The amendments were partially in response to the Caledonia Apartments project, which Council unanimously rejected in September. The developer then split the projects into two applications, each separated by 500 ft., the minimum allowed under city rules for separate projects, and each small enough to not have to go back before Council. The amendments would prevent a developer from bringing a project back to the city with minor changes shortly after Council had rejected it, and raise the separation requirement for residential projects to 1,500 ft.
Proponents, including many neighborhood activists, cheered the rules, saying it would compel developers to respect Council's decisions. Opponents of the move said the initiative had been inappropriately fast-tracked without full consideration, and Mayor Terry Bellamy warned that the apparent relation between the new rules and the Caledonia project could result in a lawsuit.
However, Council member Esther Manheimer asserted that the changes will ensure the spirit of the law is better respected. Both amendments passed on a 4-3 vote, with Bellamy and Council members Jan Davis and Bill Russell against.
Council also heard a report indicating that its water rates subsidize large industrial businesses with higher rates for residents and small business, something that may change in the near future. Another report revealed details of the scaled-down proposal for the Pack Square Park visitor's center.
Below is a compilation of live tweets from last night's meeting.
5:00 p.m. Asheville City Council meeting about to begin.
5:06 p.m. As invocation, Council member Bothwell cites stats on poverty, unemployment, then quotes Einstein on compassion
5:06 p.m. Mayor Bellamy giving proclamation honoring Kit Cramer, new Pres/CEO of Asheville Chamber
5:08 p.m. Bellamy: I've already attended my first groundbreaking with Cramer, "look forward to many more"
5:09 p.m. Now city's receiving award from National Environmental Hall of Fame for sustainability effort
5:11 p.m. Bellamy praising sustainability office efforts, main reason cited for award
5:13 p.m. Presentation on city water rate study
5:15 p.m. Report: Revenues just slightly above expenses this year, but that will change in coming yrs, when rate will need to adjust
5:16 p.m. Report: City's water sold and capital spending are both below average for nation
5:19 p.m. Report: Water use in Asheville already low, more conservation wouldn't have a major effect. Rates high for avg customer
5:21 p.m. City water rates 40% higher than average, but industrial rates 20% lower. Presenter: "that raises some questions"
5:22 p.m. Analysis suggests raising commercial, industrial rates, lowering single-family rates
5:25 p.m. Report: Asheville in "very favorable" position, doesn't have to change rates this year
5:30 p.m. Bothwell: "It's clear we're subsidizing industry far more than other cities" not abusive to bring their rates more in line.
5:33 p.m. Council member Smith: Wants industrial rates raised, but kept below avg for state
5:35 p.m. Council member Russell: In this economy, don't want to put burden on businesses. "Ask that we think carefully"
5:37 p.m. Newman wants to go to a flatter structure overall, but look for ways to help businesses more sensitive to rate hike
5:37 p.m. Vice Mayor Newman: A lot of industrial water users have left, despite our generous water rate structure
5:44 p.m. Council member Jan Davis: Hope we can be conscious of what we do to business
5:45 p.m. Bothwell: Small business owners have higher rates than other cities, they're subsidizing large industry
5:52 p.m. Council going into closed session to discuss legal matter
6:13 p.m. Council's back, onto a UDO amendment that would put stormwater fee on combined utility bill
6:15 p.m. Bill would consolidate water, sewer, recycling and stormwater fees
6:18 p.m. Staff estimates combined billing will reduce paperwork costs, increase collection rate
6:19 p.m. Staff estimates $69,000 in increased revenue
6:21 p.m. Avl resident Cliff Eudel: Would love electronic billing, thinks this is an opportunity to do so
6:22 p.m. Staff: Electronic billing will be an option in near future. Bellamy: "See, city government can move fast"
6:25 p.m. Council unanimously proves adding stormwater fee to consolidated utility bill
6:27 p.m. Council now onto UDO amend that would prohibit projects it rejects from coming back in slightly altered form
6:29 p.m. Background behind amendments here http://bit.ly/hRD98e
6:30 p.m. Second amendment would raise separation requirement for separate residential projects to 1,500 ft
6:31 p.m. City planning board voted 4-0 against process amendment, 2-2 on separation requirement
6:33 p.m. Barbara Melton from Coalition of Avl Neighborhoods: Welcome these changes, had "numerous stabs in the back" with current rules
6:34 p.m. Mike Butner, from Avl Board of Realtors: Unintended consequences to these rules, need to tbale, discuss w everyone
6:35 p.m. Butner: "Community" is used in a "cavalier" way, includes more than just surrounding neighborhood, NIMBYism always be with us
6:36 p.m. Avl res Tracy Stetten: Nothing here says development can't be done, just put checks and balances on it
