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Stay on the pulse of the decisions being made at meetings for Asheville City Council and Buncombe County Commission, with reports from BPR’s Laura Hackett.

Last night at Council: Parking and water rates increase, council debates a Business Improvement District

The College Street parking garage in downtown Asheville.
Buncombe County
The College Street parking garage in downtown Asheville.

Beginning in July, parking in downtown Asheville will become more expensive. Throughout the city, business owners will see a sizable increase in their monthly water bills, and residents will also see a modest uptick in water services. The hikes were part of a list of fee adjustments proposed by the city and approved by Asheville City Council at last night’s meeting.

The city’s budget manager Taylor Floyd said the proposed changes would help address a dearth of maintenance and operational needs, including an expected $11.3 million in parking garage repairs and $240 million in deferred maintenance for water infrastructure.

The parking fees are projected to raise an additional $1.54 million in revenue for the city, a sum that won’t cover the repairs but should cover the projected $1 million cost of ongoing parking garage maintenance, Floyd said.

Councilwoman Kim Roney said she supported the parking fee increases as a way to “capture more tourism dollars.”

“For me our aging parking decks are obvious examples of how our tourism burdens our infrastructure while the people who live and work here pick up the tab,” Roney said.

“Fundamentally, I think our parking decks should be maintained in part by our hotel occupancy taxes, but until then just relying on property taxes is not the answer.”

During public comment, resident Jared Wheatley argued that the city should charge for parking in more places around the city.

“Parking is actually a luxury,” he said. “Unfortunately right now in our city, we have a tremendous amount of free parking all down Coxe Avenue, Lexington Avenue. All of the [commercial business district] should be metered paid parking. It is a luxury good.”

The biggest change in parking includes a $1 increase in hourly street parking. Street parking will rise from $1.50 to $2.50 per hour. Special event parking which previously ranged between $7 and $9 will become $9 across the board.

The daily maximum for parking garages will decrease from $20 to $15, but the first hour of parking in the garage will shift to only remaining free for those who park there for less than one hour.

Initially, the city proposed a reduction in the window of free parking downtown. The proposal would have extended paid parking meter hours from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Council members, including Maggie Ullman and Kim Roney, argued against this measure.

“I think especially for the weekends, I think there's a lot of residents who really value coming down and being able to pop in and out of on street parking,” Ullman said.

Council opted for a compromise Ullman proposed: keeping parking free after 6 p.m. but increasing the hourly meter rate by an additional 50 cents, from the proposed 50-cent increase to a $1 increase.

 Biltmore Village flooding 2019
The City of Asheville
A 2019 snapshot of flooded streets and sidewalks in Asheville's Biltmore Village after a heavy downpours pushed the nearby Swannanoa River over its banks.

Water, stormwater rates jump too

The fee increases require commercial property owners to pay between 11 and 30% more for water and stormwater. The hike was intended to make up for past inequities in rate structure between commercial and residential water users, Floyd explained.

Over the last decade, residents paid more for water than commercial operations, the Asheville Citizen-Times reported in February.

With these new rate structures, wholesale operations will see the steepest increases of 31.7%, while smaller commercial businesses will see an increase of 11.9% this year.

Residents will see a more modest increase of 0.5%. The city estimates residents will see a bi-monthly increase of around $3, or about $20 per year for the average household.

Ullman acknowledged that the rate hikes would be painful for businesses but said it would only get more expensive if the city delayed rate increases.

“We don't survive as a city if we don't have a healthy water infrastructure, our economy doesn't survive. And so we need to make these investments.”

Rates will continue to increase each year through 2027 to help pay for massive improvements in water and stormwater infrastructure. For a wholesale water user, a water bill of approximately $23,000 will shoot up to around $53,000 by 2027.

The proposed boundaries of the Business Improvement District.
City of Asheville
The proposed boundaries of the Business Improvement District.

The BID campaign arrives at council

A new campaign is afoot to establish a Business Improvement District, or BID, in downtown Asheville.

If enacted by council, a BID would levy an additional tax of nine cents per $100 for property owners downtown. The money would be used to finance enhanced services or improvement projects within the district.

