Jerry Sternberg Comments to Asheville City Council on Form Based Code in River Arts District


Video (22 minutes into video) and text of comments by Jerry Sternberg, delivered to Asheville City Council on Tuesday, October 27, 2015 concerning the City's push to rezone the River Arts District to Form Based Code:

"My name is  Jerry Sternberg. I am the unelected unpaid president for life of the river rats.  We are a group of river property owners and business located in the French broad and Swannanoa river basin who are dedicated to preserving our property rights and business operations.
We are extremely alarmed at the presentation of the draft for a new form based zoning ordinance proposed by the planning department of the city of Asheville for the so called RAD district.
This plan proposes to change the zoning in the river corridor from Amboy road to hill street and currently covers properties on both sides of the Norfolk and southern rail way including riverside drive depot, clingman and Roberts street area.
I have letters here signed by 70% of the river property owners whose property is included in this zoning area.  I have additional letters from river property owners whose properties are not affected by the current proposal but are certain that this form based zoning will metastasize and go north to broadway then east to Biltmore and all the way up the Swannanoa to bee tree.
We maintain that the area under consideration contains two business and development cultures.
This map shows the scope of the study.  As you can see the area east of the railroad track which for purpose of this discussion we will call the river arts district. is primarily small business and residential.
West of the track in this area is what we call the river district which is zoned mixed use ..
Our purpose here tonight is to respectfully request that the portion of this zoning plan west of the Norfolk and southern rail road tracks that rezones the river district be removed from the proposal.

Current river district zoning allows any use except lulu’s (large undesirable land uses such as a chemical  or asphalt plant. It is different from the river arts district or any other district in the city because of the proximity to and the unpredictability of the French broad and the Swannanoa rivers.
20 years ago the river rats fought shoulder to shoulder with Riverlinks to overcome the very restrictive zoning ordinance that was proposed for the river district under the UDO.  Had that zoning prevailed even the new Belgium plant would have been prohibited,
 With the cooperation between Riverlinks and the property owners the river district has gone through a miraculous transformation with parks greenways retail, residential, artist studios, restaurants, bars, recycling facilities, and heavy industry all prosperously coexisting.
Our hired guns, the contract planners from a land far away have focused on artists, retail, housing and entertainment.
They have a crystal ball that tells them what property owners and investors are going to want to build on a certain lot in the future.  They fail to take into consideration that Asheville has very little land available for manufacturing especially with rail siding and this area is the center of our recycling infrastructure.
Just a few months ago council was agonizing about rezoning property on Sardis road behind the blind workshop from manufacturing to residential because there is not enough property available in the city now for manufacturing.
The new ordinance allows for river manufacturing, whatever that is and light manufacturing but not heavy manufacturing.  If Caterpillar or a steel fabricating plant wanted to bring new high paying jobs to the river zone would they be prohibited?
Does this mean that if a new brewery opens on the river that they can only make light beer but not dark beer.
The ordinance expressly states that a recycling plant is a non-permitted use. On the other hand a recycling operation would be permitted. This prompts the question are there bad recyclers and good recyclers.
This ordinance is the poster child for subjective interpretation and enforcement.
They tell us not to worry that all of the nonconforming uses will be grandfathered.  Those of us who do business in Asheville know that if your business is flooded out, destroyed by fire or if you choose to expand or sell to another party the planning department’s definition of grandfather is a man who’s child has a child.
The river district has been particularly welcoming to the arts industry. we view artist as a very important economic driver. Asheville goes to extraordinary efforts to recycle our wastes keeping as much material as possible out of our land fill.
I ask you, are the artists going to pick up and process waste paper, scrap iron and metal, grind the mulch,  sort the contents of the blue boxes and salvage the aluminum cans and plastic bottles?
I don’t think so.
I have had conversations with some of the artist leadership. Even they are looking at this proposal with a jaundice eye.  The one thing that the river district and the artist district has in common is that they are both funky and artist thrive on funk.
If you turn riverside drive into 5th avenue the area will lose it character and the gentrification will drive the artists out.
Why not move all these objectionable recycling and manufacturing facilities off the river?  We could put them in Beaver Lake or maybe West Asheville where they already have form based code.
 Forget moving them to the county.  They already rode two recycling operations out on a rail in the last six months.
The so called expert planners from Texas have a very limited knowledge of our river.  I know there is a big push to put housing and tourist oriented business on the river and we river folks have no problem with that. We do object to a legislative effort to expel us or restrict our operations. We also have no issue with higher density for housing or increased height limitations.  Simply amend the current river zone ordinance but don’t throw the baby out in the river.
I would advise that we longtime river rats know and understand the risks and have the coping skills to survive the periodic disasters that afflict the river basin.
I remind you that in july 1916  99 years ago the French broad was a half mile wide and they were rescuing workers by boat from the second floor of the cotton mill.  It could have happened again two weeks ago or next week.
There is an old Yiddish expression. Menschen trought und gott laucht. Men try and god laughs.
Members of council our river zoning ordinance aint broke so lets not try to fix it.  Ask yourself what will this accomplish that we don’t already have.
Let the river district continue its glorious development organically and not by fiat. Please remove the changes to the river zoning from consideration."
Jerry Sternberg
October 27, 2015

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