The Asheville Downtown Commission heard an update Friday on attempts to curtail the Styrofoam “snow” falling from recent construction work at The Arras in the heart of downtown Asheville.
The Arras is the new name of the former BB&T building, which is being transformed into a boutique hotel, condos and restaurant space. At 18 stories, it’s the tallest building in Asheville.
Over the past couple of weeks, some downtown business owners have complained about the tiny particles, which have fallen like snow onto surrounding streets and sidewalks, according to officials, who explained what has happened.
It started when Cleveland Construction, the general contractor on The Arras, began installing material that’s known as EFIS, or exterior insulation and finishing system, said Ben Woody, Asheville’s development services director. The insulation has a foam backing and when it’s installed, that backing has to be sanded to fit. That’s when tiny Styrofoam particles start falling.
“It really looks like it’s snowing,” Woody told the commission.
Woody described the particles as “dirty” and “intrusive,” adding that the impact was noticeable. When city officials discovered that it was coming down, they called Cleveland Construction, told them it was unacceptable and said measures had to be taken to manage it, Woody said.
Cleveland Construct agreed to use vacuum rasps when sanding the EFIS, Woody said. But the problem continued a few days later, with construction crews not following that procedure, Woody said.
So city officials stopped work at the construction site, said Woody and Mark Matheny, the city’s chief code official and building division manager. Cleveland Construction once again agreed to use vacuum rasps, Woody said. Cleveland Construction also agreed to a number of other measures, according to Woody and Matheny. That includes:
-Creating a containment area on the building’s 18th floor to work with the EFIS, then send it out for installation.
-Having crews with backpack vacuums suck up the particles on the ground.
-Responding to complaints of nearby property owners, and cleaning up those sites when necessary.
-Installing a filter fabric over storm drains to keep the construction debris from moving into the city’s water system.
The foam “snow” is a bigger issue than one bad actor, noted Downtown Commission member Andrew Fletcher, who said the city has had similar issues with other downtown hotel construction projects. He suggested the city consider other regulations to stop the Styrofoam snow. Both he and Woody noted a local ordinance approved in Ocean City, Maryland, required construction crews working on a building six stories or taller to use vacuum rasps and netting to contain EFIS fallout.
Woody said he was unsure whether a city in North Carolina could consider such a local law, noting that Tar Heel municipalities are not allowed to amend the state building code. Commission members asked that city staff investigate.