by David Forbes December 31, 2015

Ashevillians speak out on what what they’re willing to take at Council’s last meeting of the year, and a time of conflict draws closer

Above: Asheville City Council member Julie Mayfield. File photo by Max Cooper.

When the new Asheville City Council first met on Dec. 1, it was a combination of ceremony (including, somewhat bizarrely, a sing-along) and nuts-and-bolts procedure (the selection of Gwen Wisler as the new vice mayor).

A week later, at the final meeting of the year, things began with a display of a very different sort. Protesters organized by the Be Loved House advocacy group were on the steps of City Hall, reminding Council leaders of the depths – sometimes fatal — of the housing shortage. Specifically, as organizer Amy Cantrell noted, half the homeless people that had died in the past year had done so with a housing voucher in their hand, but unable to find shelter because of a city where affordable units were increasingly nonexistent.

Council member Gordon Smith joined the demonstrators, shortly followed by Wisler and Council member Julie Mayfield. Cantrell noted the purpose of the demonstration was to raise awareness and “support our city leaders” in taking an aggressive approach in pursuing “strong and creative solutions.”

“It speaks to the depth of the crisis that we’re in — and the people of the city of Asheville need to know that this is life or death,” Smith said. “When we are talking about affordable housing policy in the city of Asheville were literally talking about whether people are going to live or die.”

Smith claimed that while the city has done a better job than other municipalities in the state in creating affordable housing, the lack of units and the influx of people were worsening the crisis nonetheless.

“This is the work on Christmas: not going off and buying gifts, it’s housing,” Cantrell said. Noting that people working the labor pools, building the many hotels springing up around the city, had been waiting for years in housing.

“It needs to be hoteliers, it’s the hoteliers, it’s the citizens,” Wisler said. “It’s not going to be solved 100 percent by government, we don’t have the capability, we don’t have the funds.”

Cantrell also encouraged landlords to work to house the homeless and builders to build affordable housing.

“Make the choice not to do short-term rentals,” Wisler added.

“That’s right, make a choice to rent to our people for long term,” Cantrell replied.

Some of the demonstrators shared stories of sleeping under bridges and facing harassment or theft.

“Let us continue to do this work, because it’s important,” Cantrell concluded.

At the meeting that followed inside Council’s wood-paneled chamber in City Hall, it was all business, as Council faced a busy agenda, including changing limits on downtown development, the massive Interstate 26 project and locals bringing forward hot-button issues like short-term rentals and the fate of the property across from the Basilica of St. Lawrence.

All of these concerned what limits — in land taken, communities disrupted, attitudes towards state government, allowed or shunned development — the community is willing to abide. The way the conflicts played out proved revealing on a number of fronts, particularly about what has, and hasn’t, changed since the November election. More importantly, it set the pattern for some key conflicts in the year to come.

Laws and limits

City leaders first heard a presentation on a major matter impacted by the election: downtown development. Back in 2009, after years of discussion, the Downtown Master Plan was finalized, setting goals for everything from new development rules to services and changes to the way the city governed Asheville’s core.

A number of the proposed steps were controversial even then. To its proponents, the master plan laid down reasonable standards and a number of necessary reforms, all purportedly arrived at after careful, professional deliberation.

But to its critics — and there was never a citywide consensus on the plan’s wisdom — it gave a lot of power to bureaucrats, unelected boards and the wealthy.

Some of the more controversial proposals, like a Business Improvement District funded by its own tax, went down in defeat. But others became law for the city, particularly new guidelines on what could and couldn’t be built downtown, adopted in 2010.

As a way to “streamline” the process and avoid costly development battles, more power was given to the city’s Planning and Zoning commission to approve all but the largest projects downtown, without them going before the city’s elected officials. This was paired with new guidelines on what could and couldn’t be built downtown, some of them (height limits) stricter than before as well as the requirement that a project go before the Downtown Commission for recommendations (though no requirement that a developer incorporate those into their plans).

“There was an unpredictable development review process,” Planning Director Todd Okolichany said. “The standards could be a bit subjective and the community felt those hearings were not very productive mechanisms for review.”

But while intended to increase the housing supply and make the process, the limits also meant that many hotel projects never went before Council as they might have previously, coming in just under the size limit — 175,000 sq ft. or over 145 ft. tall — the plan established as the threshold for Council review.

