- The City's Riverfront Redevelopment project on Riverside Drive will cost taxpayers at least $28 million
- The plan calls for new road, traffic circles, sidewalks, greenways, rental center
- The area of development is prone to flooding
- Owner of 12 Bones property raises question of spending taxpayer dollars on flood prone developments
- Riverlink favors a different plan than the cities which would not put a road in a flood prone area
While we’re on the subject of the red-hot River Arts District, let’s talk about the elephant in the room.
You know, the one wading through hip-deep flood waters on its way to peruse some artwork at one of the many red-hot art studios.
Yes, we’re talking about the specter of flooding in the district, which is on the cusp of a massive transformation fueled by at least $28 million in our tax dollars. Plans call for new and improved roadways with bike lanes on a 2-mile stretch of Amboy Road and Riverside Drive, a traffic circle, new sidewalks, greenways, park benches and the rehabilitation of a building at 14 Riverside Drive that could serve as a rental center for canoeing and tubing.
It’s an ambitious plan, and with the New Belgium Brewery slated to open just across the river, possibly this year, and new apartments going in where Dave Steel used to be, the river is set to explode.
But what if the old French Broad literally does that?
“I’m all for the river, but this would be like me building a house on a volcano,” frequent critic of the city and RAD property owner Chris Peterson told me last week. “I’ve been down there 30 years, and I’ve seen seven floods. They want to put a roundabout right there at 12 Bones. I don’t think taxpayers realize they’re playing Russian roulette with our money.”
Anybody who’s been here for more than a decade remembers well the flood of 2004, when the water reached near the ceiling of 12 Bones and flooded much of the surrounding area. Peterson owns the 12 Bones building, which he leases to the restaurant operators, and he’s not happy that plans call for a redirected road to run right through its parking lot.
To be fair, Peterson, a former council member and a political conservative, does not much care for a lot of the city’s policies and has been vocal about that. But he raises a very valid point when it comes to spending millions of taxpayer dollars in an area just feet from the flood-prone river, which receives water from much of the French Broad River valley.
City officials and river proponents don’t shy from the question.
“Of course it’s in an area pone to flooding,” said Cathy Ball, executive director of planning and multimodal transportation for the city of Asheville. “Typically, we haven’t seen a whole lot of damage to roadways because of flooding. I’m not going to say it can’t happen, but if it’s built with a really good sub-base, once the flooding is gone, it may require we clean it and remove the debris. We’ve not been in a situation where we’ve had to completely rebuild roads because of flooding.”
Karen Cragnolin, executive director of RiverLink, the nonprofit based in the RAD that promotes all things river, especially greenways, said when it comes to flooding they know “it’s a question of when and how often.”
“There are engineering things you can do that will anticipate the flooding and enable the park, and the area that’s been rehabbed, to withstand the flood,” Cragnolin said. “For example, when the French Broad River Park is underwater, afterward the city just hoses off the trail. The building itself — it’s sort of an unfortunate name for a bathroom — but it’s a flow-through building. The water moves through it. It was designed to be flooded.”
Cragnolin and RiverLink favor a different plan than the one the city is pushing. RiverLink and community members worked for years formulating the Wilma Dykeman Riverway plan, which in part calls for the roadway to take a straighter path near the Riverview Station studio building, a former tannery — a track that is considerably farther away from the river.
The idea, Cragnolin said, is “to use all of that for extra open space. The city didn’t agree with that.”
Asked how far along the city is with its plans, Cragnolin said, “Who knows?”
Ball acknowledged they need to do a better job of getting the plans out in the public eye.
“The plans have been completed through a 65-percent plan drawing, and that’s a milestone in the terminology,” Ball said, adding that they have contracted to have them brought to 100 percent construction drawings, complete with right-of-way plats and right-of-way documents. “We’re expecting that to be completed in December of this year, 2015.”
So far, plans call for Amboy Road heading north to be redone to include two travel lanes, a bike lane and an adjacent sidewalk all the way to 12 Bones, where a traffic circle will go in. The two-lane road will continue beyond, with parking on both sides, a sidewalk and a greenway.
The idea is to straighten the roadway so it doesn’t veer off in front of 12 Bones and then again in front of the Curve studio.
The building just north of 12 Bones, 14 Riverside, would be rehabbed and most likely leased to a company to run a tube/canoe rental business. Its electrical and mechanical systems would be redone, placing them high enough to avoid flood waters.
Nearby would be a venue for weddings and events, as well as a possible bike rental/bike sharing space.
Ball said as part of a $14.6 million federal grant and $6 million in DOT right-of-way funding, the city has to follow “very restrictive” guidelines on acquiring right-of-way, and that prohibits her from talking freely about it. But she did say plans show, “essentially the road goes through the parking lot of 12 Bones.”
The project also includes a roundabout near Clingman Cafe at Five Points and a greenway called the Clingman Forest Greenway coming down from Hilliard Avenue to the Five Points intersection. Another greenway is planned for 48 acres across river, which Duke Energy plans to donate.
So, obviously, the city has come up with some plans.
“It’s exciting, and there’s a lot of energy behind it,” Ball said. “But I don’t feel like we’ve been able to get message out to general public about what doing there.”
I’d say no. But look for more reporting on this from us, soon.
Ball also pointed out that ultimately, the taxpayer investment will draw more development in the area, and that will boost the tax base.
Still, Peterson remains skeptical.
“If you build and use taxpayer money, you should follow the rules and not build in the flood plain,” Peterson said.
At the very least, it’s going to be interesting how the area handles the next big flood.
This is the opinion of John Boyle. Contact him at 232-5847 or email@example.com