Form Based Code: When the City takes over development

The City of Asheville held it's form based code kick off meeting last Wednesday, June 17th at 6pm.  Since we are property owners and the City is always saying how important it is that we go to these meetings, we attended. What a waste of time.
Featuring Curve Studios, owned by Pattiy Torno (Chair of AARRC)

Why? No one was allowed to ask questions
No questions - the meeting was led by Stephanie Dahl who went into a huge pitch about how wonderful it was and that this was being done because the City had "heard all of our complaints." Funny, I don't remember one story about that in the media or elsewhere.  The zoning didn't hurt the Supper Club, New Belgium or the 95/96/97 Roberts Street, The Wedge, Whiteduck Taco and the host of other businesses from starting up.  In fact, a few of these places (and other RAD properties) were changed from River zoning to "Urban Place" by the property owners back in 2007 and then subsequently changed back to River zoning because Urban Place was too restrictive.

Then, there was one Code Studio representative who led the entire presentation and started off with - "This is a one way presentation."  He said they were not there to answer any questions; only to inform us of the process. He walked though the powerpoint slides as though we could not read.  They are now online.  

HERE ARE OUR QUESTIONS
Second, this form based code will REPLACE the current River District zoning.  So, we want to know, what is wrong with the current zoning?  As stated before, many properties were changed to Urban Place zoning, a far better type of zoning supposedly but then changed back to River zoning because it was too restrictive.

What will happen to established businesses and buildings that are not in conformity with the new code?  What about when they want to make changes, additions to their buildings? Who decides?

Does form based code impact a property owners' ability to sell?  In other words, form based code has a limited set of "allowed uses."  What if I want to sell my property but a potential buyer realizes their purpose is not on the allowed use, then what? How easy is it to get approval?

We would like to know whose idea it was to implement form based code?  This entire presentation made ONE HUGE assumption and that was that form based code was a done deal - no ifs, ands or buts about it.  So, what if a majority of property owners are completely opposed to the entire idea of form based code?

Where are real world examples of Allowed Uses? For example, light industrial is an allowed use in the Haywood Form Based Code... but what is considered light industrial?  Does that include Auto Auction place? Does that include Asheville Waste Paper?

Who are the "stakeholders?"  We also know that the City setup "stakeholder" meetings with 12 different stakeholders (that the City chose) and those people got to meet specifically with Code Studio.  Who were they and why them?  We are betting that Pattiy Torno (whose building is featured in the Kick off brochure, above) was included as a stakeholder but wait, she is also chair of the AARRC so we're pretty sure that the form based code will be to her liking.

"Conformity" Code - someone said this on Facebook and I thought it was appropriate
Code Studio has been making a lot of money implementing form based code throughout the country. They are in the process of doing so for the entire city of Los Angeles.  But, we are not Los Angeles. We are also not Knoxville.  We are not Chattanooga or Chapel Hill.  So, why would a company from Texas think they know what Asheville wants?  If you compare the other form based codes they've implemented in these other cities, you will see they use the same graphics and setup. They always create a Facebook page, website page and use the same sketches.  Why does Asheville and the River Arts District want to look exactly like those places?  The designs look like a template in which they simply change the name of the town.  What happened to artists working in these industrial buildings that they themselves design?  The independence of design is lost with form based code and we begin to look like everyone else.

Other questions: Does it address graffiti?  What about the "industrial" look that everyone likes - why can't it stay?  Would RADLofts have been approved under Form Based Code? What impact will it have on places like the Bywater whose visitors practically camp out at the river?  What impact does form based code have on contiguous neighborhoods that don't have form based code? For example, the boundary of the form based code will go all the way to Hillcrest neighborhood but does not include that neighborhood.  Why not?

It supposedly simplifies the building code, but for whom? In reviewing the Haywood Form Based Code, it appears to put a lot more development control in the hands of the City. Throughout the code it states that the Planning & Development Director has the authority to change, amend and approve any deviations.

If you want to know the real reason why the City wants form based code, read the following related articles:

Retreat, retreat, retreat: A report of the AARRC Meeting, June 11, 2015

At this month's AARRC meeting, the entire agenda focused on one theme - RETREAT - every meaning of the word...

