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Merrimon Update

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7/23/2007 - Merrimon Update
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ASHEVILLE - Two 13-story buildings would rise on the western side of busy Merrimon Avenue under plans for a mixed-use development now being put together for the former Deal MotorCars property.

Those buildings would be among several structures containing about 385 housing units, a 150-room hotel and retail and office space.

The project would be a dramatic increase in density for the 8.5-acre site, one that members of the team putting the proposal together said is called for by the city's long-range development plan. Developers would add turning lanes and a signal to offset traffic impacts.

Marty Kocot, a local planner who is helping put the project together, called it a "vertical neighborhood" that would contain a number of different uses that would allow residents to walk to shop or to work, either in the neighborhood itself or downtown.

Local investors bought the Deal property for $7.2 million in mid-2005 in anticipation of the auto dealership's move this year to Brevard Road. Stephen Arnsdorff, a real estate investor based in Chattanooga, Tenn., has joined original buyers Chris Peterson, a former city councilman; accountant Foster Shriner; and Asheville Waste Paper owners Cam and Annette Pace. They have added some small parcels to the Deal property.

Developers have been discussing plans for the property with neighbors for several weeks and say they may make some changes in response to neighborhood concerns before a city committee reviews the project next month. That would be the first public step in a process that would eventually require City Council approval.

The project would take four to five years to build, Arnsdorff said, and is divided into two phases.

Neighbors respond

Reactions Monday among a few people affected were mixed.

Hendersonville resident Lindsay Raiford, who owns a house near the site, said the proposal "sounds like a very reasonable project." She likes a layout that shows commercial uses closest to Merrimon while the western side of the property would contain two- and three-story town houses and a small park.

Neighborhood resident Heather Rayburn called the plan "disgusting."

"It lacks human scale. It lacks integration with the neighborhood. It doesn't do anything for the community that's already there," she said.

Neighborhood resident Dale James was somewhere in the middle. He said it is "inevitable" that the property would be developed. He likes much of what he has seen but is concerned about the height of buildings and traffic.

With the height and density proposed, "They're bringing downtown to Merrimon Avenue," he said.

In the plan

Kocot and Arnsdorff said the project is just the kind of development envisioned for the property by the city's 2025 plan - more dense development in mixed-use projects.

The mixed-use character of the proposal reduces the number of vehicle trips the project will generate and turn lanes, the signal and other improvements will offset the impact of additional cars, Arnsdorff said.

"Merrimon Avenue is what it is. We're not making it any worse than what it is," he said.

Developers would extend Broad Street a block west through the property and plan a pedestrian-oriented plaza in its interior and other amenities for those on foot. Much of the parking for the site would be underground.

The taller buildings have been placed so there is some distance between them and single-family homes in the neighborhood, Arnsdorff said.

The range of height of the buildings is something like someone standing near the Civic Center and looking at the Basilica of St. Lawrence, Battery Park Apartments and the Grove Arcade might see, said project landscape architect Stephanie Pankiewicz.

Much of the property is zoned highway business, which is designed to accommodate big-box retail stores and strip shopping centers. Developers are asking for a rezoning to the city's urban village district

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