Friday, November 25, 2016

Lurking neighborhood “density” issue emerges during city’s development forum

By Roger McCredie

The city likes the idea of greater urban density.  Neighborhoods don’t.  At least that was a sentiment expressed when the hot-button issue surfaced during the fall City Manager’s Development Forum, held last week at the U.S. Cellular Center.

City Planning and Urban Design director Todd Okolichany told an audience made up primarily of private developers, realtors and property owners his department is drafting a zoning change that would slash lot width and area requirements in residential areas by 20 per cent.

Insiders say the city has long been considering such a move because it would promote infill – and therefore create more density – within Asheville’s neighborhoods.

Simply put, the lot size reduction would allow for squeezing more new structures into smaller available spaces.  But that doesn’t sit well with residents who see a distinct possibility that adjacent spaces which presently allow them elbow room and privacy can be replaced by cheek-by-jowl new houses or apartments.

Haw Creek resident Barber Melton, who sits on both the Neighborhood Advisory Committee and the Affordable Housing Commission, told Okolichany flatly, that “a lot of neighborhoods don’t want increased density.  Haw Creek certainly doesn’t,” she said, “and 90% of other neighborhoods don’t either.”  

“There’s got to be a balance,” Melton said.

City officials have frequently said that increasing population density by infill and building “up instead of out” would help prevent urban sprawl and promote pedestrian use and multimodal traffic, thus making life easier for non-drivers.

Opponents have said it will result in traffic problems, increased pollution, higher taxes and a general decrease in quality of life for those affected.  Last year an editorial letter in Asheville’s Mountain Xpress warned that the city’s infatuation with density creation could lead it down the same road as the state of Oregon, whose so-called “smart growth” infill-based zoning program has largely backfired.

  “[The Oregon plan’s] goals were exemplary but failed to anticipate that the most ‘efficient’ way to populate the cities was directly opposed to the way that people actually wanted to live … residents did not want to give up their cars and backyards,” the writer said.

Still, the city sees the 20% reduction in lot width and area as a first step in going down the infill road, and it’s been contemplating the measure for some time now.   "It's to allow for more land to be used efficiently," Vaidila Satvika, an urban planner for the city, told WLOS-TV back in August.

Satvika’s take on those benefits was smacked down in the same segment by West Asheville homeowner Karen Mathews, who said, “I really don't want to look out of my bathroom window or my bedroom window into someone else's, six feet from my house.

"With it crammed in like that, how many people are going to want to be that close? I don't know if it's greed or if it's insanity,” she said.

One example of the city’s aggressive dedication to density-by-infill was the 2012 creation of The Larchmont, a Mountain Housing Opportunities- underwritten affordable housing complex that was built on the site of the old naval reserve headquarters on Merrimon Avenue.  That project met with considerable but futile pushback from North Asheville residents who feared further traffic congestion and objected to the scale of the buildings.

A prominent fan of  increased neighborhood density is city councilor Gordon Smith, who has frequently called it a key to relieving Ashevillle’s affordable housing crisis.  Smith has for years advocated major revisions to the city’s existing development code, which he says,  “kind of comes out of a 20th-century sensibility that may not be fitting what’s happening here in Asheville today.”

After the Larchmont victory. Smith wrote to a resident who had opposed the project, “The Larchmont looks great. I know you didn’t like it and didn’t want it, but the opportunity offered to the sixty families who live there is one I’m sure you can appreciate.”

Okolichany told the forum audience that the city will hold public workshops on December 6 and 7 as part of a review and update of its Comprehensive Development Plan.  According to the city’s website:

“Workshop attendees will hear an update on the planning process, learn about the key issues facing the community and most importantly see how the public’s ideas will be incorporated into the vision. Then, residents will get the opportunity to participate in fun exercises that explore alternate development scenarios, choose their preferences, and see the results in real time.”

There was no further description of the “fun exercises.”

