City of Asheville requesting flood restrictions to be lifted in the River Arts District

City moves forward with development in flood-prone River Arts District 
but wants to do it WITHOUT complying with flood standards.

On March 28th the Board of Adjustment for City of Asheville is holding a meeting to consider the following:


"Stacy Merten, on behalf of the City of Asheville, is requesting a variance to flood regulations in 7-12-1(e)(2)(e)(1)(ii) to allow for the HISTORIC STRUCTURE at 14 Riverside Drive to be renovated WITHOUT FULLY COMPLYING WITH FLOOD PROTECTION STANDARDS." (Picture of notice at the end of this article).

This is picture of flooding beside 14 Riverside Drive in 2004, rising to the top of 12 Bones at 5 Riverside Drive. 

SHOULD THE CITY BE ALLOWED TO NOT FULLY COMPLY WITH FLOOD PROTECTION STANDARDS?

Another example of the hypocrisy of our City.  Private property owners would not be allowed such a variance but the City plans to renovate 14 Riveside Drive (the building next to 12 Bones) as a Visitors Center. The City is also considering renting space to retailers. You would think the retailers would want their products to be safe from flooding...They wish to do so without complying with flood protection standards. This variance would probably not be approved for a private developer or property owner.

City plans below:

Click here for the excerpt from the City's own Riverfront Redevelopment Plan addressing the issues and plans

Here's an article explaining from Ashevegas.

See the notice below - item #4.


Asheville Tree Commission: Can't see the forests for the trees

CITY DOESN'T PROTECT ITS OWN TREES
The City of Asheville likes to protect its trees - at least the trees on private property, that is.  When it comes to its own trees, that's a different matter. Recently, this has come up in the Beaucatcher Greenway (1 of 19 planned by the City) in which 85 mature native trees will be cut down and replaced by a paved greenway going to nowhere (it doesn't connect to anything, just an overlook). For further explanation, read this article in Mountain X.

RIVER ARTS DISTRICT TREES TO BE CUT
We decided to investigate since no one has mentioned the many trees, several over 100 years old that will be impacted by the RADTIP project - $60 million to put in greenways, bike paths and road realignment for New Belgium trucks in the River Arts District. This is one of the largest developments being run by the City and we wondered why no local environmental groups or at least the City's tree commission hasn't looked into it. One of the trees we identified by hiring an arborist, located a tree of which there are only 41 in the City of Asheville according to their Asheville Tree Map.

HISTORY OF BAD CITY DEVELOPMENT
The City's own history of how it treats money and its own natural resources is a fail.  Example: Pack Square Park used to have lots of trees and grass. The City cut down most of the mature trees in the park, paved over all the grass replacing it with concrete and then ended up spending $20 million instead of the $10 million it had originally projected. Now they have to spend 2.3 million redoing toxic turf on the soccer fields they just completed. So you see why we don't trust the City with a project that will forever change the landscape in the River Arts District.  In addition, the City has 21 planned Greenways (click here for map) which this Tree Commission has no clue about and will not be reviewing. Apparently, our City can't see the forests for the greenways.

Citizens should ask themselves, does the City have to follow its own guidelines?  
Apparently not. While citizens are always informed about new hotels or developments they rarely get a glimpse into the details of the City's own projects and only when they turn out to be a disaster.

We attended the City of Asheville Tree Commission meeting on March 21st.  We attended to find out if the City is:

a) aware of the RADTIP project (2.2 miles on French Broad River in the River Arts District) which will remove several important trees

b) if the City has to follow the same guidelines it's own Tree Commission enforces.

We learned the following:

TREE COMMISSION GUIDELINES DO NOT APPLY TO 
CITY OF ASHEVILLE DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS

This Commission said they no nothing about this RADTIP project and have not reviewed it or discussed it.
Quite unbelievable when you consider that this $50 to $60 million investment on the River has been the talk of the town ever since New Belgium announced in 2012.
There are number of mature trees that will be cut down along the French Broad River for this project. What is this commission doing to protect them? Or, like the Beaucatcher Greenway, the City would rather cut down 100 year old mature trees to replace them with a paved greenway?
The City of Asheville does NOT hold it's own development projects to the same standards it requires of private citizens who landscape their properties, business owners who landscape their businesses or developers who plan important growth structures. How do we know this? Because this commission doesn't even review the City's projects so how would it know?

