The Asheville Area Riverfront Redevelopment Commission held its first meeting of the year on Jan. 14 and received updates on several projects in the area. The biggest is a road construction project that will realign Riverside Drive . Here’s a look at what the commission discussed:
River Arts District Transportation Improvement Project
This long-awaited 2.2-mile project will take Riverside Drive from a mostly forgotten thin ribbon of asphalt and turn it into a wide city thoroughfare. The project includes the construction of greenways and bike paths and the addition of on-street parking and roundabouts at key intersections. It will also force once of Asheville’s most famous (for several visits from President Barack Obama) and beloved restaurants, 12 Bones Barbecue, to move. There’s a public art element to the project, as well.
The engineering on the project will be 90 percent complete come March 1, according to the commission. The multi-million construction project requires land acquisition, and that process has begun.
“We are in full-blown acquisition process,” city staff liaison and urban planner Stephanie Monson Dahl told the commission. The property owners the city of Asheville is dealing with have received letters from Gulf Coast LLC, the city’s third-party land acquisition vendor, regarding having their property appraised. Some local real estate appraisers have also been contacting property owners about condemnation appraisals. For some land owners, the process including hiring an attorney and beginning the process of negotiating the sale of property.
“We’re in the first stage of negotiations so that people know their rights,” Monson Dahl told the group. “The next milestone is that we’ll start paying money out, and that will probably happen in March.”
Utility relocation is to begin in fall 2016, with construction scheduled run from spring 2017 to fall 2019.
Along with all the upcoming construction, city staffers are working on a set of new development regulations for the River Arts District. The set of development rules are known as a form-based code. By definition, a form-based code is a set of development rules that foster predictable results using physical form, rather than a separation of uses as the organizing principle.
For the city of Asheville, it’s a new way to approach issues such as urban sprawl and pedestrian safety. The city is working with a consultant, Code Studio of Austin, Texas. City staffer and urban planner Sasha Vrtunksi to the Asheville Area Riverfront Redevelopment Commission that after several meetings last year, city staff sent its proposed regulations to the consultant last fall and had a conference call with them two weeks ago.
“They’re drafting a draft code right now,” Vrtunski said, after city staff advised making several changes to make the rules less restrictive. The result will be a “simpler, more user-friendly” set of rules, she said.
“I think whatever we get back, it’s going to allay a lot of concerns that we heard from the community,” Vrtunski said. “I think we’ll have a good place to start in March when we release it publicly.”
There will be more rounds of public meetings, with a final form-based code draft headed to Asheville City Council in the fall, Vrtunski said.
The new regulations have already been met with opposition by Chris Peterson and Jerry Sternberg, two land-owners in the River Arts District.
Equitable development strategies
Yet another ongoing project in the area is one the city calls an “equitable development strategies” process aimed at including communities south and west of downtown that are home to many of the city’s poorest residents. Neighborhoods such as Hillcrest, West End, Livingston, Lee Walker Heights, Walton and the River Arts District are all areas included in work by the city to prevent gentrification. A report is set to be released this week, according to Vrtunski, with Asheville City Council set to receive a report on Jan. 26. It will include a set of best practices and recommendations to City Council, she said.
This mixed-use development known as RAD Lofts, planned at the five-points intersection of Clingman Avenue, Roberts Street, Depot and Lyman streets, was announced two years ago and is still in the works, although the project has not applied for any building permits yet, according to Monson-Dahl.
Brewery River Row
The residential development on Craven Street across from New Belgium Brewery’s new brewery known as Brewery River Row has been revised but is still planned.