City staff OKs Wal-Mart
TO: Mayor and City Council DATE: 6/25/02(public hearing)
VIA: Jim Westbrook, City Manager
FROM: Scott Shuford, AICP Prepared by: Gerald Green, AICP
Planning and Development Director
SUBJECT: Former Sayles Biltmore Bleacheries Site
Summary: The consideration of a motion to approve a Conditional Use Permit as outlined in the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) to allow development of approximately 379,000 square feet of retail space on approximately 60 acres in Phase I of the development located at 437 Swannanoa River Road at the site of the former Sayles Biltmore Bleacheries; and to consider the rezoning of a portion of the site (approximately 19 acres) from Commercial Industrial District to Urban Village District in Phase II of the development.
Review: Level III site plans for the development at the Sayles Biltmore Bleacheries located at 437 Swannanoa River Road (PIN No. 9658.15-52-4618) were initially submitted March 29, 2002. The Technical Review Committee (TRC) reviewed these plans at their April 15, 2002, meeting. No plans have been submitted for Phase III of the development. The submitted plans were found to be incomplete and TRC continued action on the request to their May 20 meeting. Revised plans were submitted May 6, 2002, that included the information needed for TRC action. At their May 20, 2002, meeting, the TRC recommended approval with conditions of the Level III site plan for the development of the Sayles Biltmore Bleacheries property. Many of the comments made by TRC identify technical requirements that must be addressed by the applicant when detailed site plans are submitted following political approval of the project by City Council.
The Planning and Zoning Commission reviewed the plans at their June 5, 2002, meeting. The Commission's meeting included a public hearing, during which significant public input was received regarding the proposed development. After receiving the public input, reviewing the plans, and considering the request, the Commission, with a vote of 4-2, to recommend that the Conditional Use Permit be issued with conditions for Phase I, and with a unanimous vote that Phase II be rezoned to Urban Village District. Efforts are underway by the project's design team to address the conditions identified by TRC and the Planning and Zoning Commission.
The City of Asheville River District Design Review Committee has reviewed the site plans and building designs. The applicant's design team worked with the Review Committee members and staff to develop building designs that would comply with the River District Design Guidelines. By a unanimous vote, the site plans and building designs have received conditional approval from the River District Design Review Committee.
Level III projects are conditional uses within the Commercial Industrial District. Conditional uses are uses, which, because of their unique characteristics or potential impacts on the surrounding neighborhood and/or the city as a whole require individual consideration of their location, design, configuration, and/or operation at the particular location proposed. In addition, this project must meet the supplemental development standards for large retail structures due to its size. The applicant appears to have met the applicable supplemental development standards.
The proposed site for the development is the former Sayles Biltmore Bleacheries property located at 437 Swannanoa River Road and consists of approximately 79 acres. The property is split zoned, with a portion of it zoned River District and a portion zoned Commercial Industrial District. Access to the property is currently via Swannanoa River Road, a two-lane N. C. Dept. of Transportation (NCDOT) road with a maximum capacity of 14,000 vehicles per day. As part of the development, a new road providing access from the project site to Fairview Road is proposed.
The proposed development will consist of three (3) phases, with the site plans providing information on the first two (2) phases. Phase I (approximately 60 acres) will consist of a major retail development that will have a total of 367,876 square feet of floor area and 1,839 parking spaces. The following will be included in Phase I:
A 219,622 square foot retail store with 1,095 parking spaces;
An 88,474 square foot retail store with 442 parking spaces;
32, 000 square feet of retail shops with 152 parking spaces;
27,780 square feet of retail shops with 139 parking spaces; and
Two outparcels, one at 1.31 acres and one at 1.41 acres.
A new 4-lane bridge crossing the Swannanoa River and the new road that will provide access from the project site to Fairview Road will be constructed in Phase I of the proposed development. Construction materials for the buildings in Phase I will include brick, quik-brik, and integral block. Building facades and roofs will be articulated and awnings will be used to help break up the massing of the buildings. The garden area will be fenced with a decorative metal fence. The parking areas will be heavily landscaped and the site will be buffered from Swannanoa River Road with a minimum 50' buffer.