The workshop schedule is as follows:

December 6
  • North Asheville Library, 1030 Merrimon Ave., 12:30 to 2:30 p.m.
  • West Asheville Library, 942 Haywood Road, 4 to 6 p.m.
  • Central Asheville opportunity at the Dr. Wesley Grant Sr. Southside Center, 285 Livingston St., 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
December 7
  • South Buncombe Library, 260 Overlook Road, 12:30 to 2:30 p.m.
  • East Asheville opportunity at St. John’s Episcopal Church, 290 Old Haw Creek Road, 4 to 6 p.m.
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Thursday, November 17, 2016

City says forum will give citizens a look At current economy, future plans

Early plans for bond money expected to be unveiled

Asheville’s Office of Economic Development will host its semiannual Development Forum Friday (November 18) in the grand ballroom of the U.S. Cellular center.

The forum, which will run from 11:30 a.m. until 1 p.m., is being billed as an opportunity for stakeholders – to use a favorite cityspeak term – in the city’s development plans to have “an opportunity to learn about current development trends, regulatory updates, and management initiatives.”

Stakeholders in this case include “members of the development community, design professionals, contractors, real estate community and [last but not least] citizens.”

According to the city, those present “will hear the latest on the Asheville area’s current economic indicators and the financial and economic challenges facing the City,” including an update on the $74 million general obligation bond package (and its attendant $36 million in interest) that was passed by Asheville voters on election day.

Other topics include discussions of city development trends and shifting demographics, a summary of building permit activity, an update on the city’s Comprehensive Development Plan, a review of planning and zoning code amendments, and a look at the city’s non-revenue water program.

Of particular interest to many what the city has to say about plans for issuing bonds now that authorization for them -- $32 million for transportation, $25 million for affordable housing and $17 for parks and recreation -- has been approved.  The bonds passed by a three-to-one margin but opposition to them, though it materialized late, was intense.

If you can’t make it to the forum yourself, don’t fret.  Asheville Unreported will be there for you, and will tell you all about it.  Watch for our coverage.

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Saturday, November 5, 2016

Corporate donations pay for pro-bond campaign

Donors include engineers, builders, relatives of city staff
By Roger McCredie

Cui bono?”  “Who benefits?”  According to Wikipedia, the Latin phrase is “an adage that is used either to suggest a hidden motive or to indicate that the party responsible for something may not be who it appears at first to be.”

In this case a look at documents filed by the nonprofit that was formed to promote the $74 million bond package Ashevillians will vote on Tuesday shows exactly who is likely to benefit by its passage – or at least who’s counting on it enough to put money behind the proposal.

The third quarter contributions report of the AVL GO Bonds Committee, which was formed in August to receive and spend moneys to promote the bonds, lists substantial donations from several engineering and construction firms, as well as a $750 contribution from Equinox Environmental, the landscape architectural firm headed by David Tuch, husband of Shannon Tuch, Principal Planner in the city’s Department of Planning and Urban Design.

In all, according to the report, AVL GO Bonds raised $36,805 in cash and in-kind services between August 15 and October 24.

Only one individual contribution is listed:  a $100 gift from accountant David Worley.  The rest are from businesses.

Major donors included:
  • Altamont Environmental ($5,000), an environmental engineering firm that has received several city contracts related to the development of the River Arts District Transportation Improvement Project (RADTIP).
  • Vaughn and Melton ($5,000), a consulting engineering firm with offices in both Carolinas, Tennessee, Georgia and Kentucky.
  • McGill and Associates ($2,000), consulting engineers long used by the city, especially on water system projects.
  • Tennoca Construction Co, ($2,000), veteran of many city jobs; currently performing the  $6.9 million Craven Street Improvement Project, part of the city’s deal with New Belgium Brewery.
  • Mattern & Craig ($1,000), another engineering firm with long ties to city government, principal engineer of the RADTIP.
The largest in-kind contribution is for website design by Mountain True, valued at $2,350. A co-director of Mountain True is Asheville City Council member Julie Mayfield.

For a complete listing of AVL GO Bond contributions and details, see the accompanying table and election filing below.

To date, according to the report, the pro-bond committee spent just under $13,000 for flyers, postage, stickers, t-shirts, signs and balloons, as well as just over $10,000 on billboards, approximately $8,000 on radio commercials, and $5,000 on newspaper advertising during the period indicated.  No figures later than October 24 are yet available.