Okolichany, in presenting the history of the plan to Council, noted that while some of the guidelines were crafted during the previous boom of the early to mid-2000s, it was passed during a very different time: the teeth of the recession, when there were comparatively few projects downtown and Asheville’s economic future seemed uncertain. Since then, things have boomed.

While he presented an overall positive portrayal of the master plan’s changes, asserting it provided “predictability and clarity” while lowering building heights and making housing easier to build. But he also noted that hotel development had outstripped residential development, with 794 hotel rooms since the plan’s passage, as compared to 700 residential units.

Also, of 20 major projects proposed for downtown since the plan’s standards were adopted, only four went before Council, and most of those were government buildings. On the rest Council never got a vote. The concern about the breakneck pace of development — especially hotels and the growing number of chain stores — helped defeat former Vice Mayor Marc Hunt and elect Keith Young and Brian Haynes, who were more critical of the city’s approach to development.

Not coincidentally, at the first meeting after the election, Smith noted that the master plan had actually called for a review — four years later — of how the new guidelines were going, and that now — five years on — it might be time to do such.

Following a rout at the polls of candidates backed by most of the current Council (with the notable exception of Mayfield), the mood suddenly seemed more amenable to tightening the reins, specifically on hotels.

Council’s discussion revolved around the specific way to do that, whether by tightening the threshold so more projects came to Council for a decision or designating hotels as projects that would receive extra scrutiny.

“My view is that if the Aloft and the City Centre are compliant, then we need to tighten our rules,” Council member Cecil Bothwell, who’s been an outspoken critic of some downtown development, said.

Whatever Council’s decision, Okolichany cautioned that staff should carefully review any changes to the downtown development rules.

Mayfield brought up designating all of downtown as a local historic district, putting in place much stricter guidelines and what could and couldn’t be built.

“All of those options will need to be vetted as we move through this process,” Mayor Esther Manheimer said.

“We do have a variation of different architectural styles,” Okolichany replied, making a historic district in all of downtown challenging.

Manheimer initially encouraged a cautious approach, saying it wasn’t clear which changes might actually address the problem. But she wanted to look at bringing more developments before Council and making the Downtown Commission’s guidelines mandatory.

“This is a very different city than when I moved here in 1988, it’s changing very quickly,” she said. “What I’m hearing from the community is that there’s concern about that and how we get a handle on it. Frankly, some of these projects that you put up there, I didn’t know about until you put them up there. That’s because this process doesn’t involve us: most things don’t even come to us. If we’re going to represent a community that has concerns about this kind of growth, the only way I know how to do that is bring it under our roof.”

“The values of the community can shift over time, that’s part of why we’re having this conversation tonight,” Smith said, and plans made in the depths of the recession might not necessarily reflect the concerns of Asheville today. “A lot of the things that have gone on I think people are supportive of: having more housing come downtown and some of these other uses. But I think the hotel and tourism industry has been largely exploitative and has not responded to the needs of the citizens.”

The hoteliers’ behavior, Smith continued, “is one reason you’ve seen the response that you have to the number of hoteliers that are coming in. Among the values of the people of Asheville are providing a living wage, sourcing things locally and recognizing that we’re in the middle of an affordable housing crisis.”

As if that wasn’t enough, Smith felt that by going around city leaders to secure state legislation to ensure that an increase in the hotel tax went to the Tourism Development Authority instead of into public coffers “the citizens of this city felt that hotel industry did not respond to what were very reasonable calls for cooperation.”

“We want an inclusive place that’s not just a playground for tourists and the wealthy,” Smith concluded, and to that end he was cautious on how restrictive the design guidelines were. But he wanted hotels in downtown to have to come before Council for specific approval and was prepared to shift the threshold down so the city didn’t “leave the barn door open” while it deliberated on new rules. He also wanted more incentives for small business owners and landlords who agreed to only raise rents slowly.

“I would love to see people come do great things in downtown,” Bothwell said. “But without guidelines we end up with developers who do the cheapest possible thing: styrofoam and shoot-on-cement to create a building they can tear down in 15 years. We don’t want to homogenize Asheville, but we can have really great things.”

“I would really like to see what’s the way forward that other cities have use to push for quality,” he continued, wanting to avoid “looking like every other city, U.S.A. We have to get our hands around that because we are a tourist destination, like it or not. One of the things people love about Asheville is the feeling of our town, a small town in the mountains. If it starts to look like Charlotte in the mountains they’ll find somewhere else to be and the real gem that we have inherited will be no more.”