1.  RETREAT - an act or process of withdrawing 

especially from what is difficult, dangerous, or disagreeable


A portion of the meeting was spent discussing the board and staff training they have scheduled for June 30th.  Why?  Because the AARRC has received a lot of media requests and information requests in the last month and they are not sure how to handle them. They need to get their act together, create fact sheets so they don't sound defensive was a suggestion. Someone mentioned that they sounded defensive on these calls so they need to train their staff so they can answer all the questions in a consistent manner.

Form Based Code and Why River Arts Districts Artists Should Oppose It

NOTE: this is a technical and lengthy article but one that should be read if you care about keeping the RAD affordable

April 2015: Asheville hires form based consultant for River Arts District
At the April 2015 meeting, Stephanie Monson, reported that Code Studio had been selected to implement a new form of zoning called Form Based Code in the River Arts District.  You've heard of this before as it was recently instituted on Haywood Road in the West Asheville area which is experiencing rapid growth.  So, if it was implemented in West Asheville, why would form based code be a bad thing for the River Arts District?

We all know the River Arts District has become it's own unique zone for independent artists who enjoy the cheaper rents and edgy look of the industrial buildings that have stood there for over 100 years.  Several buildings are listed as National Historic buildings while others, eligible for this title, have not applied for it yet.

Artists should oppose form based code:  If artists truly care about slowing down the gentrification process which, in turn, pushes them out, they should oppose Form Based Code because it quickens the gentrification process.
  • Form based code is supposed to make it easier for developers because it simplifies the process (or so it should) and because of this, encourages rapid development versus developing in other areas of the city that might not be so easy. Remember, building in the flood plain has high barriers to entry. However, as long as developers meet form based code requirements, they can do what they want in an area which has been restricted by flood plain problems. West Asheville did not have flood issues. 
  •  By rapidly increasing development and thus, property values, private property owners are more likely to "flip" their buildings in the hopes of higher rents. Example: 339 Old Lyman will more quickly sell and probably not to artists.
  •  It encourages public/private development in which the City will help fund redevelopment of old buildings (through tax incentives) which in turn will become cool little condos and potentially, a hotel along the riverfront. Again, this pushes out existing tenants who are paying lower rents.
What should the artists do?  Form an Enterprise Zone
The artists in the RAD should ban together and work with the City to zone the RAD as an "Enterprise Zone" which protects the area from this kind of development and also help protect the French Broad River - something Riverlink should also support.  It would afford other benefits to the artists as well - see below.

Pattiy Torno (current chairwoman of the AARRC and who recommended form based code in the RAD) used to fight on behalf of the artists and it was she who even gave it the name, River Arts District. Here lately, however, she has succumbed to the lull of increasing her property values (#6, #9, #12 Curve Studios) and probably wishes to increase her own rents. Rather than encouraging development and form based code, she should be helping the artists protect their domain.

Learn from Burlington Vermont
The issues in the RAD are not knew.  They are being felt across the country in small communities like ours.  The artists in Burlington Vermont are facing the same issues of gentrification and growth in their "South End". They formed an alliance and have been working to fight form based code initiatives proposed in their area.  They worked to create their area as an "Enterprise Zone" and are now facing a sneaky surprise when their City included the Enterprise Zone in their new form based code initiative.
Charles Norris-Brown, an artist who does figurative drawing, said the possible zoning changes for the area need more discussion and examination.
"If they change the zoning, the first thing developers would do is put in condos," he said.
If the value of the land goes up, artists who work in the area will leave, Norris-Brown said. He's helped to organize artists to stay involved in the planning process and work for strategies that would preserve affordable studio space.
Source: Burlington Free Press, February 20, 2015, "Artists in South End organize to fight gentrification"
Avoiding Late Phase Gentrification: A recent study funded by the City, Alternatives to Gentrification, already revealed that the RAD area is in the 'middle stage' of gentrification:
"neighborhood prices and values have already risen sharply and displacement has begun, while affordable residential and non-residential space remains available, as does some available develop-able land"
It states that if 'Late' Phase gentrification is to be avoided (which means,  affordable residential and non-residential space become unavailable), then steps need to be put into place.  Unfortunately, our City is doing the exact opposite and speeding up gentrification by implementing form based code. The City has not responded to the study (which it paid for) or indicated what it would do slow it down gentrification but implementing form based code is at least one thing it should NOT do.