Phase II will provide a mix of retail, office, and residential uses in an Urban Village. Of the 19 acres in the proposed Urban Village, approximately 11 acres will be in residential uses and the remaining 8 acres will be occupied by retail/office uses. TRC review has indicated that the design of the Urban Village is not in complete accordance with the design standards for such developments. The proposed breakdown for the Urban Village is:
84 multi-family units
8 single family units
75 parking spaces
115,042 square feet
172 parking spaces
Primary access to the site will be via Swannanoa River Road. A new 4-lane bridge will be constructed east (upstream) of the current bridge providing access to the site. The existing bridge will be demolished. Secondary access will be provided by a new road that will link the development to Fairview Road. The new road will intersect Fairview Road at Stevens Street, west of the I-240/Fairview Road intersection. An unused railroad right-of-way and existing "tunnel" under I-240 will be used for the alignment of the new road.
Much of the project site is located within a designated flood hazard area, with a portion of the area to be developed currently located within the designated floodway. The applicant is proposing to revise the floodway on the project site by providing storage areas for floodwaters. The floodway expansion areas will also serve as stormwater detention basins. To construct the floodway expansion areas, an area outside of the River Resource Yard (50' from the bank of the Swannanoa River) will be excavated to create a large holding area for floodwaters (and stormwater runoff). The expansion areas will be approximately 10' to 15' deep, 50' to 125' wide, and 250' to 800' long.
An area adjacent to the Swannanoa River will be preserved as a park and the applicant proposes to convey this area to the City of Asheville for use as a public park. A greenway trail will be constructed along the river, through this park, and also proposed to be conveyed to the City for public use.
In addition to the development standards for the zoning district in which they are located, conditional uses must meet certain general conditions in order to ensure that the use is appropriate at a particular location and to ensure protection of the public health, safety, and welfare. The general conditions, which apply to all conditional uses, can be found in Section 7-16-2(c) of the UDO. City Council must make seven (7) findings based on the evidence and testimony received at the public hearing or otherwise appearing in the record of the case. The findings are listed below. Following each finding is technical information from staff to assist Council in making these findings.
That the proposed use or development of the land will not materially endanger the public health or safety;
The project received technical approval from the Water Resources Department, the Fire Department, Metropolitan Sewerage District, Engineering, and other City departments. The project must meet the technical standards set forth in the UDO, the Asheville Standard Specifications and Details Manual, the N. C. Building Code and other applicable laws and standards that protect the public health and safety. Proposed stormwater management control measures exceed City standards (the stormwater detention basins will accommodate the 100 year storm).
That the proposed use or development of the land is reasonably compatible with significant natural and topographic features on the site and within the immediate vicinity of the site given the proposed site design and any mitigation techniques or measures proposed by the applicant;
The project is proposing the minimum grading necessary to develop the property with this type of intense use. A significant buffer will be preserved, including an area with mature trees that define the character of the area.
That the proposed use or development of the land will not substantially injure the value of adjoining or abutting property;
The size of the tract of land allows room for adequate buffering to alleviate impacts of noise and lighting on adjacent properties. Traffic impacts are an important consideration and are discussed in another section of this report. Stormwater control measures appear to result in an improvement over the current basinwide stormwater conditions if the project is developed as proposed. The development is consistent with the zoning requirements for the property.
That the proposed use or development of the land will be in harmony with the scale, bulk, coverage, density, and character of the area or neighborhood in which it is located;
The property is zoned Commercial Industrial and River District, which have no structure size standards. Much of the neighboring property is zoned Commercial Industrial or River District and is for the most part already developed with retail uses. The development will be heavily buffered from adjacent multi-family residential uses and from the highway.
