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Gentrification warning sinks zoning change for mixed use on Seventh Avenue

An effort by an investor to turn buildings he owns on Seventh Avenue into higher end residential-commercial projects was struck down by the Hendersonville City Council last week amid warnings about gentrification in the historic district and repeating urban renewal sins of the past.

Dan Mock, a developer who owns buildings at 820 and 902 Seventh Avenue East, asked the city to approve a zoning code amendment that would allow such mixed use developments throughout the special taxing district that encompasses and goes beyond the boundaries of the Historic Seventh Avenue District. Once a thriving business district, then rundown and seedy and currently resurging, the district has seen new development in recent years. The city is currently leading a rebranding effort for the area and a new streetscape plan is in the works.
The text amendment achieved a goal of keeping ground floor space facing Seventh Avenue as retail-commercial use while allowing residential use at the back and on upper floors, a staff report said. Both the Downtown Advisory Board and the Planning Board recommended the zoning text amendment.

Mock, who did similar renovations in Los Angeles before moving to Hendersonville with his wife three years ago, told the council that his plans would transform the 800- and 900-block properties, built in 1949 and 1940, into attractive work-live spaces.
“By cleaning up the neighborhoods we can embrace the more pedestrian friendly and walkable community,” he said. “I envision a street with bustling businesses utilizing indoor and outdoor spaces. I used the term hipster. Hipsters are young arts-focused professionals who do not necessarily have wealth but are at the forefront of creating trends. They prefer neighborhoods with an edge.”
In Los Angeles, “I spent anywhere from 55,000 to 250,000 per unit renovating these units,” he said. “I can assure you they won't be cheap. Cheap is the guy comes in with a five or ten thousand lipstick job and does some paint and carpet work. … All our projects are torn down to the studs.”
His buildings are suited for residential, he said, because they’re surrounded on three sides by residential.
“I'm not the guy that's gonna go and demolish a beautiful building for profit, but I am the guy that will take an underutilized building, restore it to its greatest potential and make it the best building around,” he said. “I'm converting a drug and prostitution house known as a problem by HPD and I'm cleaning up with the hopes of attracting tenants that will make a positive impact in the community.”
Although three business owners endorsed Mock’s plans as a catalyst for revitalization, Green Meadows residents pushed back.
Ronnie Pepper, a longtime community activist, warned about the city repeating the kind of neighborhood harm that resulted from urban renewal in the 1960s.
“You are going to attract residents, you're going to attract business,” he told Mock “But what will happen to those individuals that live down in Green Meadows? Have you went to the church and met and talked with any of those individuals? Those individuals struggle every day. They work hard. What you plan on building is beautiful. I love it. It looks good. But how is that gonna impact those individuals that live in that neighborhood?”
Mayor pro tem Lyndsey Simpson said she worried about the breadth of the zoning text amendment.
“I see the beauty of having multifamily housing within Seventh Avenue,” she said. “I think the issue that I'm personally having with it, and what it sounds like residents are having with it, is that it's so open ended — all of it being by right, no design standards, no sort of zoning failsafes to include some sort of affordable housing or workforce housing. While it's a beautiful development, I just can't help but feel like history is going to repeat itself. … We're doing the Seventh Avenue branding, we're working on the streetscape, we're working on our comprehensive plan, and this feels very haphazard to me.”

Council member Jennifer Hensley disagreed, saying the change would actually achieve one of the council’s goals, to encourage infill housing stock.
“I support the zoning text amendment because I feel like we've been preaching infill, infill, infill for the past three years,” she said. “I don't know that it is our legal ability to control rent, or to tell people what they can charge for their property. Are we stifling growth or development as a measure to control rents? I don't think that that's what we as a policy group are tasked to do. I think that the idea of being able to have business and family in the Seventh Avenue District is a fantastic idea.”
Debbie Roundtree, who voted Simpson and Jerry Smith in voting no, also expressed concern that new development allowed under the code amendment could drive out longtime residents.
“With the feedback from some of the residents that already live in that area or live in the one of the occupied buildings that he has purchased, I just don't support it and I also see gentrification,” she said. “We're headed for rapid gentrification.”
Mayor Barbara Volk joined Hensley in voting in favor of the change.
“I think we do need more multifamily,” she said. “With the commercial on the lower floor I think we're keeping with the mixed use. It would be lovely to think that these properties could be rehabilitated and kept at low rents. But with the market the way it is, it won't, and keeping properties that are below standards there is also to me not a viable way of keeping and growing healthy Seventh Avenue.”