Asheville – Developer Rusty Pulliam said planners and persons participating in community input meetings often don’t consider the language of commercial contracts when designing corridor plans. In particular, there are clauses in leases allowing tenants to break them if there are substantial changes to access, like modifications to curb cuts or turn lanes. Similar terms are included in contracts between developers and financial institutions, stating such changes are justifiable grounds for lenders to call a note due. Pulliam owns 34 properties along Hendersonville Road. He voiced concern about the three corridor districts Asheville City Council was about to approve.
Motion Mobility Plan
Asheville’s Assistant Director of Transportation, Jessica Morriss, explained that creating the corridors is part of the Asheville in Motion Mobility Plan to help the city map out infrastructure. The first corridor was a 5.4-mile stretch of Hendersonville Road between Rock Hill Road and Airport Road; it currently carries 25,000 to 40,000 vehicle trips a day. Current problems are listed as congestion, inadequate infrastructure for bicycles and pedestrians and infrequent transit service. The corridor was defined, in the context of ‘Complete Streets,’ as “constrained,” meaning there appears to be little room to accommodate multimodal transportation.
To remediate the problems, the study recommended constructing a 10’ multi-use path and an 11’-12’ planted median. This would require intrusion into existing rights of way. The number of curb cuts would be reduced, intersections would be modified to reduce congestion and the number of thru-streets feeding into Hendersonville Road would increase. In addition, buses would run more frequently.
The second corridor was a 1.75-mile stretch of Tunnel Road, between the tunnel and Swannanoa River Road, where 12,000-21,000 vehicle trips are made daily. This area used to be described as a maelstrom, but due to slowing business at the Asheville Mall, traffic volumes are decreasing. Persisting problems identified are much like those on Hendersonville Road. They include congestion, a shortage of connecter side streets, insufficient bicycle and pedestrian routes and constraint. Anticipated future development would worsen any problems.
Recommended improvements included transitioning to more urban land uses. Tunnel Road itself, between Chunns Cove and South Tunnel Road, would undergo a road diet to accommodate more bike lanes and sidewalks. Intersections would be modified to relieve congestion; one modification being a roundabout at Old Chunns Cove Road; another, the reworking the timing of traffic lights. Among new roads to be created, “to make more of a grid,” was one running in front of the small mall to the west of the Asheville Mall and leading to a roundabout behind the IHOP.
The third corridor was 2.1 miles along Biltmore Avenue and McDowell Street between Hilliard Avenue and All Souls Crescent. This stretch services Mission hospital, medical offices and Biltmore Village. This corridor, like the others, was constrained, with congestion and a shortage of connectivity and multimodal transportation options. Making it unique was the necessity of not interfering with the response times of emergency vehicles. The plan for these roads was to “consider them a functioning pair,” with three lanes each. But instead of making the roads one-way, they would each carry two lanes of traffic going one way and one going the other. This would allow for multimodal traffic. Additionally, traffic signals would be added at current bottlenecks.
Morriss did not answer definitively when Councilwoman Gwen Wisler asked if resolutions to the concerns of Buncombe County emergency interests had been integrated into the solutions. She did, however, say that generally, public safety personnel prefer streets with road diets to traditional four-lane streets because traffic flow is better with more room to maneuver. Pulliam, however, still wondered how, with the changes, emergency vehicles would maneuver from 4:00-6:00pm; especially, if there was a wreck.
In addition, he and John Moutos, who also spoke during public comment, had issues with the process. Pulliam said three or four people in the Zoom meetings had never visited nor traveled down Hendersonville Road. For people used to sitting in drivetime traffic, the expressed need to slow traffic down made no sense. Moutos noticed a conspicuous absence of property owners who would be directly impacted at the Zoom meeting he attended. He said a lot of neighbors were unaware the corridors were even being studied.
In Other Matters –
Council approved changes to its homestays ordinance, deciding to disallow the use of detached accessory dwelling units as homestays, stating only that there were not many of this type of homestay, anyway. Secondly, after requiring Airbnb hosts to remove kitchens in their homestays, council now decided they may put them back in. Staff recommended allowing this because owners want flexibility in how they use their space, and if they take out the kitchens, they won’t be able to rent the units as housing stock.
Thirdly, the city will require property owners to be co-applicants on homestay permits. That way, investors would not be able to run more than one homestay in the city. The amendment would have applied only to owners with more than a 30% interest in the property until Wisler mentioned a new kind of business selling 12.5% interests in housing. So, the adopted amendment cut the ownership cap down to five percent.
Council also updated its hotel standards to require extended-stay hotels to be reviewed as large hotels; require off-street, on-premises parking for hotels in the central business district; cut some slack in the review process for some hotels under 100,000 square feet; and ease regulations on standards for hotel storefronts.