“The bottom line is that Council needs to look at bringing review of some kind under our jurisdiction,” Manheimer said, though she was open to the exact method.

But Wisler noted that with the city government set to look over its development rules already, she was concerned that the second look at downtown’s rules could end up going too far afield.

“We are going to have this big plan come out, so I’d prefer if Council gave us two or three things to hone in on we could make relatively rapid decisions on,” she said.

Haynes and Bothwell noted that hotels remain a major issue in the public eye.

Council then agreed to look at lowering the threshold for Council review of downtown development, stricter design guidelines, stricter review on hotels, with specific proposals to come back later in the year.

Manheimer added that Council’s Jan. 29-30 retreat would provide a good opportunity to discuss policy from the larger level, but Smith replied that “there is an urgency. This is happening right now. I’m usually a huge fan of a patient process, but right now with the pace of development we’re seeing downtown, our small, local businesses are in trouble.”

A road runs through it

Then it was on to a topic looming over Asheville: the massive proposed expansion of Interstate 26. The idea’s been batted around for about three decades, run through multiple plans, committees, public meetings and differing directives from the state.

In that time, needless to say, Asheville’s changed drastically. The state Department of Transportation’s current plans for expansion would demolish 192 to 227 homes and businesses (along with a school, two parks and rec areas and some churches), particularly hitting the Burton Street and Emma communities. They claim it’s necessary to improve safety and traffic, but critics assert that their plans are based on outdated ideas and will do more damage than good.

If the opinions of the large crowd that showed up at DoT’s Nov. 16 hearing in Asheville were any indication, those critics include most of the city. All but a handful of speakers there asserted that the lasting damage to the city wouldn’t be worth the supposed benefits gained, and that DoT had largely ignored the public’s views in crafting its plans.

The state agency continued to take comment after that hearing, and Council intended to send them an official statement on their concerns as well. While most of Council’s rhetoric wasn’t as harsh as some of the critics, it shared a number of their concerns. Transportation Director Ken Putnam noted that staff were urging DoT to include the city in the project’s final design, more design to help pedestrians and cyclists and less impact on the surrounding community.

The history of the I-26 projects and its potential impacts on the community are incredibly important but a sometimes complicated topic. For more, see our primer on why the I-26 change is such a big deal and why much of the local public is so riled up about it.

Mayfield, who’s dealt with various proposals for I-26 changes over the years in her capacity as director of the environmental non-profit MountainTrue, presented the resolution Council was considering. While Mayfield has expressed opposition and misgivings about many DoT plans over the years, she also served on an ad-hoc committee that helped pushed the project forward last year — though with calls for reduced impact and more public input — and thought the project shouldn’t be outright opposed, but instead extensively modified.

“This is probably going to be the largest infrastructure project we are ever going to see in Western North Carolina,” Mayfield said. “How this project unfolds and is built will really dictate the character and feel of our city literally for decades going forward and now is the time to get it right,” impacting West Asheville, the River District, Montford, Emma and more.

So the question, Mayfield continued, was who the project would benefit: people in Asheville or those passing through.

“Everyone I talk to is interested in having the project benefit the people who live here and the people who come visit us rather than the people coming from South Carolina to Tennessee,” she said. “This is really the fundamental division between the DoT and the city and the people who live here. It underlines why we continue to have these discussions about this project.”

Mayfield disagreed with both the calls to “get it done,” contending that due to its impact the right design was of key importance, but also had issues with outright opposition.

“There is a very strong sentiment among some folks that this project just needs to go away: it’s terrible for the city and it just needs to go away,” she said. “While that’s a very understandable sentiment, I think the city should resist that temptation” due to “very real safety issues” and the city’s inability to outright stop the project. She added that opposition would “forfeit an opportunity” to make the city’s voice heard and convince DoT to take a better course.

The resolution called for minimal impact on surrounding neighborhoods, as few lanes as possible, a working group including city representatives crafting the design and endorsed alternatives (F1 and 4/4B) that they felt would have the least impact.

“Those alternatives still need a lot of work and refinement, but they are the best starting point for what they have,” Mayfield said. Despite the proposals for major impacts on Asheville in the I-26 expansion, she was hopeful.

“I think our relationship with DoT has evolved and changed over the last few years.” She later added that the working group should be a small group, focused on the technical nature of the project rather than on representing all the neighborhoods affected, though it should work to “advance their interests.”

