Part 2: A Commission Gone Rogue

This is Part 2 of a 2 part story:
Click here to read Part 1: A Commissions Rise to Power
Part 2: A Commission Gone Rogue
Going Rogue

As we wrote in Part 1, A Commissions Rise to Power, the AARRC got its wings with the New Belgium announcement creating the sudden interest by the City, by developers, by tourism officials and of course, businesses.  As with many things, a little power goes a long way and in this case, it has led to a Commission that has gone rogue.  A commission that is so obsessed with development that it has left behind the interests of the artists and the concerns over flooding in hopes of building a city on the river.

Building Up
This AARRC announced in April that it has hired Code Studio for $100,000 to implement Form Based Code. Click to read "Form Based Code and Why River Arts District Artists Should Oppose It"

Once implemented, this Commission will be able to further dictate developments along the River. The 2014 Riverside Redevelopment Plan calls for a 4 story hotel ON the River, close to the Bowen Bridge.  It also calls for a 2 to 4 level visitors centers on the property adjacent to 12 Bones.  This is just the beginning. They hope to encourage another $200 million in private investment.

Under current zoning, the City can only develop 50,000 sq feet of it's city owned property.  Under Form based code, it will allow the city to develop up to 1 million square feet.

Why do we consider this going rogue?  

1) This AARRC commission has become quasi zoning committee but unlike the real Planning and Zoning Committee of the City that requires an application process and voting, this planning and zoning subcommittee requires none.   See Part 1 of this article.

It now controls all development along the French Broad River, Swannanoa River and the RAD and will be implementing zoning changes.  See Part 1 of this article.

2) This Committee did away with the 2005 plan and adopted a new plan in 2014 which is in direct contradiction to the Wilma Dykeman Plan which did not call for this form of dense building or putting a road directly on the river. See Part 1 of this article.

3)  Misuse of Federal FEMA Funds 
The City wishes to build upon properties which the City bought using FEMA funds specifically for the sole purpose of keeping it from built upon.

Back in 2007, with the 2004 flood still fresh in their memory, the City of Asheville used a grant from FEMA to purchase 3 lots in the River Arts District - 3 properties which were supposed to be cleaned up and left as open space. These properties were bought with city funds for the sole purpose of flood mitigation.

October 2007 - Mountain Xpress

"Armed with state and federal funds, Asheville and Buncombe County have been buying up property in the floodplain. A $300,000 flood-mitigation grant enabled the city to purchase three properties including the former Riverside CafĂ©. 

All of those structures will be razed and the parcels left as open space."  

This AARRC commission now seeks to do the exact opposite and seeks to get a certificate from FEMA allowing them to develop this same space.

Page 11, Riverside Drive Redevelopment Plan, August 2014

PIN #s 963888556400000; 963888642600000; 963888639200000; 963888656300000 
The City successfully obtained $380,000 of FEMA flood hazard mitigation funding to purchase these four parcels and demolish a building on the site in 2000. Use of the 2.11 acres of land is restricted by deed to open space and flood sensitive construction that supports park operations and/or riverfront recreation. 

Here is a screenshot from the Plan

Where are these properties?
Directly across from the New Belgium site, beside Craven Street. The Plan "presumes that the FEMA deed restrictions can be renegotiated, allowing for both a lodging facility and recreational use directly on the French Broad." pg. 14 of the Riverside Drive Redevelopment Plan.

Why did the City purchase these properties to preserve them from being developed? A little flood history to shed the light on that:

How Soon We Forget
If you were here in 2004 you remember 'the flood'. I was here and I remember it.  You could paddle in downtown Biltmore Village which seemed to suffer the most.  As a result of those floods a few businesses were washed away and never came back, costing the area $21.9 million (Source) and $200 million to the entire WNC area (source).

Flooding was a hot topic. No one wanted to repeat that.

