Part 1: A Commission's Rise to Power

This is Part 1 of a 2 part story:
Part 1: A Commissions Rise to Power
Part 2: A Commission Gone Rogue
Like many of you, we've been busy running our business and our family.  As one other business owner in the RAD told me, you don't make business decisions like moving your entire business based on a community meeting and in addition, some property owners don't even live in Asheville.  That is very true. Unfortunately, we find ourselves in a situation that like weeds, has grown up around us and now, due to the sudden availability of funds, plans that have been in the works are actually about to be implemented.  We've taken a close look at everything. We've reviewed all the minutes of this commission and related documents and plans in order to understand it and what we found was quite disheartening. Again, while we are not against development, we are against building in a known flood zone and potentially repeating the history of 1916 and 2004.  

In the next couple of weeks we will continue with our articles concerning "Insider Trading" which we started a few weeks ago.  However, in order to understand that, one must understand the history of the "company" that controls the River Arts District, the place everyone suddenly wants to trade in.

For a long time no one knew who the Asheville Area Riverfront Redevelopment Commission was and no one cared.  It's a problem that plagued this little commission for quite some time as evidenced and noted in their minutes on more than one occasion.  It was a commission struggling to find itself - what was its purpose? Why did it exist?  What kind of power did it really have?  These were questions this AARRC group asked itself at meetings and retreats.

Like many things, it obtained its power through money:

AARRC History: Beginnings
This commission was created in late 2009 and started meeting regularly in 2010, 5 years after the last major flood of 2004.  Rather than focusing on flood issues, retaining the industrial artist culture and creating greenspace, it was formed entirely to focus on redevelopment efforts.  (Click here to read the Ordinance creating this commission).

AARRC who? A look at 2010 - 2012
From 2010 until 2012, this commission met regularly but had little focus and suffered identity issues. Their minutes reflect the frustration at not having money to fund their projects and members being unclear as to their purpose. Work focused on cleaning up City owned properties; taking down a hideous fence, and deciding what to do with the Icehouse property.  An initiative called "Between the Bridges" was formed to address "Brownfield" properties.  In short, this was a ragtag commission that the City itself paid little attention to.

New Belgium Effect: April 2012
It was not until April 2012, after the announcement of New Belgium's Asheville site selection that the AARRC commission suddenly became popular with the City Council and with other stakeholders, specifically developers and tourism organization members. The Council asks the Commission how can it help?

During their July 2012 retreat held in the RAD, the minutes reflect a:

"Shift has occurred within local government to support the RADTIP"

It was then that real money to fund their projects suddenly became attainable.  Buncombe County awards $6.5 million to the projects with $650,000 for 3 years after that.  Cindy Weeks,  community investment manager of Mountain Housing Opportunities has just joined the AARRC and Carol Peterson also joins. This funding kickstarts development of the RADTIP.

A New, Focused AARRC
From 2012 to 2014, the AARRC commission, now with the full support of the City Council and with developers and tourism officials on board plus funding to make their dreams happen, several dramatic changes take effect:
$14 Million Funding
  •  With the help of New Belgium, the City of Asheville and AARRC were able to apply for and obtain NCDOT grant funding of $14 million and other funding by late 2014. All eyes are now on the River Arts District. It's potential for both adding to the tax coffers of the City in addition to changing the landscape of the industrialized French Broad River changed.  Suddenly, investors, developers and small businesses were interested in going to the River.
The  AARRC completely revised the Riverfront Redevelopment Plan of 2005.
  • At the July 2012 retreat, the Commission decides they need to revise the 2005 Riverside Redevelopment Plan.  In short, that plan was completely thrown out and a new one developed. The 2005 plan was in line with the Wilma Dykeman Plan - it focused on greenspace, sidewalks, parks, and cleaning up abandoned buildings.  The 2005 plan also addressed flooding issues.  
  • The new plan, adopted in late 2014, barely mentions flooding except that it's an issue to overcome.  The new plan focuses solely on redevelopment and maximizing properties in order to add to city tax coffers.
The AARRC becomes a quasi planning and zoning committee and absorbs and takes over the River District Design Review Committee in Jan 2014
  • The AARRC has quietly become a quasi sub-zoning and planning but without the requirements for an application process or voting. It now controls all development projects along the French Broad River and the Swannanoa River and in the RAD. The River District Design Review Committee was a subcommittee of the Planning and Development Committee of the City of Asheville.  However, it didn't have very big reach and only reviewed projects in a very small area and of a certain size.  
  • By January 2014, the AARRC completely absorbs the functions of the River District Design Review Committee in order to control and review every development that occurs along the French Broad River and the Swannanoa River.  
Anyone planning construction work in the River District must have their proposal reviewed by Planning & Development Department staff, and by the AARRC Design Review Subcommittee if the project is a Major Works. While review is mandatory, compliance is voluntary. There is no fee for review.
2015 and Beyond
As we begin the first quarter of 2015, we are met with two major announcements:
  1. The AARRC has completed enough of its construction drawings to begin the eminent domain process.  Property owners and business owners will start to receive notices by June 2015. One such property owner and business in danger of complete relocation is 12 Bones.
  2. The AARRC has hired form based consulting company, Code Studio, to change the zoning in the River Arts District - to implement Form Based Code.  This is an activity which should be led and directed by the Planning and Zoning Commission, not this AARRC. Click to read "Form Based Code and Why River Arts District Artists Should Oppose It"
The AARRC has now gone rogue.  Click here to read Part 2: A commission gone rogue

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