Riverfront commission seeks to skirt FEMA guidelines

Riverfront commission seeks to skirt FEMA guidelines

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                             Riverside Drive under water in 2004

Wants to develop land originally purchased with federal $$ for flood protection

By Roger McCredie- The Asheville Area Riverfront Redevelopment Commission is now seeking to persuade the Federal Emergency Management Agency to allow commercial development on 2.11 acres of riverfront property that was bought by the City of Asheville as a buffer against future flooding – and paid for with FEMA money.

According to documents obtained by the Tribune, including copies of the original application and minutes of AARC meetings, the city purchased the land, which comprised four adjacent riverfront plots, for “flood mitigation” purposes.  The properties were to be cleaned up and then left as open space.

This occurred in 2007, just three years after the disastrous flood associated with back-to-back hurricanes Frances and Ivan brought damage to the river district that had been unprecedented since the epic flood of 1916.

The FEMA funds obtained by the city to purchase the properties totaled $380,000 and, according to page 11 of the Riverside Drive Redevelopment Plan,  the acquired land “is restricted by deed to open space and flood sensitive construction that supports park operations and/or riverfront recreation.

But AARRC contends the possibility of renegotiating the FEMA deed restrictions is implicit in the agreement itself.  At least it certainly hopes so, because now the commission has decided to do an about face and seek a certificate from FEMA that would set aside the open space restrictions and open the door to full scale development, including specifically the construction of a riverside hotel.  Page 14 of the AARRC’s plan states that the plan “presumes that the FEMA deed restrictions can be renegotiated, allowing for both a lodging facility and recreational use directly on the French Broad.”

The properties are located directly across the street from the New Belgium Brewery site.

At the time the property was acquired, environmentalists expressed concern lest it somehow become earmarked for future development.  An article in the October 10, 2007, issue of Mountain Xpress contained extensive commentary by James Fox,  director of operations at the National Environmental Modeling and Analysis Center, which is based at UNCA.  NEMAC had, at that time, created a series of 3-D renderings showing in detail what the extent of damage a similar food would inflict, given changes that had already been made to the area since 2004.

Fox’s gravest concern was the impact that creation of more impermeable surface in the form of roadways, parking lots and additional paved areas, as well as new buildings or other construction, could have along that stretch of riverfront.

Fox said that “unless governments take steps to limit new development, it will undercut those other [flood control] efforts,” especially since new roads and structures greatly increase both the amount and speed of water running into streams and rivers.

“In a sense, the area appears to be moving in two contrary directions at once, because the continuing rapid pace of development over the last three years—with its attendant increase in impervious surfaces—has probably expanded the size of the floodplain,” Fox said.

“I have to believe [the new state] maps are going to show us that the 100-year floodplain has grown,” he predicts. “We’ve put a lot more people and property in that area that flooded. We are putting more people in danger, and that’s just a conscious decision we are making,” Fox added.

In an e-mail to Stephanie Monson Dahl, director of the joint city / private sector AARRC, the Tribune asked:

“In October of 2007 the City received $380,000 in FEMA flood hazard mitigation money, with which it purchased four parcels of land, totaling 2.11 acres, along Craven Street across from what is now the New Belgium Brewery site.  FEMA stipulated that ‘Use of the 2.11 acres of land is restricted by deed to open space and flood sensitive construction that supports park operations and/or riverfront recreation.’   However, AARRC’s recent plan (p. 14) states that it   “presumes that the FEMA deed restrictions can be renegotiated, allowing for both a lodging facility and recreational use directly on the French Broad” and the commission is now seeking a certificate from FEMA that would in fact allow development of this area, including the possibility of a hotel.  Can you [say] where that process stands at the moment?”

 

In the same e-mail, the Tribune asked for clarification of several points relating to the city’s role in land acquisition under the provisions of the $14.6 million grant it received from the state for roadway changes to Riverside Drive.  (It was receipt of those monies that transformed AARRC from a planning entity to the principal in the riverfront land chess game.)

 

Replying to an earlier e-mail, Monson Dahl had told the Tribune, “Your understanding of AARRC involvement  regarding demolition or eminent domain  and the City’s role in TIGER VI land acquisition is incorrect, “ and suggested a telephone conversation.  But when contacted by the Tribune early Monday, Monson Dahl said her schedule prevented a lengthy discussion by phone and accepted the Tribune’s suggestion of a further exchange of e-mails.  The Tribune then wrote to Monson Dahl asking if she had specific corrections to the following documented points:

 

 

“1.    The TIGER funds, as we know, are state DOT monies.

  1. However, the application for the TIGER grant was specifically based on the RADTIP plan.
  2. RADTIP was / is entirely the product of the AARRC.
  3. RADTIP recommends adjustments to several properties, including the relocation of 12 Bones.
  4. It was made clear, in response to earlier reports, that the TIGER grant provides for a process whereby a DOT panel  is to determine on a case-by-case basis whether a given property would become an unsustainable “economic remnant” under the RADTIP’s proposed changes.
  5. Owners of properties declared to be an “economic remnants, or that would otherwise encumber the RADTIP plan, will be notified accordingly and given relocation or outright purchase options under eminent domain.”

 

Monson Dahl had not replied by press time.  The Tribune assured her that if she was not able to do so her response would be included in a future issue.

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