seated.
The chambers were so full that media — both Xpress and the Asheville Citizen-Times — ended up waiting outside for a few minutesuntil some open seats had cleared. No single issue brought the crowd, but several different matters all caught the community's interest.
Here are some of them, and the actions Council took:
• Council unanimously approved zoning conditions necessary for the 209-unit RAD Lofts to proceed, despite some concerns about the lack of affordable housing in the proposed Clingman Avenue complex, which will also include retail and office space.
However, the feeling that the project, which will use the abandoned Dave Steel site, is “transformative” in the words of Council member Marc Hunt led it to garner their support anyway.
Tim Schaller, of the River Arts District Business Association, praised parts of the project, but warned about the disappearance of affordable space for artists.
“If we don't have affordable studio space, we won't have a River Arts District anymore,” he noted.
Developer Harry Pilos replied that other coming projects will provide affordable studio space, while his would provide galleries for retail. As for the lack of affordable housing, he said that it all boiled down to numbers, and the money lost by having affordable units was “a big gap, we can't do it.” However, he added that in talks with the city about a possible subsidy for his project, he would let them know what figure he required to make some of the units affordable.
• However, the lack of affordable housing on another project, the Haywood Village in West Asheville, proved too much for Council member Gordon Smith to support, and he suggested Council delay it until an agreement could be reached to include affordable units. The 36 units would be workforce (a level above affordable) housing, but Smith felt that the “crisis” of a lack of affordable units was too much to support another project that lacked them.
Other Council members voiced similar concerns, but said the proper way to deal with it was to change the city's rules, rather than bringing it up during a vote on the zoning necessary for a particular project. Mayor Terry Bellamy, in particular, disagreed with Smith, saying it wasn't fair to withhold a vote based on such concerns so late in the process, and that the spot where the new project will go has remained empty since the previous developer died. The project passed 6-1, with only Smith against.
• Council unanimously passed a civil-liberties resolution, a longtime goal of Council member Cecil Bothwell, who said he's worked on the measure since his election nearly four years ago.
The measure reaffirms the city's commitment to constitutional rights, promising that the police will treat all groups fairly, not gather information on a group solely because of its beliefs, and play no part in enforcing federal immigration law.
Bothwell said the measure is “a basket of promises” that the city will protect the civil rights of all its citizens.
However, Council candidate Mike Lanning, a former Asheville Police Department officer, asserted that the resolution “is not worth the paper it's printed on,” because the police already treat Ashevilleans fairly.
Marianne Patton, a South French Broad resident, disagreed, stating that she knows many “good families” living in fear of police stops because of their immigration status or race.
• Council also unanimously endorsed a clean-energy resolution, a measure supported by an array of local environmental groups, including the WNC Alliance, Asheville Beyond Coal and the Sierra Club. The resolution affirms the city's commitment to clean energy and reducing carbon emissions, as well as a partnership with Duke Energy and local businesses to discuss ways to further clean energy.
While some of the measure's supporters were critical of Duke, especially of the amount of pollution produced by its Lake Julian coal-fired power plant, they also said that a partnership is necessary to work on reducing emissions in the area.
For the company's part, Duke representative Jason Walls said they're looking to find “the sweet spot” of multiple energy sources, want to rely less on coal, and look forward to working with the city.