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ountain Housing's plan for Merrimon development out of scale with neighborhood

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3/3/2010 - Mountain Housing's plan for Merrimon development out of scale with neighborhood
by Patricia Poteat and David Moltke-Hansen

With this letter, we join more than 250 residents of the Gracelyn subdivision and surrounding neighborhoods in north Asheville to protest the proposed rezoning of the Naval Reserve site behind the Grace Post Office on Merrimon Avenue. This rezoning would be necessary in order for Mountain Housing Opportunities to build the 60-unit, high-density affordable-housing complex it has proposed for the site.

The concerns of this diverse group are not about MHO, which does important work and has a good reputation. Moreover, the great majority of the petitioners support affordable housing, not just in principle but for the neighborhood. Were the 32 units allowed under current zoning to go on the site, most of the petitioners would welcome the development.

Our and our neighbors' principle concerns about the proposed rezoning are two fold: First, the density that would result if the rezoning request were granted and the project were built as proposed. State zoning laws have as one of their priorities protecting the scale and character of residential neighborhoods. The present, judiciously determined zoning is appropriate, given that goal. The proposed rezoning would not be.

At 60 units on just over two acres, the density of the complex would be more than twice that of the rest of the surrounding residential area. In addition, the scale of the proposed buildings is much bigger than is characteristic of the adjacent neighborhoods, made up almost entirely of one- and two-story homes and small apartment buildings. For example, one façade of one building, including a retaining wall, would rise to a height of more than 80 feet! This is much taller than anything in the area except a church steeple.

Second [problem]: the implications of this density for the tenants themselves, especially in regard to increased vehicular traffic, lack of adequate sidewalks and parking, and the safety hazards these would present. The number of vehicles in the immediate vicinity of the site would increase dramatically. On-street, as well as on-site, parking would be required to accommodate residents and visitors.

The developer's stated hope that most residents would use public transport, thereby mitigating traffic and parking issues, is not realistic given the infrequency of bus service up and down Merrimon (once per hour). For tenants who would nevertheless use public transport, access would be hazardous given the lack of sidewalks and the need to cross Merrimon to catch a bus headed south toward downtown. A highly congested and accident-prone stretch of Merrimon would become even more so to the detriment of all but, most especially, to tenants of the proposed development.

MHO should build affordable housing at the Naval Reserve site. It should do so, however, on a scale and at a density appropriate to the neighborhood, as allowed by current zoning. It should also do so in a way more conducive to the safety and well-being of the residents served. It is true that, with 32 units instead of the proposed 60, fewer tenants would be served. One site, however, should not carry a disproportionate burden vis a vis the need for affordable housing in Asheville and, thereby, compromise both those living in the complex and those in the surrounding neighborhood.

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