City Council Candidate Survey
- Please state your views on the role of historic preservation and our historic resources in the future of the city.
Keith Young: The historic nature and architecture that is Asheville, is in itself the soul of what makes this place great! We must protect that at all costs, when possible and in the face of the impossible.
Rich Lee: Like our arts and natural backdrop, Asheville’s historical architecture is one of its enduring assets, a draw for visitors and new residents and an economic driver. Unlike many cities that razed their main streets decades ago, Asheville’s old town vibe has persisted, downtown and in neighborhoods. I myself live in a fairly well-maintained 1927 Oakley house and wouldn’t choose to live any other way. We need to protect historic buildings from destruction and keep up the appeal of cohesive neighborhoods like Montford by strongly advocating against the removal of historic structures by DOT and other entities, and revising our now-badly-outdated zoning to require context-sensitive new building.
Sage Turner: Historic preservation has benefited our city, though the choice of what to preserve has been fraught and inequitable. I support our historic resources continuing to play an important role in the future of our city and I will push for inclusion and equity.
The city’s decision to not default on our loans during the Great Depression had the defacto result of making our downtown a landmark of historic preservation. Asheville has the second highest number of Art Deco buildings in America, after Miami, and that is a treasure to our entire community, in addition to being a tourist draw that helps support hundreds of businesses and thousands of local workers.
Looking at our neighborhoods, we have incredible homes of just about every vintage, and the historic Grove Park Inn hotel is also located in a neighborhood, and those are treasures to our entire community.
Our city also has a terrible history of urban renewal / removal that displaced and destroyed the homes of thousands of Black city residents, and destroyed businesses, ball fields, fairgrounds, and community treasures that now live only in memories, and removed, rerouted, and renamed streets.
The city has been doing a historic resources survey of the East End neighborhood, which I’m looking forward to hearing more about, and hearing plans for potential preservation of historic churches and homes in that neighborhood, if the community supports it.
I will look to the preservation society for information and support for best practices on putting an equity and inclusion lens on preservation.
- What will be your top three priorities to ensure the preservation of Asheville’s historic buildings and neighborhoods?
Rich Lee: First, have city council lead local advocacy around the I-26 connector project and other NC DOT works in progress. No near-term threat stands to demolish and damage historic structures and neighborhoods as much as heedless rural- and suburban-style highway projects crammed into our city. Second, I would be open to overlaying some kind of historic designation or a hybrid zoning district over downtown to preserve more structures and reduce the viability of chain hotels and retail in our core business district. Third, I would listen. As co-president of the Coalition of Asheville Neighborhoods, I helped originate the Plan-on-a-Page concept for neighborhoods to lay out their own desires as far as new development and growth, with the idea that these would lead to more neighborhood-level planning. Some neighborhoods, like my old West Asheville neighborhood, have a diversity of housing and structural styles that fit their loose, eclectic vibe. Others want to see me original homes preserved and new buildings to fit in. These should be neighborhood-level discussions at the outset, and on council I would be inclined to see them through.
Sage Turner: We have many historic buildings and historic neighborhoods that do not have a historic designation because the owners do not wish to have the burdens that come with that designation, the extra costs, etc. I will therefore speak broadly about historic buildings and neighborhoods.
I support programs to keep homeowners in historic neighborhoods in their homes so that they are not priced out of their neighborhoods.
To protect neighborhoods, I support focusing our population growth on dense, new mixed income housing within mixed use projects along major corridors with existing infrastructure.
I support creative approaches to avoiding the destruction of historic structures downtown.
- Asheville has 4 local historic districts: Montford, Albemarle Park, Biltmore Village & St. Dunstan’s. Would you support the establishment of new local historic districts in the city?
Rich Lee: As mentioned above, I think areas of downtown should be considered for either historic status or our own hybrid version through zoning, where we fail to meet the official criteria.
Sage Turner: If there are neighborhoods that wish to pursue a historic district status, I would want to hear from them, and hear their plans for preventing gentrification, supporting mixed rate and affordable infill housing, and supporting transit within their neighborhood moving forward. Those are three important pieces that every neighborhood needs to be thinking about and making plans to achieve, and they can be compatible with preservation
- Are you aware of ways that historic preservation can assist the need for affordable housing? Would you be open to working with the preservation community toward the goal of preserving affordable housing units?
Rich Lee: As someone who’s lived in a historic home converted to multi-unit, I’m aware of some of the options, and I’m particularly interested in old pocket apartments like you see on Bearden and West Chestnut in Montford, among other neighborhoods. Design and financing styles moved away from these compact apartment projects a century ago, but they’re actually ideal for our housing needs now. On council, I’m going to be eager to see how we can get more of these pared-down multi-family buildings into neighborhoods that can fit them.
Sage Turner: I’d love to hear more ways. Yes, I would absolutely work with the preservation community to create and to preserve affordable housing units. We must all be on board for creating and preserving affordable housing.
One quarter of the existing housing units in downtown were once hotel rooms, and decentralizing affordable housing into every neighborhood including historic neighborhoods will strengthen the fabric of our community. Here are my ideas:
We can focus on home ownership via the Land Trust (recently launched), Down Payment Assistance Program ($1.4M about to launch) and land banking monies ($3M yet to be spent). These can be compatible with historic homes and historic neighborhoods and promoted in partnership with the preservation society.
We can encourage voucher acceptance in rentals. We return ½ of all issued vouchers annually due to lack of units that accept them. A new program from THRIVE AVL pairs landlords with voucher holders to help decentralize poverty.
There are neighborhoods at risk of gentrification, including pockets of historic neighborhoods including Montford, and they need protection to spare community members from being priced out. To protect neighborhoods, we need to focus our population growth on dense, new buildings along major corridors with existing infrastructure. Partnering with the preservation society to support new housing where it’s needed will help protect affordable homes in historic neighborhoods.
- What incentives do you think the City of Asheville can use to encourage preservation of our historic resources?
Rich Lee: What I hear from friends who live in historic-designated neighborhoods is that adhering to standards as far as building styles and materials is an extra expanse added to their already high costs of living. If we are going to make more areas of the city historic districts to preserve our architecture and neighborhood characters, then we need programs that address the extra costs, something like a local tax credit or weatherization assistance. Historic beauty and affordability don’t need to be in opposition, but they’re frequently pitted against each other in public debate. We need to figure out how to make both work here.
Sage Turner: The city of Asheville is limited by state legislation in ways it can provide financial incentives. Much like creating and inducing affordability, developers must voluntarily commit to certain components in a project (rental rates) to qualify for a property tax rebate. We could do similarly for design standards and historic preservation to both save beautiful buildings and build new ones. Structures that utilize historic tax credits during restorations are already receiving 50% property tax abatement by the state, but the remaining 50% could be rebated by the County and City of Asheville.
Of note is the drafted hotel ordinances. There is a rubric that requires 200 points and preserving historic structures earns a hotelier points. There are also negative points for displacement of tenants. The rubric continues to need work.
NOTE FROM PSABC: We appreciate Sage Turner’s suggestion of additional financial benefits for historic preservation work, however, we would like to clarify that there is not a property tax abatement for historic rehabilitation tax credits. Additionally, while local historic districts do not have property tax reductions local landmarks do. You can learn more about historic rehabilitation tax credits here!