That the proposed use or development of the land will generally conform with the Comprehensive Plan, smart growth policies, sustainable economic development strategic plan and other official plans adopted by the City;
The proposed development will comply with the City's plans and policies provided the traffic issue, discussed below, is resolved.
That the proposed use is appropriately located with respect to transportation facilities, water supply, fire and police protection, waste disposal, and similar facilities;
The project received technical approval from the TRC, which includes representatives of the Water Resources Department, Metropolitan Sewerage District, Engineering, the Fire Department, and Public Works. The adequacy of the transportation facilities is addressed in a Traffic Impact Analysis conducted by the developer and supplemented by staff findings and requirements (see below).
That the proposed use will not cause undue traffic congestion or create a traffic hazard.
The developer submitted a Traffic Impact Analysis (TIA) as required by the UDO. This analysis indicated the need for some off-site improvements, including the installation of a new traffic signal at the intersection of Fairview Road and Stevens Street, linking this new signal to other signals along Fairview Road in the immediate vicinity of this intersection, and the contribution of funding for traffic calming. Some of the proposed improvements may not be necessary, but others may require augmentation, according to staff and staff consultant analysis of the TIA. A major concern identified by TRC that must be addressed prior to the approval of the conceptual plans for the project is the traffic impact on Swannanoa River Road. The TIA prepared by the applicant's traffic consultant indicates that the proposed development would use essentially all the remaining capacity of the section of Swannanoa River Road east of South Tunnel Road. This would mean that if the proposed development were constructed with no improvements to Swannanoa River Road, additional development or redevelopment on other properties along this corridor may be precluded. This would violate the City's Sustainable Economic Development Strategic Plan and Smart Growth Policies, as well as not comply with some of the required standards for approval for conditional uses. A potential solution or solutions must be agreed to by the applicant in order for the development proposal to meet this standard for approval, as well as standards for approval 3, 5 and 6 above.
There are four options that have been identified to mitigate the traffic impact on Swannanoa River Road from the proposed development. Staff is amenable to any of these options, combinations of these options, or other feasible alternatives not included below, such as access through the River Ridge shopping center or construction of a new road parallel to and on the opposite side of the river as Swannanoa River Road so long as a significant mitigation of the traffic impact is achieved. Each of the options would need to be fully designed, permitted, and constructed entirely at the developer's expense (or, alternately, through some other source of non-City funding) and in accordance with all appropriate local, state and federal procedures and regulations. In addition, while each option appears to have the potential to mitigate the traffic congestion impact, formal study of the selected option would be necessary to ascertain its specific effectiveness in addressing the capacity issue prior to approval by the City. The options, in order of staff preference, are:
Developer or non-City funding of a public transportation system that would create a "Shopper's Loop" that would circulate among the major retailers in the immediate vicinity. This option would involve the provision of a public transit system that would transport shoppers to major retailer destinations in a manner similar to a "park once and ride" program in use in many downtowns. If designed appropriately, this option has the benefits of maximizing the existing infrastructure, reducing air pollution, and providing a customer convenience amenity. Concerns include whether the system would be successful in reducing the traffic impact sufficiently and the permanence of the system.
Developer construction of an extension of Wood Avenue paralleling I-240 and intersecting the proposed Stevens Street extension. This option has several benefits in addition to reserving some capacity on Swannanoa River Road for future development, including the resolution of a major cut-through traffic problem and maximization of the use of existing right-of-way. It is also the least expensive of the three options for the developer to construct and provides the most access for the developer's Phase III project site. There is some concern about the feasibility of using interstate right-of-way for a frontage road.
Developer construction of a "half-diamond" interchange (east-bound off-ramp and west-bound on-ramp) on I-240 between the Tunnel Road and Fairview Road interchanges. This would provide direct interstate access to the development site and improve the function of the Stevens Street extension. There is some concern about the feasibility of this option given the proximity of the new interchange to the interchanges immediately to the east and west as well as the cost of construction.
