By Leslee Kulba
Asheville – At its last meeting, Asheville City Council considered two applications for Land Use Incentive Grants (LUIG). The city’s LUIG program awards tax discounts to developers for “fulfilling important public purposes directly addressing annual strategic goals set by [the] council,” using a point system. Until its sixth revision last fall, the policy also awarded fee rebates.
The first project proposed constructing 40 units of multitenant residences behind the LongHorn on Tunnel Road. The developers would rent-control 30 units for 20 years as affordable to persons earning at most 60% of Area Median Income (AMI); the other ten, at most 80%. This project’s affordability, combined with the development’s proximity to jobs, food and medicine retailers, and transit, qualified it for 21 years of abatement on the property’s tax increment, which is estimated to go from the current value of $3,371.15 to $13,784.85. In other words, for the next 21 years, the developer would pay taxes in full and receive an annual grant of any amount over $3,371.15.
People participating in public comment for this issue mostly complained about a peripheral issue, a high volume of litter being generated by the nearby housing complex built by the same developer. They asked if the city might spend a little more on sanitation, or if the developer might combine both developments into a private collection contract. Councilor Julie Mayfield explained the trash, while a problem, had nothing to do with the matter at hand.
Later in the meeting, the council considered an application for a 2%, 20-year, $1 million loan from the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund, for the same development. The project had already procured loan commitments from Buncombe County for $296,334 and TruPoint Bank for $1,910,600. One reason used to justify the loan was that, since 2009, the developer, Kirk Booth, had, “in partnership with the City of Asheville,” constructed nine affordable housing projects, with a total of 136 units.
The second public hearing pertained to a parcel proposed for Collier Avenue on the South Slope. It called for the creation of a multifamily residential development of 54 units, all of which would be rent-controlled for persons earning between 60% and 80% of AMI for 20 years. This project was expected to increase the property’s tax assessment from $2,235 to $20,487. So, its developer would, pay taxes in full each year and get a rebate on any amount over $2,235. Features earning points for this development included the developer’s willingness to accept five Housing Choice Vouchers, existing sidewalks, and the project’s proximity to the urban center and transit. An interesting feature was it provided zero parking for automobiles.
The peripheral issue dominating public comment for this proposal was a petition supported by change.org. Circulated by the ad-hoc group, the South Slope Preservation Coalition, in a push called, “Save the Collier Wood,” it’s an attempt to prevent the developer from removing two dozen mature trees. Complainants argue the developer is creating an “architecturally-inferior apartment block” in a flood-prone area. And, while there appears to be no legal vehicle for doing so, the petition calls upon council to merge the architecturally-inferior project into a higher-quality, nearby development.
Following that, the group would “pursue preservation options,” which included having the city convert the land into a public park, setting up a private conservation area, or procuring a historic tree designation. One caller went so far as to describe the proposal as environmental degradation masquerading as affordable housing. At Mayfield’s request, staff affirmed that council approval of the project would not spell automatic defeat for the petition.
Council couldn’t vote on anything, though, because of Session Law 2020-3, which governs how public bodies will be able to conduct business by electronic means during states of emergency. One of the new requirements is that the public body must accept public comment on agenda items from the time the meeting is officially noticed until 24 hours following the meeting. So, after the council completed what could be done by Zoom, including hearing any public comment that had been left by voice mail or phoned in; Mayor Esther Manheimer had to recess the hearings and business until June 9. At that time, the council will take no additional public comment but will discuss new insights among themselves and take a vote.
The law also requires the meetings to be streamed in realtime and requires official noticing of the meetings to include instructions on how the public may comment, including phone numbers and passcodes. Other parts of the law spell out measures that should be expected for transparency, including a requirement that all votes be taken by roll call.
In Other Business –
The public hearing on the city budget will be held on June 9. Compared to the hundred-page books the city typically publishes, this proposal is only 37 pages with only 20 pages of numbers. A copy may be found on the city’s website. For persons wishing to engage in the process, the city has published the following:
1. Watch live on television on Charter Cable channel 193 and on AT&T U-Verse channel 99 or by live stream through https://www.publicinput.com/hub/88.
2. Listen live by calling 855-925-2801 and entering code 8958.
3. Make live telephone comments on the agenda by calling 855-925-2801 and entering code 8958.
4. Make pre-recorded voicemail comments on the agenda by calling 855-925-2801 and entering code 8958.
5. Submit written comments on the agenda by emailing Asheville CityCouncilJune92020@publicinput.com.