Asheville – Debra Campbell, the Asheville City Manager, opened the biannual virtual Development Forum on Friday, November 19. Usually, the City Manager holds a public forum twice a year but because of COVID-19 restrictions, it hadn’t convened since the fall of 2019. Campbell began her position as Asheville’s City Manager December 3, 2018, after serving as the Assistant Manager in the City of Charlotte. At this meeting, three presentations were given. Ben Woody of the Development Services Department spoke on new construction and permits. Todd Okolichany, Director of Planning & Urban Design, spoke about sharing outdoor space and hotel development. Paul D’Angelo, director of the Community Development Program, addressed affordable housing. All presented using graphs and charts to further explain their points. They expressed the fact that the City of Asheville must address many challenges in the years to come. They and their staff are working hard to think creatively and avoid potential growth pitfalls that beset other cities.
Ben Woody spoke about permit data and the effect of COVID-19 on permit applications in the city. Due to uncertainty in the second quarter of 2020, residential construction was down almost 25 percent, but then it quickly turned around. He showed graphs to illustrate this. He mentioned that due to COVID, far fewer people come into their office and instead find their needed information digitally on the computer. He also spoke of the development of a new Beta portal, which is being launched by Development Services. This tool will be extremely helpful for permit seekers. It should be a transformative process. In addition, the portal offers a place for anyone to learn about permits. He said, “it is a great way for everyone to stay informed.”
Small Business Growth
Todd Okolichany spoke about ways to leverage opportunities for small businesses to better support their efforts. He spoke of the creation of parklets, which increases outdoor dining and expands the flexibility of sidewalk space. He mentioned the curbside pick-up zones in Downtown and West Asheville, which have been helpful to retailers and restaurants. He then spoke of hotel development within the City. One of the goals is to improve predictability and transparency in the hotel development review process. In addition, his department is making every effort to do a better job of managing the hotel locations. A hotel overlay District map was shown where District A allows all hotels and District B allows only small hotels with 7-35 guest rooms. He showed maps, graphs and diagrams. With this thought process in mind, the new hotels could be limited to areas that are more appropriate for the city and achieve community benefits to boot. He also spoke of enhancing the designs of new hotels.
Paul D’Angelo spoke of the challenge of affordable housing in Asheville. He recognizes it as a “Numbers Game” with lower wages/higher housing costs and pricing, in addition to the law of supply and demand all being at stake. Subsidies are needed. There are currently 373 units of affordable housing works in 2020/21 with Lee Walker Heights, 360 Hilliard, Amaranth, Ironwood Apartments and Habitat for Humanity. Plans are on the drawing board for 500+ potential units with city investments, leveraged alongside philanthropic, nonprofit and private investments. To become more involved, he suggests visiting the City’s Community Development webpage at:
Closing remarks were made by Nikki Reed, the Community and Economic Development Department Director. She sincerely thanked everyone for joining in this forum, There are plans for another City Manager Development Forum, hopefully in person, in May 2022. Reed emphasized that “we are public servants. We are here for you.” She hopes that “you will reach out to us” about any concerns. “We are all engaged in improving our processes to shape and manage the growth of this community and look forward to hearing from you.” Unfortunately time was limited, so only two questions from the attendees were answered.