Why would Asheville and the AARRC propose form based code in the RAD?  
  • To increase amount of develop-able land. Currently, the City can only develop about 50,000 sq feet in the RAD according to their own report. With form based code, the City hopes to increase that number to almost 1 Million sq feet. See the form based code consultant Request for Proposal that was issued in Jan 2015 below:
  • See pg. 51 of the Plan. Here is pic showing increased developable land under Form Based Code. Note that they plan on building higher.


  • To increase density.  During the June 2014 meeting of the AARRC, they discussed the possiblity of form based code as proposed by Tom Gallagher, the designer of the updated Riverside Development Plan:
"This initiative would provide greater options for infill, increased density, and neighborhood changes not currently allowed by existing zoning." (Source: June 2014 AARRC minutes)
So, what is form based code?
Form based code is a way of replacing traditional zoning. Currently, there a little over 400 form based code initiatives in the country.  It many ways it transfers development power from the developers to the City because they can dictate everything from use of space to materials and design. Some would agree with this but if the City misuses form based code, it can be used as a way of controlling exactly what goes in an area and what cannot. It essentially dictates development standards based on the whims of the City Council at that time rather than really thinking about growth for the long term. It can become over burdensome when the code starts dictating paint colors, materials, and strict forms of use. They often have to be modified quite regularly as economics change, expectation of growth changes or quite simply, demand for certain uses changes.
A form-based code is a land development regulation that fosters predictable built results and a high-quality public realm by using physical form (rather than separation of uses) as the organizing principle for the code. Aform-based code is a regulation, not a mere guideline, adopted into city, town, or county law. Source: http://formbasedcodes.org/definition
But, what is it really?  It's expensive which is why rents go up.
Form-based codes, or any urban planning methodology, is not architecture. It's applied economics. In fact, form-based codes are designed to be more liberating because they usually don't outright outlaw a wide variety of business and industrial uses in their overlay districts.
The premise behind them is merely "if you meet enough of our qualifications for organizing your physical space, we could give two fucks about what you actually do."
Where form-based coding primarily fails is from a cost standpoint. They're high cost arrangements and the majority of them are not owner-operator affairs. Like the Euclidean-zoned strip malls and single-purpose-single-use business districts they're trying to replace, they're all predeveloped land-lease to floor-lease developer-driven projects.
And these things are non pop-up strip malls with low-capital costs. They're quite expensive and the rents they demand are prohibitively high to both locally- and nationally-established businesses. Click for Source
In short, Form Based Code is not what is needed in the River Arts District.  Already, the City has moved to make it possible to increase taxes in the area by making the RAD a "Municipal Service District" which it coyly renamed "Innovation District." It did this October 2014 and allows the City to increase taxes in the area.  Areas like Downtown, Charlotte Street, South Slope and the RAD can now potentially have increased taxes.

Instead, the River Arts District and the artists should question and review how form based code will help them and at the least, ask the AARRC commission and the City of Asheville council members how this will keep the area affordable.

TO: Artists & Business Owners in the RAD: Join the AARRC!

4 Open Seats on the AARRC


Why Only 1 Artist & 1 Business Owner Represented?

Currently, there is one RAD artist and one RAD business owner who is representing you on the AARRC Commission and both are the same person - Pattiy Torno.  Her term ends this year which means there will be ZERO River Arts District artist and ZERO business owner representation on this commission next year.  (Click here for current list of members)

We encourage you to consider applying for membership on this Commission if you want your interests represented.  Currently, there are 7 property owners represented and excellent representation by everyone else - the TDA, Chamber, Town of Woodfin, Buncombe Co and Asheville and even a couple of Riverlink members.

Your representation matters. They are in the process of selecting new members and inviting them to attend meetings.  The time is now to get interested.  Everything being planned by this commission impacts artists and business owners.

We also encourage and support amending the membership requirements as follows:

1) Require at least 3 River Arts District artists on the commission.
It is called the River ARTS District and you should have fair representation as such.  Your talents and skills are what have contributed to the RAD being what it is today.

