Is a game-changing coalition forming between the City of Asheville, New Belgium, and leaders of several neighborhood organizations? After attending this morning’s meeting, the latest in a series, my answer is yes.
Hot on the heels of last night’s marathon four-hour Planning & Zoning Commission meeting discussing New Belgium’s site plan for its Craven Street facility, elected leaders of neighborhood and business organizations gathered in the River Arts District for even more discussion with City of Asheville officials and New Belgium management.
The meeting was an open discussion of New Belgium concerns including traffic impact, alternate delivery routes, and plans for deconstruction of structures on the Asheville site.
In attendance were New Belgium officials including new General Manager Jay Richardson, City of Asheville officials, and elected representatives from an acronym stew of local organizations including Asheville on Bikes, the East West Asheville Neighborhood Association (EWANA), the River Arts District Business Association (RADBA), the West Asheville Business Association, (WABA) the West End/Clingman Avenue neighborhood (WECAN), River Arts District Association (RADA), and business leaders including Tim Schaller of the Wedge.
Here’s the highlights:
* A game-changing coalition is forming between the City of Asheville, New Belgium, and leaders of the neighborhood organizations listed above
New Belgium’s reputation as a company that listens may not be exaggerated. Neighborhood concerns about truck traffic seem to be helping guide and change how the new facility will receive truck deliveries, a major concern of area residents who don’t want to see already congested Haywood Road, the primary delivery route, forced to deal with more truck traffic than it can handle.
But neighborhood leaders, business leaders, City of Asheville officials and New Belgium upper management are working together, listening and correcting New Belgium’s course as the Craven Street facility moves from plans to reality. I watched it happen.
The big impediment to using Riverside Drive as an alternate delivery route is the old train trestle (the “Festus Bridge”) that crosses Riverside Drive near its intersection with Craven Street. The trestle allows a clearance of 13 feet, six inches below the DOT-established legal requirement for bridges (and the height of modern trucks).
Norfolk Southern has a spur line that runs around the trestle, and a resident-generated idea to either renovate the bridge or partner with the railroad for right-of-way met with resistance from the railroad.
Now the proposal to get around the trestle, West Asheville resident Jonathan Wainscott‘s bypass idea, is back on the table, only modified.
City officials shot it down a couple weeks ago. But in an interesting reversal, there’s talk even from City of Asheville Director of Public Works Cathy Ball about exploring either altering the trestle bridge, or the land under and around it, to allow passage of delivery vehicles.
Currently, the bridge only allows passage of trucks under 13 feet, several inches under the height of a modern truck.
Allowing taller trucks to pass under the trestle bridge puts Riverside Drive back on the table as a viable delivery route, one that many West Asheville residents support as being less harmful to neighborhood health, since Riverside is more industrialized than Haywood Road.
“We would support investigating this option,” said Ball at the meeting.
“We want to support that option with you as well,” said Edwin Fowler, a New Belgium architectural and civil engineer helping manage the project.
Want to have your voice heard? If you’re a West Asheville or RAD resident or business owner, explore one of the organizations listed above, and express any concerns with group leadership.
* A new acronym to look out for: RADTIP (River Arts District Transportation Improvement Plan)
“RADTIP” was bandied about at Wednesday night’s Planning and Zoning meeting as well as Thursday’s meeting. The plan will address much-needed improvements to infrastructure along Riverside Drive and Lyman Street. It focuses on a section south of the Craven Street brewery location, but fits in with development plans there.
The RADTIP is a $15 million road improvement project that is currently still in planning stages. Any work on the project likely won’t begin for another three to five years.
But if you’re into multimodal, the arrival of NBB could still be the best thing that ever happened to Asheville, kickstarting a more bike- and pedestrian-friendly future in West Asheville. Asheville on Bikes’ Michael Sule hopes the Craven Street work, the RADTIP project and the informal coalition forming between famously bike-friendly New Belgium, city officials and neighborhood leaders will help pressure the N.C. DOT to do more to make Haywood Road a more pedestrian- and bike-friendly thoroughfare.
“This is a golden opportunity to start advocating,” said Sule at the Thursday meeting.
* A new catchphrase: “truck diversification plan”
Discussion at the Thursday meeting seemed to indicate that since the impact of Haywood Road delivery traffic could be reduced by spreading traffic along multiple routes, New Belgium and the City of Asheville now both support exploring shared delivery traffic among multiple streets in West Asheville and the RAD.
Other delivery-route possibilities other than Haywood and Riverside include Clingman Avenue and Roberts Street in the RAD.
But diversification is not a perfect solution. Some residents see spreading truck traffic around as simply spreading around noise and traffic problems. Still others think keeping most traffic on Haywood will be good for future business growth there.
* Look for residents to get it in writing
EWANA leader Joshua Martin asked for more than just philosophical agreement (“How can we get to more than ‘Trust us’?”), and it looks like he’s going to get it. At the next meeting, planned for later this month, the group will seek to solidify a plan all parties will publicly support.
Indications are that the group will create a document that states its goals as an informal coalition.
* Deconstruction at the Craven Street site starts this month: Expect some noise and trucks
Fowler closed the meeting with information about tear-down, saying deconstruction of existing buildings at the Craven Street site starts late this month/early February.
There will be noise and more trucks, but “not a huge volume of trucks,” according to Fowler. Deconstruction will take about three months, and will then transition into site work in spring, including clean-up of contaminated soil and bringing in fresh soil.
Filling the site will produce a lot of truck traffic, according to Fowler.
Currently these meetings are closed to the public, but members of invited organizations (see above) can share concerns with their organization’s elected leaders. Meeting notes are publicly available on the New Belgium site here.
– Ashvegas reporter Jason Sandford contributed to this report