But amid the enthusiasm, owners of one of Asheville’s best-known eateries, whose place stands literally in the path of progress, asked a simple, direct question: “What happens to us when all this happens?”
The question was put during the meeting’s public comment segment by Angela Koh, who with her husband, Brian King, owns 12 Bones Barbecue. It’s a question that is now being echoed by an increasing number of riverfront property owners since some details of the AARRC’s contemplated riverfront development began to surface a few weeks ago. And the director of the city department that has been created to administer the municipal end of the project told the restauranteurs she was sorry she couldn’t give them a direct answer.
“A lot of things could happen,” Stephanie Monson Dahl told the 12 Bones owners. “There are a lot of variables. I know that’s not a great answer,” she said.
The AARRC’s plans call for construction of a traffic roundabout as part of an overall westward rerouting of a stretch of Riverside Drive between the 12 Bones location at the intersection of Riverside Drive and Lyman Street and the Captain Bowen Bridge overpass on Smoky Park Highway. The restaurant building, whose address is 5 Riverside Drive, is nestled in a right-angle curve at the intersection, squarely in the path of the proposed roundabout. The rerouting would leave the building itself untouched but would take the restaurant’s outdoor seating area and nearly all of its parking lot.
Under the provisions of the $14.6 million federal grant which has springboarded the riverfront revitalization project, the 12 Bones property could then be declared an “uneconomic remnant” and condemned.
The same scenario could apply to many of the properties which line that stretch of Riverside Drive, though Dahl stressed that the “uneconomic remnant” process would be a sort of last resort that would kick in only if acquisition negotiations with property owners should fail.
The AARRC comprises 14 members, two appointed by the Buncombe County Commission (including one commissioner), five by City Council (with one being a City Council member), two members appointed by the Chamber of Commerce, two each appointed by RiverLink and the Council of Independent Business Owners and one member appointed by the Town of Woodfin.
The commission has been meeting since 2012, roughly contemporaneously with the announcement of the coming of New Belgium Brewery, and it is actually now a hybrid entity. The TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant for rerouting the stretch of road in question was awarded to the City of Asheville. The city in turn has installed administrative offices for the Commission on the fifth floor of City Hall with Dahl, who has also served as the city’s urban planner, in charge. The committee itself is currently chaired by Pattiy Torno, whose Curve Studios is across the road from 12 Bones at Riverside Drive.
Just down from Torno’s business location is a 1900-square-foot building that is earmarked for use as a visitor information center with public restrooms. The riverbank side of the straightened-out Riverside Drive is to be opened up to accommodate a greenway along with curbing, sidewalks and bicycle lanes.
It’s the first part of a master plan that envisions similar development along a 17-mile stretch of the French Broad that runs in a “U” around Asheville.
The Commission went quietly about its planning until news of the awarding of the TIGER grant broke last September. Even then its operations remained largely unnoticed until its February meeting, when local businessman and former city council member Chris Peterson, who owns the 12 Bones property, accused the Commission itself, the city and the county of various improprieties including conflicts of interest on the part of several Commission members who own property or have other financial interests along the riverfront. He specifically called out Torno, county commissioner Brownie Newman, Woodfin mayor and county emergency services director Jerry Vehaun and commercial realtor and developer George Morosani.
The Commission heard Peterson out, brushed aside his remarks after his departure and went back to business.
Meanwhile a website named Asheville RiverGate (www.ashevillerivergate.com) has appeared on the Internet. “This site is created and maintained by the citizens of Asheville, NC and is not a part of the City of Asheville or the Asheville Area Riverfront Redevelopment Commission,” the title page says, “We are here to provide vital information that may affect property owners and stakeholders along the planned riverfront redevelopment.”
“We are not against riverfront development, increasing tourism, greenspace, bike lanes, & all the wonderful benefits of the Asheville Riverfront Redevelopment plan,” the introduction goes on to say, “But, we are against building in a known flood zone, spending tax payers money on areas that will be damaged and against condemnation of private property owners.”
The website is apparently managed by Peterson’s wife, Mari, a local consultant and the founder of Compass Project Partners.
Dahl told the Tribune Monday that in the coming months the city and AARRC will be “reaching out” to stakeholders in the area of the revitalization plan — many of whom are still unaware that they could be affected by it — before mailing formal letters to those individuals. These letters could be sent as early as June or as late as January, 2016, she told Commission members at the February meeting.
“Regarding outreach before letters get mailed, the City is likely to do several things,” Dahl said, “such as have an open house type of meeting on the River Arts District Innovation District this spring, and the city will use its communications outlets- e.g. COA blog … and the website when appropriate for outreach.
“Additionally, members of the Riverfront Commission will continue to reach out to property and business owners in the district to see if they are interested in what is going on, let them know that Commission members are a resource for civic engagement, and to help connect them with City staff or elected officials if they want to know more,” Dahl said.
Dahl did not indicate under what circumstances riverfront property owners might not be “interested in what is going on.”
The AARRC’s next scheduled meeting is set for Thursday, April 9, at 4 p.m. in the Chamber of Commerce board room.