2) Require at least 3 River Arts District business owners on the commission.
The AARRC membership focused upon "property ownership" as a requirement rather than business owners.  However, most property owners are not also business owners and have nothing to do with the actual operations of the businesses that lease from them.  They are the least knowledgeable about the RAD needs.

This commission is seeking to expand its membership. Become a part of it and have equal representation.

CLICK HERE FOR CURRENT LIST OF MEMBERS




Craven Street Improvements Increase $5 Million

So, we've started keeping a running tally as an experiment - the projected costs vs. the actual costs because that's how government works.  In private life and in corporate life, this is often the case but when you're using 'other people's money' such as taxpayer dollars, it's important to keep track.  Bureaucrats love saying a project will "only" cost X but never report when the cost triples or quadruples. Here's an example:

CRAVEN STREET IMPROVEMENTS
ORIGINAL ESTIMATED COST:  $1,935,730

As part of our agreement with New Belgium, the City of Asheville promised certain improvements to Craven Street for their trucks and to mitigate all the stormwater issues. The original estimated cost and essentially benefit to New Belgium because the City wouldn't be doing this without them was just under $2 million.


New Belgium Agreement dated April 2012

CRAVEN STREET IMPROVEMENTS
ACTUAL BUDGETED COST: $7,754,174.66
Of this amount, the City (and taxpayers) will be funding $5,966,773 out of various city funds
City Council Meeting Minutes of June 24, 2014

Click on images to enlarge

In short, the "benefits" to New Belgium keep increasing.

AARRC Monthly Meeting: June 11, 2015 at 4:00pm

ASHEVILLE AREA RIVERFRONT REDEVELOPMENT COMMISSION
ASHEVILLE AREA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE, SECOND FLOOR BOARD ROOM
THURSDAY, JUNE 11TH AT 4PM

PROPOSED AGENDA:

4 PM CALL TO ORDER
4:05 PM Planning and Design Review Committee – Carleton Collins
4:20 PM STAFF UPDATES

APPROVAL OF MINUTES

SUBCOMMITTEE UPDATES
  • Form-Based Code report
  • Greenway Workplan Update
  • Networking Committee – Peter Sprague
  • Project Sheet
  • Whitewater Park Proposal
  • Craven Street Bridge Improvement Project clarification
  • Communications
  • COA Board and Commission Staff Liaison Training and Policy
4:50 PM UNFINISHED BUSINESS
  • June 26th Retreat Agenda
5:05 PM NEW BUSINESS
  • Design Review: Duke Energy Swannanoa Sub Station Project
5:25 PM PUBLIC COMMENT


FUTURE AGENDA ITEMS

ANNOUNCEMENTS
  • RADBA One Neighborhood Meeting June 14th, 2-4pm at Grant Center
  • Form-Based Code meeting June 17th, 6-8pm at Grant Center
  • Grilling for Greenways June 27th, 11am-1pm at Carrier Park Pavilion
  • Friends of Connect Buncombe Branding Roundtable Meetings
  • North Buncombe Tuesday, June 23rd, 10 -11 a.m.
  • Weaverville Town Hall, 30 South Main Street, Weaverville
  • East Buncombe Tuesday, June 23, 2-3 p.m.
  • Black Mountain Library, 105 N. Daugherty Street, Black Mountain
  • West Buncombe Wednesday, June 24, 2-3 p.m.
  • Enka/Candler Library, 1404 Sandhill Road, Asheville
  • South Buncombe Wednesday, June 24, 3:30-4:30 p.m.
  • South Buncombe Library, 260 Overlook Road, Asheville
  • Central Thursday, June 25, 10 a.m.
  • Lord Auditorium, Pack Library, Haywood Road

NEXT MEETING: THURSDAY JULY 9TH AT 4PM, ASHEVILLE AREA

CHAMBER OF COMMERCE SECOND FLOOR BOARD ROOM

5:30 PM ADJOURNMENT
For more information on the Asheville Area Riverfront Redevelopment Commission, please contact
Steph Monson Dahl at (828) 232-4502.

Form Based Code Press Release

This just in...

