by Leslee Kulba
Wild West blogger
According to what was presented to Asheville City Council last night, employees at the Industries for the Blind wanted to have some more amenities at the plant. Several items on the wish list were granted, but a few remained unfunded. It was then determined that IFB could sell some surplus property to fund the improvements.
The problem was, the land was zoned Industrial and city plans have indicated that industrial tracts should be preserved. It didn’t matter that Ben Teague, a higher-up with the Economic Development Coalition of the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce, said the property was so ill-suited for industry, his people were not even going to show it to prospects. It was home to a wetland and a slope that would require infeasible investment in a retaining wall. Since the experts didn’t think the land would sell to industry, they tried to interest council in rezoning for a project that would get the property back on the tax rolls.
A developer offered to build apartments on the property. He had already gotten permission from the county; the parcel straddled jurisdictions. Staff recommended denial of the request on the grounds that (1) The city has stiffer fire sprinkling codes than the county, and the developer saw no need to spend $750,000 extra for something that would do nothing to protect health, safety, and welfare. (2) They wanted the developer to offer more ADA amenities in apartments and on a footpath. The developer was already going to provide preferential treatment for blind employees, who do not need elevators and huge turning radii for the wheelchairs they don’t use. (3) The developer intended to offer apartments well below thresholds for workforce housing, but staff wanted rent controls. The developer did not want to go there.
During the debate, Councilman Jan Davis expressed pain and disappointment at what his peers were doing to scare developers away from Asheville. Davis is always super-nice, and he remarked this was the first time in over a decade of serving on council that he has mentioned that. Everybody else up there wanted rent controls. One would conclude there is virtue in assuming all factors change at the same rates, and what is forfeited by political decree is always surplus.
Council ended up giving the developer extra time to figure out how he will comply with their wishes.