Public comment largely joined with the city’s call for changes, though with a few differences.

John Gordon, a Montford resident, claimed the city should push DoT to go back to the drawing board and come up with a design that skirted Asheville entirely (he had a rough sketch with him at the meeting).

“I have concerns that neither City Council or NCDOT has thought far enough outside the box,” he said. “Traditionally interstate highways don’t intersect cities, this one is designed to.”

Mayfield replied that when the I-26 expansion idea was first proposed in the ’80s, that had been one of the proposals, but “our forefathers and city business leaders demanded that it come through the city. That is how we’ve ended up where we are. There are many people, including that late and wonderful Sen. Martin Nesbitt, who thought that was the wrong decision untl the day he died, but it is sort of where we are.”

“In light of the current consternation, is it worth revisiting?” Gordon replied.

“While we might all be able to agree, I don’t know what the odds are that DoT is going to consider something like that,” Manheimer said.

“We need to get you hired at DoT,” Bothwell quipped.

West Asheville resident Ana Kolesythe later declared she was “stunned” by the news city leaders in the ’80s and ’90s had not supported a interchange outside the city, noting that she didn’t trust the DoT given their record of bringing back plans deeply at odds with Ashevillians’ wishes.

“There has been a paradigm shift,” she said. “For that reason I would hope we could make the best effort to delay this project and bring back the effort to make that exchange happen outside our city.”

Ted Figura, representing the East-West Asheville Association, noted that the group had conducted a survey indicating overwhelming opposition to expanding the number of lanes going through the area.

“My view and the view of many is that the model [used by DoT] is fundamentally flawed,” Figura asserted. “There is broad support for fixing the problems, there is incredibly broad support for not doing it in an impactful way. We highly applaud City Council for drafting this resolution and city staff for their comments.”

Joe Minicozzi, an urban planner with extensive experience dealing with various I-26 alternatives, criticized the accuracy of the DoT’s analysis. For example, he pointed out that their economic data was almost a decade old and underrated the impact I-26 would have on the surrounding areas, “that was a little while ago and things have changed.”

“In Burton Street a church gets hit, there are ways to not hit that church, there are ways not to impact that property” and DoT had failed in their professional obligation to look into other alternatives, and rated the extensive impacts on Burton Street as just moderate. “I feel that’s unfair.”

Steve Rasmussen, speaking on behalf the I-26 ConnectUs group, made up of members of several communities and groups impacted by the interstate proposal, said they generally supported Council’s resolution, but couldn’t endorse the 4 and 4b alternatives due to major issues with both and tagged DoT’s proposal as “over-sized and ill-conceived.”

“We are encouraged by the city’s call on DoT to sit down with city representatives and come up with a better plan,” he said. “Of the current alternatives presented by DoT, I-26 ConnectUs endorses none of them because none yet represents what we want to see for Asheville.”

“It’s important that we recognize that Asheville is a city and NCDOT, as an institution, is not an expert in urban design,” he continued. “Rural and suburban highway solutions will not work for a dense urban environment.”

Planner Don Kostelec (who wrote an analysis of the DoT’s I-26 proposals for the Blade), asserted that the DoT overrated the impact of traffic congestion and was using outdated models. As a starting point, he felt 4 and 4b were useful to endorse.

“Two interstates that run together in Chicago have the same width that DoT is proposing for Asheville,” he noted. “That is the scale we are talking about.”

“I know we don’t like traffic congestion and I know we think it’s bad,” but he emphasized that the latest studies showed that it didn’t cause economies to stagnate.

The Asheville Design Center and Asheville on Bikes also supported the city’s resolution, with the former offering to help provide expertise in redesigning the interstate proposal.

Bothwell asserted that Asheville, in the grand scheme of things, didn’t have a huge congestion problem, and that if the city introduced congestion pricing, it might find that the current four lanes were enough.

Council supported the resolution unanimously, with some minor changes (adopting a suggestion by Kostelec to refer to “traffic challenges” instead of “traffic problems”).

Smith noted that if DoT’s proposal ended up putting eight lanes through West Asheville, harming Burton Street and increasing the impact of racist government policies of years past there or in Emma, he wouldn’t support it. He also asked that if DoT planned to make the rest of the expansion eight lanes, what the chances were that they wouldn’t just continue to push it through West Asheville.