River Arts District Form-Based Code Kickoff Meeting


The City of Asheville will kick off the form-based code process for the River Arts District with a community meeting at 6 p.m. June 17 at the Grant Southside Center, 285 Livingston Street.

Since the adoption of its 2025 Comprehensive Plan, the City of Asheville has recognized a need to grow more efficiently and sustainably. That vision requires higher densities and multi-story structures along corridors like Lyman Street and Riverside Drive that have sufficient roadway infrastructure and lot sizes to handle new growth and design standards that reflect community goals. With that recognition the goal is to move towards a regulatory framework for growth and development that promotes a walkable, pedestrian-friendly street environment desired by residents, visitors and many business owners.

The City Council funded this project because a form-based code is an increasingly popular tool being implemented in many cities that produces clear expectations for new development. With form-based code, developers, property owners and the community know in advance what the community wants and will accept.

This is the second form-based code project in the City; the Haywood Road Corridor form-based code was adopted by City Council in September 2014.

Form-based codes have been discussed for a number of years in Asheville as a planning tool that can replace traditional zoning with its focus on land uses, building setbacks and heights. Its goal is to provide effective development tools to enliven streetscapes and make neighborhoods more walkable and economically viable.

This is an important tradeoff where additional density is anticipated and desired. In the City’s current zoning ordinance, form-based “type” codes are not entirely new. Some zoning districts adopted over the past ten years, such as Urban Village and Urban Place zones, are examples of a “hybrid” code, incorporating form-based elements governing placement and development for new buildings along with land uses and other parcel regulations. This emerging hybrid code approach is best represented by the recently adopted Downtown Master Plan and the zoning code created to integrate the plan with zoning requirements for the Central Business District.

“After the success of the Haywood Road form-based code, City Council and staff were interested in pursuing this tool in an area that will be seeing a great deal of redevelopment in the years to come. The River Arts District was specifically selected because other investments in the area make it the right time to pin down how buildings will relate to the street, especially the new Riverway,” said Alan Glines, Interim Director of the Planning and Urban Design Department.

The primary focus of the River Arts District form-based code will to help create welcoming pedestrian-oriented public spaces while encouraging new buildings in scale with the local community and neighborhood. By requiring form-based standards, new development in the River Arts District will complement existing buildings while providing increased density and better pedestrian connections.

“I have had my business, Joe Ransmeier Woodworking, here in the River Arts District for over 20 years now,” said River Arts District business owner Joe Ransmeier. “I'm on the board of directors of the River Arts District Artists and volunteered to represent them in meetings with the form-based code committee this year because we want to have input into this process.”

The River Arts District Form-Based Code process is expected to continue through 2016, with a draft form based code being presented in early Spring 2016.

The City of Asheville has secured the professional assistance of the Code Studio planning firm from Austin, Texas; a national leader in the creation of form based codes for this project. The Code Studio team was selected after a review of proposals from planning consultants across the country. As the project progresses, other team members will step in and provide expertise in transportation and parking solutions (Nelson-Nygaard Associates), building and streetscape design (Third Coast Design Studio) and economic analysis and viability (Noell Consulting Group).

At this first public meeting for the Form-Based Code project on June 17 the principal of Code Studio, Lee Einsweiler, will present the form-based code process and explain how the community will be involved in the River Arts District study. For more information, email Sasha Vrtunski, lead planner for this project, atsvrtunski@ashevillenc.gov or call 828-259-5560.

Who is the AARRC? Affiliations and Connections - Part 1

This article has been updated - see below

Here are the members of the AARRC and City Staff and their affiliations and connections.