Again, like the City's planned Beaucatcher Greenway, this commission did not review the plans until citizens raised and voiced their concerns.... speaking of:

BEAUCATCHER GREENWAY UPDATE

The Tree Commission provided an update about this Greenway. Turns out all the fuss raised over it raised the attention of this Commission who sent 4 tree folks up to tour the path of the greenway. They reported that there is a 200 year old tree (Red Oak), possibly the oldest of its kind in Asheville, that should be protected.  They identified several other trees that should be protected. Looks like this Commission may have some say in the matter afterall - although they were brought into it quite late.

DID YOU KNOW... DURING THIS MEETING WE ALSO LEARNED.....

VOLUNTEER GROUP WITH POWER OVER YOUR PROPERTY

We were reminded that this is a volunteer commission; however, this same commission is who you go to when you wish to appeal an action taken by the Public Works Director.  For example, if you are a developer or private property owner and you receive a notice fining you for improper tree cutting on your property, you can appeal to the Tree Commission. So, while volunteer, this same commission has limited rights over your property, including recommendations to the UDO which impacts every property owner or business owner.

WATCH BUREAUCRACY GROW

During this one hour meeting, we watched the Tree Commission literally grow. In addition to their current roster of about 3 subcommittees (could be more), they created FIVE more subcommittees. You can join any of the subcommittees. What do you get? Free lunch. You can't vote or be a chair but your input is welcome. Contact the Tree Commission folks to get on one of these subcommittees. The regular board member number is 14 but in one sitting, they've literally doubled their own size.

MONTHLY FREE LUNCH

If you would like a free lunch, attend the City of Asheville Tree Commission meeting every 3rd Monday at Noon at the Public Works Building on South Charlotte Street.  Those in attendance who never reported anything - most were extra staff people, get to eat a fabulous catered lunch paid for by you the taxpayers.

There are 14 board members but we counted 25 people in attendance, not including us (we were the only ones there for public comment). Several of the members had nothing to report and several attendees were simply extra staff from various organizations and departments of the City. I guess a free lunch will make you want to attend a meeting about trees.

This Tree Commission apparently can't see the forests for the trees. With a rapidly growing commission (more people attended this meeting than attend a City Council meeting) adding 5 more subcommittees, this group is completely unaware of the City's own destruction of important, historic, treasured trees it plans on cutting down and replacing with paved greenways and bike paths. 

For more about the Asheville Tree Commission, visit the City's website page about it.



Asheville Stormwater: Down the Drain

Update: as of the last report, there were something like 38 employees working on Stormwater in Asheville.  Looks like they need another one. Here is a job posting for a Stormwater Supervisor with pay between $54,000 and $65,000 roughly and only have to work 37.5 hours a week!

As part of the upcoming RADTIP road construction, greenways, bike paths and sidewalks planned for the River Arts District, we are finally going to get some drainage... stormwater drainage, that is.

Why is this important? Because we have none, even though the City has been collecting millions each year for this very purpose.

Everyone recalls the great flood of 2004 (and if you don't, click here for details) which wiped out many businesses in Biltmore Village and also flooded the entire banks of the French Broad River and the River Arts District.  There was more damage in Biltmore Village because there were more businesses located there. Nevertheless, we should have learned our lesson and moved quickly to mitigate future flooding or, so you would think. As of today, more than 10 years later, no stormwater drainage has been added to Biltmore Village or the River Arts District and yet the City of Asheville collects millions of dollars each year in stormwater taxes from the taxpaying citizens of Asheville.

You have to wonder why did it take so long and when are they going to fix the problem? Biltmore Village has grown even more and yet, we still wait on stormwater drainage.