Flood Mitigation and Damage Reduction
After 2004, the City seemed eager to mitigate flood damage.  It created a task force in 2006 and received funding from a flood mitigation grant in 2007 to purchase property along the French Broad River and vowed at that time to raze those structures and leave the parcels open, as mentioned above.

Limit development as recommended by the Asheville Flood Damage Reduction Task Force
The 2006 Asheville Flood Damage Reduction Task Force recommended to the City that current development activities were creating worse flood problems. They also recommended that all planning and regulation in the area be controlled as it didn't make sense to put expensive structures in areas we know flood:
"Start with the city’s existing River Redevelopment Plan and improve upon it. Re-examine the Plan to further limit the amount of allowable impervious surface.Make sure the plan is put in place soon. Current development activities are having a negative impact and the next storm could create even more problems.
Map the floodplain based on a build-out scenario and base all planning and regulation on that future floodplain, not on the current model that will soon be outdated. Plan for a 50 year flood, not just the 100 year event.
Follow a management strategy based on the full build-out scenario. It does not make sense to put expensive new structures in areas we know flood regularly."
Click here to view the Flood Damage Reduction Task Force Slideshow presented to the Buncombe County Commissioners

"We don't have a lot of structures right on the river, as far as residences in the flood plain anymore," VeHaun said. "We bought some with FEMA funds, and we bought some with county funds. We're in a lot better shape in that regard than 20 years ago."Source:

Instead, the City and this AARRC commission are doing and recommending the exact opposite. The City of Asheville and this AARRC are wasting taxpayer dollars by encouraging and pushing development to the River. It has been almost 10 years since that flood and the City has become apathetic to flood issues but it should not. Heck, as soon as New Belgium announced the attitude has changed dramatically... flooding? what flooding? Just build 10 feet high and everything is good. This is not a sufficient plan:

1.   Flooding to Increase 45%
The Mountain Xpress reported in 2013 that a recent FEMA Study showed that due to climate changes and rising sea levels, flood prone areas would increase by 45%. Source.

2.  It is not a matter of IF it will flood but when:
Over the past century, nine major floods have inundated Asheville, according to the N.C. Geological Survey. And at a Feb. 24 open house, hydrologists from the Renaissance Computing Institute said it’s not a question of if, but when the next one comes along. Meanwhile, future floods are expected to be even bigger, as development creates more impervious surfaces and climate change spawns more severe storms.
Source: Green Scene: A river runs through it, Mountain Xpress, March 29, 2011

“I have to believe [the new state] maps are going to show us that the 100-year floodplain has grown,” he predicts. “We’ve put a lot more people and property in that area that flooded. We are putting more people in danger, and that’s just a conscious decision we are making.”
In other words, even as we whittle down the number of at-risk structures, we are busy creating new ones elsewhere.
Meanwhile, people are continuing to build or rebuild in places that were under several feet of water for days a mere three years ago. “People have short memories,” he says. 
Source: Source:

3.  Saying you require building to be up 10 feet is not sufficient.  Environmental groups are suing FEMA for doing exactly that.  Review this article of someone who built on a 9 foot tall concrete foundation in a floodplain, only to have it filled with mud during a flood:
After a 1995 flood, they raised the house on a 9-foot-tall concrete foundation. Then a 2003 flood dumped enough mud in their basement to fill 60 wheelbarrows. "Goopy, gloppy, sticky stuff," she says. "It's horrible."
"So in courtrooms from Washington state to New Mexico, environmentalists have filed lawsuits challenging the flood insurance offered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and related FEMA programs, which has helped Vail [who built on a 9 foot tall concrete foundation] and her neighbors rebuild in a place that  is fundamentally unsuited for it."
But they're up against strong opposition, including FEMA itself, as well as local governments and a building industry that want construction and the tax dollars that come with it."
Source:  January 2013, High Country News:

So, what should happen?

The Asheville Area Riverfront Redevelopment Commission should be modified to include:
  • flood damage mitigation, including not misusing FEMA funds
  • addressing safety concerns such as sidewalks
  • return to implementation of the Wilma Dykeman Plan

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