Chairwoman - Pattiy Torno
  • Pattiy Torno is the current chairwoman of the AARRC. Her term ends this December but she has been a founding member since 2010. She was also a member of the City of Asheville River District Design Review Committee which reviewed developments along the French Broad (River Arts District area) before it became absorbed by this AARRC commission in Feb 2014.
  • Pattiy is both a property owner and artist in the RAD. She owns the 3 buildings on Riverside Drive (#6, #9, #12 Riverside Drive) known as Curve Studios. The road in front of Curve Studios was going to be widened and would have impacted her building. This is no longer the case. There will be a sidewalk built to her buildings instead.
Joseph Ferikes, City Council appointee and also:
  • Attorney for Town of Woodfin with Jerry Vehaun who is also a member of AARRC
  • Owner and part-time developer in French Broad River Group, LLC, who sold their property to New Belgium for $1.7 million (the property on the French Broad River, not the Enka site). Click here for source
  • Also recently purchased properties in and around New Belgium's property on Craven Street.  Recently purchased 25 George Ave bought April 2014; 5 Georgia Ave bought March 2014; 19 Woodfin Ave (planned Greenway in this area); 2 lots on Waynesville Ave - near Craven St)
  • He attends the New Belgium Leadership Roundtable meetings and reports back to the AARRC
George Morosani, CIBO representative and also:
  • Owner of the property of River Mill Lofts (under the name M Realty, LLC), the recently approved 254 unit, 4 story development with 4,000 sq ft of commercial space to go along the Swannanoa River. This development was reviewed and approved by this AARRC commission first before going through regular P&Z. Several variances were approved that would make most of the area developers quite jealous since the variance requests usually take months to go through and with a lot of hassle but River Mill Lofts was very seamless and easy. This site is also within the 100-year flood plain.  We do note: Mr. Morosani did recuse himself from the November 14, 2015 meeting deliberations on this project but he stayed and heard the discussions; he just did not vote or provide comment. Click here to read those minutes
  • former owner of George's Stor Mor who recently sold that business 
  • Developer with several properties, mostly in South Asheville
Carleton Collins, Vice Chairman of AARRC and also:
  • Carleton is a member of the design team for River Mill Lofts which is owned by George Morosani
  • former member of the River District Design Review Committee (reviews all development projects on the French Broad and Swannanoa)
Cindy Weeks,  City Council Appointee
  • Vice President and Director of Investments for Mountain Housing Opportunities, who has provided funding for some of the projects in the River Arts District 
  • MHO is the same organization that was recently in the paper for their delayed Eagle Market Street project. Click here for article.
Brownie Newman, Ex-Officio Buncombe Co Commission Appointee
  • VP of Business Development for FLS Energy (solar power company located in the River Arts District). All of the New Belgium Leadership Roundtable meetings (where they update stakeholders on progress) are held at the FLS Energy Board Room.
  • Buncombe County Commissioner. Remember Buncombe Co gave 8.5 million to New Belgium in tax incentives although those funds have not yet been released.
  • Also, Steve Ahn, who used to be the Senior Project Manager and Purchasing Manager for FLS Energy, is now the Facilities Manager and Construction Manager for New Belgium's new facility.
Karl N. Koon, CIBO Appointee
  • former Planning & Zoning Commission member of the City of Asheville but was member during which RADLofts and River Mill Lofts were approved by this same AARRC
  • President of Asheville Oil Company
  • member of WNC Regional Air Quality for Buncombe Co
Matt Sprouse - member of subcommittee, Planning & Design Review Committee which reviews all riverfront development projects
  • He is not an official AARRC member but was put on their subcommittee - the Planning & Design Review Committee (formerly, the River District Design Review Committee)
  • He is also the agent for the project, RAD Lofts, a project of Harry Pilos, which recently was awarded approximately $500,000 in land use incentives.  For details about the RAD Lofts project, view the City Council minutes here.  Mr. Pilos is fortunate to have someone on the design committee working on his behalf. Matt worked on the RAD Lofts project, approved it through the Planning & Design Review Committee and recommended it for approval to Planning & Zoning.
  • He is owner of Sitework Studios, an urban design firm located on Depot St in the RAD. His business partner designed Carrier Park on Amboy Road. He is currently President of RADBA (River Arts District Business Association).

City Staff associated with this project:
  • Stephanie Monson Dahl is the urban planner in charge of this project. Her husband, Darren Dahl, a freelance writer for publications like Huffington Post also writes for Forbes. In May he launched a blog on behalf of New Belgium where he "chronicles the growth" of New Belgium. Click here for bio and articles.  
  • Mayor, Esther Manheimer is a lawyer with Van Winkle law firm.  Her area of expertise is in representing property/land owners in land condemnation disputes. She understands our issues well and in fact, refers property owners (like she did with us) in the RAD to her own law firm for representation. Law firms receive a percentage of the compensation paid to their clients (usually 30%). 
More on this in Part 2 of this series

Update June 8, 2015:
Citizen-Times did a follow-up report to this blog post.  Click here for link to the full article
Let's do a little clarifying:

1) Correction: There are not 2 CIBO members on this Commission - there are 4.