“That’s a good question,” Mayfield replied.

Back for more

The city’s open public comment period saw an array of citizens reminding Council that the issues hotly debated during the election weren’t going anywhere.

Two short-term rental operators asserted the city should allow owners to rent out accessory dwelling to tourists on Airbnb and similar sites, the topic of a major ongoing political battle. While Council passed rules intended to allow Ashevillians to rent out rooms in their own home to such visitors, under certain circumstances, doing so for accessory apartments remains banned in most areas of the city, part of an overall ban Council also strengthened this summer. Manheimer has already indicated that her views on the matter have changed and she’s willing to consider allowing accessory units as short-term rentals.

“We’re very concerned given the length of the process and the fact that right now it’s not possible to rent them out without a penalty,” John Farquar said.

“I think the first actions the city took were right, they struck a nice balance,” Jackson Tiernay, part of a group of accessory dwelling owners pushing for revised rules and the ability to rent them out to tourists and travelers. “Now that a new Council in place we’d like to urge them to allow that ADU’s could be an option.”

Opponents of expanding short-term rentals have expressed concern that the practice effectively creates mini-hotels in neighborhoods and worsens the already-dire housing crisis by turning apartments and houses that could be rented out to locals over to tourists.

Cantrell repeated the concerns she and housing advocates expressed in the demonstration preceding the Council meeting, calling on the elected officials to move forward with more funding for the affordable housing trust fund, a land bank and “inclusionary zoning” that would require new developments to include a percentage of affordable housing.

Byron Greiner, a member of the Downtown Commission and a leader of the Downtown Association, asked Council to put “teeth” in the commission’s power to change development projects.

Some of the issues broached came from the Council dais as well. Young informed his colleagues that they should familiarize themselves with the Ban the Box initiative, as he intended to move a proposal forward starting in January.

The plot of land

Most contentiously (at least at this meeting) was the push for Council to designate a plot of city-owned land in front of the Basilica as a public space for a park or green space of some variety. An issue of no small amount of debate during the election (a majority of Council was then inclined to sell the property under certain circumstances). In the wake of changes on Council advocates were there to push for it. The site has been the topic of controversy for over a decade, and previous proposals for a parking deck and hotel there both floundered.

Valerie Hoh, speaking for supporters of a green space (or “St. Lawrence Green” as they’ve dubbed it) asserted that it ties into larger issues about downtown and public space in the era of more hotels and chain stores, and that thousands had signed petitions supporting such a space.

“In the ’80s City Council planned to raze 85 buildings in downtown to build a mall, the reason then is the reason now: the need for tax dollars,” but a dedicated group of citizens stopped them and “somehow Asheville survived.”

“In 10 or 20 years time, as even more development goes up around the city of Asheville, will City Council be thanked for creating a green space or will they be thanked for another development? The answer is obvious,” she claimed. “Please don’t ignore the truly passionate feelings of your friends, neighbors and downtown businesses to keep green that one valuable piece of city property.”

Montford resident John Morris presented the binders full of petition signatures — 4,389 in total — a majority gathered in-person and noting that a similar effort in 2005 had also drawn major support.

Morris noted that in his experience going door-to-door in Kenilworth on a Sunday evening, he was amazed by the positive responses.

“I prepared myself for some less-than-friendly reactions,” Morris said, but found the opposite. “The people I met were, almost without exception, not merely supportive but enthusiastically supportive and eager to talk about the issues that were involved. In a nutshell their theme was dissatisfaction with the scope and quality of downtown development for which the proposed greenspace was seen as a welcome antidote.”

Not everyone agreed. Lane Perry, also speaking in public comment, asserted that affordable housing would be a better use for the land than a green space.

“As someone who’s looking for a house right now, it’s hard to find affordable housing,” Perry said. “A greenspace is definitely a better option than a parking lot or something terrible, but it would be nice to see some residential spaces going up downtown. That’s what downtown is for: concentrated spaces where people can gather, easily commute and get where they need to without having to have cars and come from outside areas.”

Council then debated what exactly to do with the proposal, making it clear that the matter is far from resolved, as Manheimer wanted Council to provide some direction to staff on what they might do with the property.

“We need a process to thoroughly vet what’s happened,” she said.

Bothwell, a prominent supporter of the St. Lawrence Green effort, noted that some improvements to the nearby roads were necessary and that afterward the city had a clearer idea of what could be done to turn it into a useful public space.