The push for the district is led by the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce and the Asheville Downtown Association. In early 2023, the Chamber commissioned a feasibility study that deemed downtown as “BID-ready,” and a full proposal for the plan is available on its website.

BID advocates gathered community input and hosted public meetings to get the rest of downtown on board.

The Asheville Downtown Association surveyed 410 downtown stakeholders, according to a presentation at the meeting. According to the study, 75.3% of respondents would consider paying for enhanced safety and hospitality services and 74.3% of respondents would consider paying for enhanced cleaning. Less than 11% of respondents did not believe Downtown Asheville would benefit from a BID, according to the study.

Roney expressed concern around how many of the survey respondents were renters and asked BID advocates to do more outreach with downtown tenants.

Council members expressed excitement around the idea but shared some concerns around the composition of the board, which would prioritize more representation from large property owners rather than renters or downtown workers.

Council member Sage Turner said she supported the BID but questioned why three major property owners would have the majority of the board’s 14 seats.

“I see us doing more equity work to make sure those without wealth and access are at the table too,” Turner said. “I’m looking for more of a balance.”

Roney raised concerns about the district as a quasi-governmental body.

“Another unelected board overseeing tax dollars is giving people an allergic response,” she said, comparing the BID to the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority.

Roney also expressed concern about a new downtown tax on renters in addition to the bond and county revaluation processes that would also raise property taxes, calling it a “trifecta tax increase.”

As proposed, the BID's top priorities would be safety, hospitality, and downtown cleanliness. Advocate Austin Walker, the lead presenter and a Chamber board member, said the BID would achieve these goals through hiring downtown ambassadors, who would interface with community members, clean up litter and graffiti, and engage with members of the unhoused population.

A BID budget would be around $1.25 million, according to the presentation.

Roney asked the community to prioritize growing the city and county’s community paramedic program in lieu of a BID.

“This isn’t a dream. Durham is doing it. Raleigh is doing it,” she said. “Then we would have a solid foundation to build on instead of a gap.”

In order for a BID to pass, the proposal must go through a public hearing and two readings. The first public hearing is tentatively scheduled for April 23.

54% of the proposed 645 units would be deemed affordable at Ferry Road.
Screen grab courtesy of Buncombe County
54% of the proposed 645 units would be deemed affordable at Ferry Road.

Other tidbits

  • Council approved conditional zoning for the county’s Ferry Road development, a proposed 645-unit housing project off Brevard Rd. Learn more about the project with our previous coverage
  • Council also approved small changes to its Unified Development Ordinance. The tweaks remove some parking space and home occupation requirements.
  • A draft affordable housing plan was presented by Jared Smith, program director for Equitable Housing Solutions. The plan will return to city council in May for a vote. 
  • Council heard an abridged version of the Community Reparations Commission’s Cease the Harm Audit results. Carter Development Group led the study, which was commissioned by the Reparations Commission in late 2022 for about $175,000. For more information on the 100+ recommendations included in the audit results, see our previous coverage
  • As part of an eight-item consent agenda, council approved several speed limit changes, including a 10 mph speed limit on Battery Park Alley in downtown. 

Every second and fourth Tuesday, Asheville City Council meets at the Council Chamber on the 2nd Floor of City Hall, 70 Court Plaza beginning at 5:00 p.m. See the full recording of the March 26 meeting and the agenda.

We make emails too. Stay in the loop about local policy, growth, and development by signing up for The Asheville Explainer, our weekly Asheville and Buncombe County newsletter.

This story was updated to correct an inaccurate summary of remarks by councilwoman Kim Roney related to the proposed Business Improvement District.

Laura Hackett joined Blue Ridge Public Radio in June 2023. Originally from Florida, she moved to Asheville more than six years ago and in that time has worked as a writer, journalist, and content creator for organizations like AVLtoday, Mountain Xpress, and the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce. She has a degree in creative writing from Florida Southern College, and in 2023, she completed the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY's Product Immersion for Small Newsrooms program. In her free time, she loves exploring the city by bike, testing out new restaurants, and hanging out with her dog Iroh at French Broad River Park.