Below is a compilation of articles written on the matter, mostly by Roger McCredie at the Tribune Papers.  As the Tribune continues its investigation, we will keep you informed on the matter:

ARTICLES ABOUT STORMWATER FEES IN ASHEVILLE

August 15, 2002
Citizen-Times: The 'rain tax' cometh: be prepared to pay the government for the rain on your roof
Explains what stormwater is, the history of the tax and what other cities like Greensboro do with the tax funds collected
"Storm water runoff is the water that flows off impervious surface areas such as roofs, driveways, parking lots, streets, and other hard surfaces during rainstorms. Rather than being absorbed into the ground, it pours into ditches, culverts, catch basins, and storm sewers."

September 9, 2013: By Roger McCredie
The Tribune Papers: Tracking Asheville’s Raintax:The money flows in (always); the money flows out (sometimes)
Tribune tracks down the stormwater fees and where it goes, finding a gap:
"But everything’s relative. Take that same $2.34 and double it; that’s $4.68. That’s the flat rate Asheville residents pay in stormwater fees with each bimonthly water bill cycle. Multiply that by six bimonthly cycles and you get $28.08 a year. Multiply that total by the Asheville Water Department’s total number of customers and you’ll get a total of a little over $3.3 million. That’s the gross amount the city takes in annually, in stormwater revenue.
When the itemized expenditure figures, totaling $13,896,552, are subtracted from the $17,622,027 gross revenue, a balance of $3,725,505, or 21%, is left unaccounted for."
June 25, 2014: by John Boyle
Citizen-Times Answer Man: More on Bothwell's DWI, Stormwater Fees
The City's budget in 2014 for stormwater fees was $3 million. John Boyle gives his answer as to where those fees go.
As far as salaries, Coates said 28.5 employee positions are funded through the stormwater utility fund, and they perform the duties listed above, with the addition of one customer service representative who handles billing. Of those positions, 21.5 work in Public Works and six in Development Services.

November 17, 2014: by Roger McCredie
Tribune renews 'rain tax' investigation
City of Asheville announces increase in stormwater tax fees so the Tribune investigates the question: Why?
"This year, however, the city announced that it was raising rates because “the City of Asheville has experienced an increase in significant rainfall events,” necessitating “an increase in “stormwater maintenance, engineering analysis and construction improvements.”
January 26, 2016: by Roger McCredie
The Tribune Papers: Where does stormwater tax money go?
City of Asheville announced another increase in stormwater fees. The Tribune follows up its investigation to determine where the funds are going:
"According to the City, it pays not only for repairing and maintaining surfaces and infrastructure impacted by rainwater but for a whole spectrum of services and programs, from street sweeping and drain inspection to “educational outreach” and “floodplain information.”
February 10, 2016: by Roger McCredie
The Tribune Papers: As residents question stormwater fees, new bout of flooding closes streets
Summary: A quick dump of 2 to 3 inches of rain in 12 hours caused parts of Asheville to flood. Specifically, the area of Biltmore Village which has been known to flood and was part of the 2004 major flood. The Tribune investigates why stormwater drains have not been put into Biltmore Village, almost 12 years later.
February 16, 2016: by Roger McCredie:
City responds to stormwater query; Tribune files documents request re: feesFollowing up on its February 10th article, the City responds to the Tribune's question as to why no stormwater drainage has been put into Biltmore Village - basically, they're still studying the matter
“The city is partnering with the Corps of Engineers and the Division of Water Resources on a flood mitigation project along the Swannanoa. The goal of this project is to reduce flooding along the Swannanoa Valley and in Biltmore Village. This project is currently in the feasibility stage which identifies the specific project to be considered,” Stomwater Department Manager McCray Coates told the Tribune.
March 1, 2016: by Roger McCredie
The Tribune Papers: City ignores Tribune’s request For stormwater payroll documents
Summary: Tribune requests updated stormwater payroll documents and after two weeks of silence, begins investigation into why their public records requests have been ignored.
"A 2014 analysis by the Tribune, based on those figures, showed that salaries made up approximately 38% of the stormwater department’s budget."  
Tribune is requesting updated payroll documents.