The bond package includes a $32 million bond for transportation, $17 million for parks and recreation, and $17 million for parks and recreation. (The transportation bond includes an allocation for development of the Swannanoa greenway and greenway connectors. 

Greenway projects used to fall under parks and recreation but were moved by city planners to the transportation category.)

A principal objection to the bonds as presented has been that there is no guarantee the proceeds will be used for the specific projects associated with them. The only stipulation is that bond moneys from any of the three categories must be applied only to projects that can be shown to relate to that category.

Projects in all three bond categories, however, would involve engineering, architectural and landscaping services.

Click here to download this table as PDF
October 31, 2016AVL Go Bond Committee Disclosure Report
Click here to download Disclosure Report
TOTAL RAISED: $36,805.00
David Worley, Accountant
“Mr. Worley has worked on a task force establishing procedures for the City of Asheville Affordable Housing Trust Fund”  
Alta Planning & Design
Anything having to do with bike paths and greenways, Alta Planning does it.
In 2014, they were hired by Asheville City to study changing the RADTIP (River Arts District Transportation Improvement Project along the French Broad River) bike lanes to protected bike lanes.  In a later memo it was stated it could cost an additional $4 million to make this change.
The City approved the change to protected bike lanes in July 2015.
Altamont Environmental
Has received several contracts with the City.
Contracted with Asheville to do work on the RADTIP
Designed the final left of the greenway connecting UNC-Asheville to downtown.
Contract fees not public.
ECS Carolina LLP
Provide engineering consulting services
Has performed stormwater work for Asheville
Is listed by McGill Associates (see below) for Asheville’s “On Call Professional Services for General Projects”
Equinox Environmental
Shannon Tuch works in the Planning & Zoning department for the City of Asheville. Her husband, David, owns Equinox Environmental, and also has several contracts with the City including the RADTIP project.
Kimley-Horn & Associates
If it has to do with parking, it’s Kimley-Horn and they’ve had several contracts with the City of Asheville. From their website, “ The City of Asheville, North Carolina is a legacy user of the Kimley-Horn parking demand model.”
Mattern & Craig
Mattern & Craig has been providing engineering services to the City of Asheville for years.  They are the principal engineering firm for the RADTIP project. In addition, Ken Putnam, Asheville current Transportation Director used to work for Mattern & Craig.  Gabriel Quesinberry, currently in charge of construction at New Belgium, used to work for Mattern & Craig and was responsible for the traffic study.
McGill Associates
McGill has provided engineering services on a multitude of projects to the City of Asheville water system since 1984 and continues as their contractor on a myriad of projects.
City of Asheville made this firm what it is today.
Total fees paid by the City to McGill is in the millions.
Allegra Asheville
Was paid $12,996.16 for stickers, cards, shirts, signs, balloons for this bond campaign.
Was paid $4,989.77 for postage; $4,047.23 for flyers and postcards
Sitework Studios
Sitework is an engineering and architectural company in the RAD. Owner, Matt Sprouse, former member of Asheville Area Riverfront Redevelopment Commission design committee, the Commission in charge of the RADTIP project and also working on RADLofts project for Harry Pilos in the RAD.
Sitework Studios has contracted with the City on several projects, including several related to RADTIP, including the Clingman Forest and Town Branch Greenways. This contract was originally $370,000 and this August was changed to $540,000.
Tennoca Construction Co.
For many years Tennoca has been awarded several construction projects by the City. The most recent is the Craven Street Improvement Project. This project was part of the City’s agreement with New Belgium and also part of the RADTIP.  
This contract is for $6,901,570.66. (yes, almost $7 million)
The original estimated amount of this project was $2 million.  
Vaughn and Melton
Vaughn and Melton is essentially McGill Associates competition and submitted their proposal to the City at the same time McGill Associates did for the same services. Looks like they want in on the action!
Land of the Sky Association of Realtors
The form denotes $15,000 but does not indicate whether this was in-kind or cash.
Andy Oxy
Value $105
Helium use for balloons
Value $750
Graphic design of logo and mailer
Jeff Heck, CEO of MAHEC, wrote pro-bond editorial in Citizen-Times
Value $2,350
Website construction, social media and communications
Asheville City Council member, Julie Mayfield is co-director of this nonprofit.
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