Today’s round of questions, my smart-aleck replies and the real answers:
Question: I’ve heard that hoteliers building a new hotel property in Asheville have to make a significant contribution to the city’s reparations fund as part of the process. Is this correct? If so, how much is it? Also, how are reparations being funded?
My answer: You’ll have to define “have to” here, because I’m sure no one’s hand is being forced here. Dang…almost kept a straight face while writing that.
Real answer: City of Asheville spokesperson Kim Miller did the research on this one.
“No hotel is required to contribute to reparations,” Miller said via email. “The City of Asheville does not require developers, businesses, or property owners of any kind to contribute to reparations. Developers can, however, take advantage of optional contributions to either affordable housing or reparations as part of their application process.”
I have called some hoteliers on this and another issue, but I didn’t hear back. If I get some intriguing input from them, I’ll follow up.
All of this does get complicated, of course, and the city does acknowledge that some new hotels will have what’s called a “public benefits requirement.” This is based on the size of the hotel, its location, and if it’s in the Hotel Overlay District.
Those are areas where the city wants to direct future hotel development — essentially away from residential neighborhoods “to help preserve neighborhood livability and quality of life,” as a previous city press document stated.
But back to Miller.
“For hotels that comply with the Hotel Overlay District standards and have 115 rooms or less, the developer has the option of satisfying the Public Benefits requirements and getting approval from the Design Review Committee to keep their project at a Level II and not have to go through a (City) Council review process,” Miller said. “All hotels over 115 rooms or 100 feet tall are categorized as a Level III Conditional Zoning.”
Got all that? Basically, if you keep the project small-ish, pay some dough into the “Public Benefits” fund, your project stays at a level where it doesn’t have to get City Council approval. It’s all in the Unified Development Ordinance, with overlay stuff here and information on the “public benefits” table here.
The public benefits table is not easy to decipher, as all kinds of factors go into it, ranging from number of rooms to eco-friendly building, and it’s all based on a points system.
“The language in the Public Benefits Table in the UDO makes it clear that to qualify, 50 percent of the points must come from either contributing to the Reparations Fund or to Affordable Housing (Housing Trust Fund),” Miller said. “The size of the contribution is determined by the size of the hotel. More points are awarded for higher per-room contributions, ranging from $3,000-$6,000 per hotel guest room.”
Throwing a nice round number of 100 hotel rooms, that could run $300,000 to $600,000.
So, developers are going to pay a sizable chunk of dough to one fund or the other, but it does not have to be strictly for reparations.
Now, regarding how reparations are funded…
“The Community Reparations Commission is currently funded by both the City of Asheville and Buncombe County governments,” Miller said. “Both dedicated funds in their 2022-23 budgets to support the Community Reparations Commission and its management.”
Asheville City Council also approved reparations as a budget item in its 2024 fiscal year budget, approved this summer. Council voted in June 2022 to make funding reparations a part of future City budgets, Miller noted.
Question: Can you find why the city is removing all the promotional posters from telephone poles and other areas in and around downtown? They’re really important to local artists and venues. These are the kind of posters and notices people put up on telephone poles and message boards.
My answer: I bet if you made a sizable, per-poster donation to the city’s affordable housing or reparations funds, you could put them up wherever you want.
Real answer: The main reason the city is taking them down is because, well, they often do violate a city ordinance.
City of Asheville spokesperson Kim Miller said ordinance 11-1 “addresses posting on public or semi-public property.
“The staff’s responsibility is to support and enforce the ordinances voted on and approved by the City Council,” Miller said.
That ordinance states, “It shall be unlawful for any person to attach, place, post, paint, write, stamp, paste or in any manner affix or cause to be affixed any sign, advertisement, circular, bill or other matter upon any structure of a public or semipublic nature, including but not limited to lampposts, telegraph or telephone poles, electric light poles or supports, trees, fire hydrants, bridges or supports thereunder, pavements, sidewalks, buildings or any other structures or property belonging to the city.”
That’s pretty comprehensive, and violation of the rule is technically a misdemeanor. It’s also unlawful to post on private property without the consent of the owner.
Even in today’s high-tech world of social media and online exposure, these postings are important to business, according to Robb McAdams, digital marketing manager for the Orange Peel, a downtown entertainment venue on Biltmore Avenue. McAdams said it’s developed partnerships with local businesses, “and that’s how we get our posters out in an approved way.”
“You can’t ignore that people love a physical presence,” McAdams said. “I think especially post-COVID, people want a tangible experience, a little callback to the good old days.”
He’s also the Orange Peel’s “street team manager,” and McAdams said they’ve always known not to put posters on public properties or in locations like the bus station’s plexiglas windows. They also try to be diligent about cleaning up old posters or leaving behind tape residue, which can be messy.
McAdams said when he got here in 2008, the city had six or seven posting places downtown, including three triangular metal posting boards. Now there’s just one left, in front of Barley’s Taproom on Biltmore.
“The thing I really want to add to the mix here is the city has chosen as they’ve re-outfitted light poles and different parts of their infrastructure downtown, they’ve slowly eliminated these and never really asked for public comment,” McAdams said.
Miller said the city appreciates and values the local artists in the community.
“Earlier this year, the city featured many local artists during our Art in the Heart project, designed to inspire the community to envision the future of Pack Square Plaza through art,” Miller said.
Miller also said she checked with three city staffers on the triangular metal boards, but none had specifics on why some of them have been removed. It may take a while to dig that up, she said.
I’ll update you when I hear back.
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