“There’s ways to make that space better, and the roads are going to define what we’re going to do from that point forward,” he told his colleagues, noting that the Asheville Design Center had several interesting ideas that he felt Council should seriously consider. “They’ve already got a list of demonstration ideas that they could install relatively cheaply — and we’ve got donors willing to pay for this — let people see what could happen there” including raised beds or a farmer’s market.

“I would really love to see this go forward with a lot of citizen input and a lot of ideas advanced” instead of the city centrally coming up with more expensive plan.

Manheimer mentioned starting at Council’s Planning and Economic Development committee while inviting representatives of the Design Center and the Basilica to discuss the matter further.

“Just so I’m clear: the goal is public space, right?” Wisler, who chairs that committee, asked. “We’re not opening it back up to every option, the idea is that the end goal is public space.”

“My understanding is that the Design Center will not work on it unless there are a range of options that they are allowed to present, including some level of development and public space,” Mayfield replied.

Smith asserted the city shouldn’t approach an organization to do planning on the matter without formally putting out a request for proposals.

“Well, PED can explore this, my understanding from conversations with the Design Center is that they have offered, with a fraction of what we’d pay a larger design firm to do this is come up with a range of options that can get vetted by the public,” Mayfield said. “They would not be just pure open space or public space, they would include other options.”

“I had a rather different conversation with them,” Bothwell replied. “But regardless of that, what I’m looking for is people to come forward with ideas. It doesn’t have to be an RFP, it can be individuals who want to come forward. The public art board is talking about doing temporary public art installations. That could be the place to do it.”

But Manheimer asked Bothwell exactly how he envisioned the public presenting those ideas.

Wisler noted that the committee she chairs could set such a process or event up, but needed to know whether Council wanted to go in the direction of a public space.

“I had the impression that development on the property that was not public space was not on the table anymore, am I right?” she asked.

“That’s where I’m at,” Young said. “Public space, zero development and then a community conversation to elevate what happens.”

“Didn’t you say you were for a public space if we could find private donors?” Bothwell asked Mayfield.

“And we don’t have that yet,” she answered.

“We need to have this process to get to the donation part,” Bothwell said.

“What I always said I was interested in was exploring a combination of options including everything from a combination of building and open space to pure green space,” Mayfield replied. “I don’t think that’s new, I don’t think that’s a different place and that included with the design options are the costs and benefits of each one.”

“If we’re making a major policy decision about this we need to get it on an agenda, we need to have the public here, I don’t think this is the time or place for this conversation,” Smith, who’s supported selling and developing the site in some manner, said. “I appreciate that we’re just trying to get to a process about how to get to a decision, and perhaps that should start in the committee.”

“Well, this is helpful to understand that there’s a range of ideas, maybe, of how to approach this,” Manheimer said, and Smith added he wanted to have the public involved in a larger discussion. Wisler said she was happy to proceed and more conflict was, for the moment, put off to another day.

The fights to come

The meeting in general and the closing debates in particular reinforce that the coming year will be one of political conflict. In January Council’s set to vote on plans to turn the old BB&T building into a hotel, as well as plans to redevelop the Lee Walker Heights housing project, something that’s attracted no shortage of controversy in its own right, especially given concerns about larger changes in public housing.

A move towards changing the rules on allowing accessory apartments to be used as short-term rentals will likely re-open what’s already proven a particularly harsh political fight that affects nearly every area of the city. This is particularly true because while the city’s previous changes affected rooms in Ashevillian’s own homes, many more long-term renters live in accessory units. Any changes to the rules have the potential to impact them — as well as property owners and neighborhoods — considerably.

The housing crisis is, as the demonstration at the beginning of the meeting indicated, also not going anywhere. While successive Councils have declared their dedication to solving the problem, the situation has continued to drastically worsen and the coming year will likely see a push — both on the Council dais and off — for more extensive measures to try and halt the collapse of affordable housing throughout the city.

In addition, despite all the talk about process, it was clear during the conversation about the plot of land near the Basilica that tensions remain and Council is far from a consensus on if the property will be public space or if the city will again try to find a buyer.

As if all that wasn’t enough, Council’s retreat is coming up at the end of January. Last time saw them set the ball rolling on what could be a major overhaul of the city’s development rules — affecting every part of Asheville — and given the election changes, we’re likely to see some key discussions and disagreements there too. Our city continues to weather interesting times.

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