2) Out of the 14 members, 7 are property owners and none of them are negatively impacted - all will get benefit

3) Review the list of who has applied for this commission - the same people get on the commission. In fact, a large portion were on the River District Design Review Committee. Several other property and business owners applied but were not selected.

4) All "recommendations" made are not just recommendations. They are followed through by the City.

5) Correction: Morosani "recused" himself but stayed for the meetings concerning the discussion of his property.

Asheville Budget Salary & Fringe Benefits Breakdown

Our first review of the proposed 2015 Budget for the City of Asheville focused upon wages - salaries and benefits since this is the major portion of the budget ($82 million of the $154 million).

In light of recent articles from the Asheville Blade that pay wages have gone down and the ever increasing talk about living wages, we wanted to do this review first to see where the City of Asheville stands among the discussion. The letter from Gary Jackson accompanying the budget keeps mentioning that wages are a problem with the City and not sufficient. In addition, City taxpayers are getting a 1.5% tax increase while certain services have been cut back.  The City also has $12 million a year it spends in bonds (financing).

Here are the numbers:
Average Hourly Rate = $28/hour (salary only)
Average Hourly Rate = $33/hour (with benefits)
Average Salary = $69,116
Salaries & WagesBenefitsTotal PayFTE (Full Time Employees)Average PayAverage Hourly rate w/o BenefitsAverage Hourly Rate with Benefits
$58,305,310.00$23,773,735.00$82,079,045.001187.55$69,116.29$28/hour$33/hr

Here's a breakdown by Department:


The total of salaries & benefits is broken down by department below
General GovernmentSalaries & WagesBenefitsTotal PayFTEDept Average
Finance & Management$1,764,907.00$700,107.00$2,465,014.0033$74,697.39
Admin$1,070,067.00$399,042.00$1,469,109.0013$113,008.38
General Svcs$1,540,842.00$704,342.00$2,245,184.0037$60,680.65
Econ Dev$474,248.00$168,079.00$642,327.007.5$85,643.60
City Atty$555,852.00$186,326.00$742,178.007$106,025.43
Inform Technology$1,302,804.00$484,348.00$1,787,152.0021$85,102.48
Human Resources$982,988.00$402,494.00$1,385,482.0019.8$69,973.84
Public Safety
Police$14,025,009.00$5,769,331.00$19,794,340.00283$69,944.66
Fire & Rescue$13,838,837.00$5,021,434.00$18,860,271.00260.75$72,330.86
Environmental & Transportation$0.00
Water Resources Fund$6,313,474.00$2,878,632.00$9,192,106.00149$61,691.99
MultiModal Tran & Capital Projects Admin$300,395.00not reported$300,395.002$150,197.50
MultiModal Tran & Capital Projects Capital Projects$701,968.00not reported$701,968.0014$50,140.57
MultiModal Tran & Capital Projects Sustainability$165,014.00not reported$165,014.002$82,507.00
Public Works$296,790.00$1,444,052.00$1,740,842.0075.57$23,036.15
Stormwater Fund$1,652,666.00$757,790.00$2,410,456.0040$60,261.40
Streetcut Utility Fund$408,953.00$199,534.00$608,487.0010.5$57,951.14
Transportation$654,478.00$283,200.00$937,678.0013.29$70,555.15
Transit Services Fund$198,719.00$68,074.00$266,793.003$88,931.00
Parking Services Fund$732,460.00$391,218.00$1,123,678.0021.83$51,474.03
Culture & Recreation
Parks, Rec & Cultural Arts$4,595,290.00$1,838,670.00$6,433,960.0090.63$70,991.50
US Cellular Center Fund$1,033,906.00$361,652.00$1,395,558.0016.5$84,579.27
Community Development
Planning & Urban Design$610,169.00$268,466.00$878,635.0010$87,863.50
Development Services Dept$2,498,126.00$1,039,450.00$3,537,576.0050$70,751.52

New Belgium and the Political Incentive Game

Let's talk about our big neighbors across the river - the ones for whom all of this riverfront redevelopment would not be possible, New Belgium.

