Once again, the issue of short term rentals was a major sticking point.
The rules, known as a form-based code, have been discussed and debated for two years. Unlike other types of zoning, form-based code rules place a greater emphasis on the look of a structure rather than its use. This summer, a split City Council said it liked the regulations but told city staff it was concerned about the impact of whole-house short term rentals in the district.
Council members asked staff to remove the lodging use-by-right for any lodging use of 20 rooms or less (which means the conditional use must get City Council approval), and sent the package back to the Asheville Planning and Zoning Commission for review.
The commission said it favored the form-based code as initially presented, including the permitted lodging use. With a supportive vote, they sent the form-based code back to City Council.
The public comment
Tuesday night, concern from public commenters about short term rentals was somewhat eclipsed by the greater worry they expressed about gentrification in the River Arts District, as well as general frustration about the convoluted bureaucratic process.
Pattiy Torno, owner of CURVE Studios in the River Arts District, said the process “violates the idea of democracy” because last-minute changes weren’t thoroughly presented to the public and discussed with residents.
Torno asked City Council to vote on the form-based code as originally presented, which included the short term rental ability as a use-by-right and after the discussion, the board did just that. Councilman Cecil Bothwell motioned to approve that set of regulations, but his motion failed for lack of a second.
Kim Roney, a candidate for City Council who lost her bid in last week’s elections, called the RAD form-based code “the new redlining, the new gentrification.” Considering big changes to zoning rules so late in the process breaks trust with residents, she said.
Several other residents spoke eloquently about concerns over gentrification in the booming district, which is in the midst of a multi-million dollar infrastructure project that will improve a section of Riverside Drive and add greenways, bike lanes and other amenities.
Resident Rachel Larson, on the other hand, urged City Council to approve the rules, though she also said she was disappointed with the last-minute changes.
“Nothing is perfect,” she said. “We’re going to keep making changes to it.” She added that the form-based code provides protection for residents who live in the area.
And attorney Albert Sneed, representing Asheville Wastepaper, asked City Council to exempt the paper recycler from the new rules. Sneed noted the area is in a flood plain, and the cost to build a new structure to meet the new code after a flood would be prohibitive.
Mayor Esther Manheimer, in response to several comments regarding the zoning’s impact along Ralph Street, told listeners that the form-based code had no impact on City Council’s future ability to put a chunk of city-owned land into a land trust.
Council members speak
Councilman Gordon Smith pointed out the proposal to remove the short term rental use-by-right was not a ban, simply a move to require greater oversight. He said the River Arts District was not being singled out in that way, because City Council is working on a number of different fronts to slow or stop the growth of STRs, mainly due to concerns about their detrimental impact on the availability of affordable housing. Smith also addressed the concerns about gentrification and reminded listeners of council’s actions to undo institutional racism.
Councilman Bothwell said the form-based code is “not automatically a gentrification plan.” The zoning rules harken back to a time when cities were designed as accessible, walkable places, rather than designed around cars.
“It’s trying to get back to that kind of livable community,” Bothwell said.
Bothwell asked again if Asheville Wastepaper could be exempted from the rules.
Councilwoman Julie Mayfield said the form-based code alone would not cause RAD gentrification. That’s happening because Asheville is so darn popular, she said.
“The form-based code doesn’t make it better or worse. It takes a place that someone says is special and it says we’re going to make a decision about what this looks like as it develops,” Mayfield said.
Without the rules, developers would makes those decisions about look, about form, and they may or may not pay attention to architecture and design, Mayfield said. She added that when it comes to Asheville Wastepaper, they should be included because of that very reason – the need to regulate the form of future development.
“This alone does not drive gentrification,” she reiterated.
On the issue of process and short term rentals, Mayfield said “it disturbs me greatly that we are stepping out of the process” to make a decision on short term rentals, noting that “we are injecting a use decision into a form discussion.”
Mayfield continued: “What we keep learning about our town is that short term rentals continue to be a problem and we do not have a handle on it, and that is one main factor driving unaffordability and we have to get a grip on it however we can get a grip on it and wherever we can. And we’re going to do it.”
In a sorry-not-sorry comment, Mayfield apologized from the bottom of her process-loving heart and said she would be supporting the form-based code with whole house short term rentals not allowed as a use by right.
With that, Smith motioned for approval of the form-based code that restricts whole house short term rentals, and Wisler seconded it. Councilmen Bothwell and Young voted against the measure, with the rest of City Council voting in favor.