One of two major public hearings held by Asheville City Council Tuesday considered granting a conditional use permit for New Belgium Brewing Company. All who spoke indicated they were pleased NBB was locating a new facility in the area. A large manufacturer was coming to the area to create jobs, do business with local vendors, and bolster the tax base.
New Belgium was going to be even more special. The company chose to locate on a brownfield. It would work in partnership with the city to provide a greenway. It would engage innovative recycling processes, which included impregnating the exterior walls with old beer bottles. It would bolster the tourist trade by giving tours featuring samples of their products. It had already reached out in corporate gifting for the local charities.
Clark Duncan of the Economic Development Coalition spoke in terms of economic multipliers. The nation’s third largest craft brewer was going to revitalize an old stockyard that had remained “fallow” for decades in an area that had become nothing but a seat of crime. According to the cookie-cutter press release put out by former governor Beverly Perdue’s office, the brewery would drop $175 million into the local economy over seven years and, by 2020, create 154 jobs with annual wages in excess of $50,000 plus benefits. Ignoring inflation, these wages were boasted as being 43 percent higher than Buncombe County’s average. For those who still accept the broken windows fallacy and corollaries thereof, New Belgium would create 1252 direct, indirect, and induced jobs, providing $41.1 million in “new labor income.”
Only one citizen, furniture designer Jonathan Wainscott, had reservations about the manner in which New Belgium came to the area. Overall, the company accepted $13 million in public incentives from the One North Carolina Fund, Buncombe County, and the City of Asheville. Wainscott recalled the Chamber of Commerce’s Ben Teague renting a trolley for a cruise-and-schmooze hosting representatives from NBB and local luminaries like Jack Cecil of Biltmore Farms. In the end, NBB declared it would not locate its eastern facility elsewhere “but for” the money provided by local taxpayers. To celebrate, the former governor returned to Asheville for plenty of beer-in-hand photo ops.
Selfless citizens always turn out at public hearings on new development. Their complaints are predictable, and most often concern the dangerous impact of traffic on children, the damage land-disturbing activities will have on human and animal neighbors, and psychological hazards posed by buildings that are too large or too diverse to blend with existing structures.
Tuesday night, the problem was traffic. On top of all the new employees and all the tourists the facility is projected to draw, the business expected, at full build-out, fifty-two trucks would make trips to and from the facility daily. Often, to the dismay of residents, traffic engineers indicate additional traffic from new development can be absorbed without the slightest damage to levels of service. This time, the traffic impact analysis was published with the staff reports council received.
There was no easy solution. The most direct route off I-240 was blocked by a railroad bridge that was too low for most tractor trailers. At the Planning and Zoning meeting, Joe Minicozzi tried to come up with a workaround. The most obvious solution would be raising the bridge, but this would be too expensive and extensive an undertaking for the railroad. Minicozzi suggested lowering the street level, but was told this would cause frequent flooding of the riverside road. Minicozzi then asked how much a pump system would cost. The railroad refused to accept the liability of allowing other vehicles on its right-of-way.
Posted on the bridge are signs that state its clearance is 13 feet. Large trucks need six more inches of clearance. Wainscott measured the distance empirically. Thermal expansion and safety factors aside, he found the lowest height from the road to the bottom of the bridge was 13 feet 4 inches. He observed two more inches could easily be recovered by lowering the road to a previous, pre-repaving height.
Representatives from NBB further agreed they would be willing to use squatter trucks for transport. But then, there was another problem. The hairpin turn at the Craven Street Bridge was too tight for 70-foot trucks. NBB informed council if they wished them to ship via box trucks, that would increase truck traffic by 40 percent.
In addition to approving the conditional-use permit, council approved a staff-generated solution to conduct a feasibility study to investigate increasing the bridge’s clearance. Since staff recommended that truck traffic be diverted to Haywood Road until a satisfactory engineering solution could be identified and implemented, they proposed allocating $220,000 toward redesigning Haywood Road with a sidewalk, shoulders, and a climbing lane for bikes. This was to respond to the flood of concerns from citizens about the hazards of traffic, not only to children but to the multimodal identity residents had worked so hard to build. Funding would come from funds held in reserve from capital projects that have come in under-budget.