6:38 p.m. Tom Holdman, atty for Caledonia Apts, project partially behind this amendment: Changes not proper, damaging to city
6:39 p.m. Holdman: Way amendment has been "fast-tracked" shows it's in response to Caledonia. That's not proper
6:40 p.m. Holdman: Council should consider harm this puts on residents, development, housing
6:42 p.m. Holdman: Reduction of separation limits to 500 ft part of economic relief amendments in 2009, shouldn't be undone
6:44 p.m. Holdman: "Good projects, with substantial impact" would be "killed by these amendments"
6:46 p.m. Holdman: Amendments send msg to others that city will change rules in middle of process
6:48 p.m. Holdman: "Bad amendment, for wrong reasons," Council should table or vote down
6:49 p.m. Eudell: "Close this loophole," the "same wolf is back at our door," developers should respect Council's decision
6:51 p.m. Kenilworth res Miller Greggs: You already denied this project, for good reason. Developers shouldn't bring project back up
6:52 p.m. Greggs: "Don't let their scare tactics fool you, refine the UDO"
6:54 p.m. CIBO's Patty Beaver: "quick passage leads to unintended consequences," urges Council to wait
6:55 p.m. Kenilworth res: Developers haven't respected wishes by subdividing project instead of really changing it; amends in city's interest
6:56 p.m. Res Terry Leek: Not about biz vs. neighborhoods, as an architect, think amendments are well thought-out
6:59 p.m. Developer Rick Grant: Avoid making changes "due to knee-jerk reaction to one project." Be careful
7:02 p.m. Kenilwoth res Teddy Jordan: Amendments will strengthen existing process
7:04 p.m. Patsy Bryson, atty for Kenilworth Res Assoc: Support both amendments. Spacing amendment not a hasty change
7:05 p.m. Bryson: "It's not new language... It worked for years"
7:07 p.m. Bryson: "If projects comply, they'll succeed"
7:11 p.m. City Atty Bob Oast: The amendments follow the process laid out in city code, haven't stopped groups from commenting
7:12 p.m. Daniels: this is correcting something that wasn't intended
7:12 p.m. Planning Director Daniels: This kind of amendment, brought forward by staff, isn't halted if planning votes against it
7:17 p.m. Bothwell: Both of these seem to bring more consistency, not less, to process
7:19 p.m. Smith: Think we work w incentives, changes to streamline development so everyone can "trust the process"
7:20 p.m. Smith: "If we reject a project, the process should reflect that"
7:22 p.m. Newman, after making motion supporting amendment: "These are positive clarifications"
7:27 p.m. Bellamy: "I think we're going to get sued" never seen anything approved on Thurs, in Council next Tues.
7:27 p.m. Bellamy: Concerned developer found a way to bring project back that we didn't foresee when we made earlier changes
7:28 p.m. Bellamy: This situation's "clear as mud," wants mediator between neighborhood, developer
7:29 p.m. Bellamy: On this issue "we're damned if we do, damned if we don't" torn on this issue
7:31 p.m. Davis too, has issues with how quickly amendments came before Council
7:32 p.m. Davis: Don't like this process, "we're rushing to judgment"
7:33 p.m. Manheimer: Want to be known as somewhat predictable for business, but this is enforcing spirit of the law
7:34 p.m. Manheimer: Any project where we say "no," shouldn't be a way to repackage it, avoid coming before us
7:36 p.m. Manheimer: Really struggled, decided "firmly come down on this amendment allowing us to enforce spirit of the law"
7:39 p.m. UDO amendments pass 4-3 Bellamy, Davis, Russell against.
7:40 p.m. Because amendments didn't get 2/3rds majority, will come back for second reading Feb. 22
7:49 p.m. Next is a presentation on visitor's center for Pack Sq Park
7:51 p.m. 800sq ft center scaled down from orig plan to have less impact on area
7:54 p.m. New center designed for $200,000-500,000 range, instead of orig $2.4 million. Intended to be "utilitarian" park bldg w bathrooms
8:00 p.m. Russell pleased with design, praising conservancy's work
8:03 p.m. Council approves visitor's center design changes 6-0 (Manheimer recused due to her firm representing conservancy)
8:05 p.m. Council now considering discounted transit tickets/passes for homeless, move back by homeless coalition/homeless initiative
8:07 p.m. Russell: how do we make sure this is accountable? Newman: Agencies verify recipients, transit system can ban
8:10 p.m. Bothwell: not clear why we're charging for passes, if we're sure they're being used properly, should be free or at cost
8:12 p.m. Smith: this will make a big difference for people to get to jobs, medical appointments
8:13 p.m. Discounted bus tickets/passes for homeless approve unanimously
8:17 p.m. Discussion of early voting sites. Newman: locations in four corners of city helpful
8:18 p.m. Council will further discuss issue in March after reviewing turnout info
8:18 p.m. Davis: Early voting costs serious $. $39,000 last election
8:20 p.m. Newman asking people to apply for Asheville-Buncombe Fair Housing Commission
8:26 p.m. Meeting adjourned
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