We all know that cities and towns vy for the attention of big corporations and their dollars. In case you don't know, we do not support tax incentives for corporations. Myself nor my husband have ever received tax incentives in our businesses.  He has had to build each and every aspect of his properties without the help and assistance of the City of Asheville or anyone else.  Giving and taking incentives is what  gets us into the messes we are in.  We have seen what it does to a community when a community sells itself to a corporation.

Hypocrisy in action
Everyone, including those like Holly Jones, will tell you, "I am not a fan of the tax incentive game. However, it is a necessary evil local policy-makers must engage in if our community is going to be able to compete."  Source: http://www.floodgallery.org/events.html

In the case of New Belgium, who on the record has received $8.5 million from Buncombe County and $3.5 million from the City, we wonder if we really needed to compete after all?  No, the deciding factor in New Belgium's selection of Asheville was the transportation.  They wanted a "multimodal" transportation system for their employees and they wanted proper truck routes for their deliveries.  No where do they mention tax incentives as the reason for their coming to Asheville.

In this article by Top Fermented, he discusses tax incentives for New Belgium in 2011, before they ever announced Asheville as their east coast site.  He is no fan of New Belgium because of what they do to small breweries.

New Belgium is essentially becoming the Wal-Mart of the beer industry and they are now in Asheville. Unlike Wal-Mart, they offer fabulous perks (trips to New Belgium, free bikes, etc.) Heck, I would love to work there.  Let's just hope they don't get bought out by the real big guys.  It would have been better to have Budweiser brewing because they're not considered a microbrewery and would not have been competitive with the other local craft microbreweries.  New Belgium is the 4th largest brewer of craft beer IN THE UNITED STATES and the 8th LARGEST BREWERY IN THE UNITED STATES.
Invasive marketing tactics:"They also have some of the most invasive marketing and distribution tactics I’ve seen in craft. When New Belgium pushes into markets (as they recently did in North Carolina) with multi-million dollar marketing campaigns and sponsorship deals, small, local breweries cannot possibly hope to compete with them. Who sponsors the “local beer, local band” night around the corner from me? New Belgium. Who sells beer at the “Best of the Indy” parties? New Belgium. Who has been at every freakin’ local event before almost every local craft brewery? New Belgium. Why? Because in a morally dubious pay-to-play environment, they have the cash to pay – and pay a LOT – where small local breweries do not.
Is New Belgium the only brewery who does this? No. Good heavens, no. But in North Carolina, they were nowhere one day and everywhere the next, forcefully filling the niche I would have expected a lot of local breweries to fill. While most of that is their distribution partner, New Belgium also doesn’t seem to be in any sort of rush to stop those practices, either. 
Small business crushing competitorThe local breweries in Asheville, along with its craft-beer-loving populace, have already brought country-wide attention and recognition to the area. Asheville has earned the moniker “Beer City USA” not because of its tax breaks, but because of its (stay with me here, this might get complex) beer. Why on earth would you, as a city council, make it easier to bring a small-business-crushing competitor to town?  
We couldn't have said it any better:
Tax breaks for incoming industries only make sense when you’re enticing an industry that doesn’t already exist into an area that economically depressed. Neither of these conditions seem true in Asheville.
Here’s the thing: If New Belgium is going to open a brewery in North Carolina, they’ll do it whether or not there’s a tax incentive thrown at them. They’re coming, and the best thing that we can possibly do is fortify our local industry so that we can welcome them as an equal level competitor, an enrichment of the local market. Giving them tax breaks that our local businesses do not enjoy is just inviting a fox into the hen house.

Accountability:
The question becomes - who is going to keep New Belgium accountable to their promises? As far as sustainability, this company is outstanding.  But they made the promise that 150 jobs were going to come from the area.  Who is going to oversee that?  Are we sure that they are not transplanting people here from Fort Collins?  I've met one person who was relocated here by New Belgium.  How many more are there or are they really going to hire from the Asheville workforce?