Developer widening of Swannanoa River Road to a three lane cross-section from the I-240 overpass to Fairview Road. This improvement would directly increase the capacity of Swannanoa River Road. Feasibility of right-of-way acquisition by the developer and cost of construction are the primary drawbacks of this option.
Recommendation: The Planning and Zoning Commission recommended by a vote of 4 to 2 issuance of a Conditional Use Permit subject to conditions for the Phase I development of the site. The Commission unanimously recommended approval of the rezoning from Commercial Industrial to Urban Village District of the Phase II portion of the site. If the Council agrees and issues the Conditional Use Permit, staff recommends the following conditions be part of the motion to recommend approval:
All conditions identified by the Technical Review Committee shall be met.
The developer shall mitigate the traffic impact of the development to Swannanoa River Road through implementation of a transportation improvement project acceptable to City Engineering staff. This project shall be designed, permitted, and constructed entirely at the developer's expense (or, alternately, using other non-City sources of funding) and in accordance with all appropriate local, state, and federal procedures and regulations. In addition, formal study of the selected mitigation project would be required at the developer's expense to ascertain its specific effectiveness in addressing the capacity issue prior to approval by the City; this study shall be performed under the City's supervision by a traffic consultant under contract with the City. Design, permitting, and initiation of construction of the mitigation project shall occur prior to the issuance of a building permit for any building in Phase I and project construction shall be completed within 12 months of the issuance of any certificate of occupancy, except that the public transportation option shall be in effect within 60 days of the issuance of any certificate of occupancy. The developer shall provide any necessary financial guarantees of this project completion schedule to the City Engineering Department.
The applicant shall install or fund the recommended improvements indicated in the TIA, except those specifically not desired by the City Engineering Department. In addition, the applicant shall be responsible for the full cost of linking the new signal at Stevens Street with the other signals in the immediate vicinity in such manner as required by City staff. The applicant shall escrow not less than $65,000 for a traffic calming study and its implementation, with any unused funds to be returned to the applicant upon completion of the traffic-calming project.
The applicant shall work with the Asheville Transit Services Director to locate and construct a transit center on the site to serve as a transit node. The transit center shall be constructed at the developer's expense and shall be architecturally compatible with the development design.
The applicant shall work with the City Parks and Recreation Department to convey the park area and greenway to the City of Asheville; such conveyance may require the applicant to create and fund a maintenance plan for this property.
A signage package that complies with the City's sign code shall be submitted for review and approval prior to formal approval of this project.
The design of the urban village shall be modified in accordance with the standards for such developments as enumerated in the Urban Village zoning district; the applicant shall be able to construct the proposed number of residential units and the proposed square footage of the office and retail space.
Within 90 days of the issuance of a certificate of occupancy for the Wal-Mart building, the Wal-Mart Corporation (or any individual, partnership or corporate entity acting on behalf of the Wal-Mart Corporation) shall terminate any leasehold of the existing Tunnel Road Wal-Mart building and property or, in the event the building and/or property is owned by the Wal-Mart Corporation, said corporation (or any individual, partnership or corporate entity acting on behalf of the Wal-Mart Corporation) shall place the building and/or property for sale or lease for commercial or other purposes allowed under the applicable zoning at fair market prices. The purpose of this condition is to ensure that the Tunnel Road building and/or property is not kept in a vacant state for an extended period of time.
The access easement on the south side of the Swannanoa River running from the developer's property to Fairview Road shall be transferred to the City of Asheville for the purpose(s) of extending the Swannanoa River greenway and/or construction of the Riverside Parkway. The City shall have the ability to transfer this easement to the State of North Carolina or some other entity or entities for one or both of these purposes
In addition to the above conditions, should City Council choose to approve this request, staff recommends that Council direct staff to undertake the following two tasks:
Perform a zoning study for the River District to ascertain the geographical extent of future large-scale retail structures in the district.
Work toward making the Riverside Parkway the City's top priority on the Metropolitan Planning Organization Transportation Improvement Program.