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City hires Texas company to plan riverfront zoning


The future Haywood Road corridor according to the form based zoning code devised by Code Studios of Austin, TX. The city has now retained Code Studios to submit a form based code for the River Arts District.

Also retains SC consultant to “brand” river greenway system.

At its monthly meeting last week, the Asheville Area Riverfront Redevelopment Commission (AARRC) announced it has retained Code Studios of Austin, TX, to submit a “form based” zoning plan for the River Arts District. AARRC has also turned to an unnamed marketing consulting firm in Greenville, SC, to devise a corporate identity – an “umbrella name” – for the entire necklace of riverfront Greenways contained in the redevelopment plan.

Last year Code Studios initiated a “pilot” form-based code project for the Haywood Road corridor in West Asheville “to refine the vision for the area and develop the standards necessary to regulate urban form in the corridor.” The proposed changes in zoning parameters and procedures were driven, the city said, by rapidly increasing redevelopment along Haywood Road, with still more activity to come in the form of traffic associated by the New Belgium Brewery.

That plan, which emerged from a “charrette” – an “intense brainstorming session” of planners and developers – met with skepticism in some quarters and the same technique, applied to the riverfront project, is already generating criticism.

What is form based code anyway?

The website defines it as addressing “the relationship between building facades and the public realm, the form and mass of buildings in relation to one another, and the scale and types of streets and blocks. The regulations and standards in form-based codes are presented in both words and clearly drawn diagrams and other visuals. They are keyed to a regulating plan that designates the appropriate form and scale (and therefore, character) of development, rather than only distinctions in land-use types.”

In other words, where conventional zoning codes are based on the intended use of property, form-based codes lay down parameters for the entire “look” of a given area.

Furthermore, as the website points out, form based codes “are regulatory, not advisory. They are drafted to implement a community plan. They try to achieve a community vision … “

In other words, whatever emerges from the planners’ “charrette,” once approved, is a mandate, not a bundle of suggestions.

It is this aspect of the form-based approach that is already causing some potentially affected property owners to dig in their heels. The website Asheville River Gate, which monitors the AARRC’s undertakings, warns artists in the RAD that form based code will ultimately undermine flood plain protection. “Remember,” it says, “ … as long as developers meet form based code requirements, they can do what they want in an area which has been restricted by flood plain problems.”

“It encourages public/private development in which the City will help fund redevelopment of old buildings (through tax incentives) which in turn will become cool little condos and potentially, a hotel along the riverfront. Again, this pushes out existing tenants who are paying lower rents,” the site continues. It goes on to advise RAD artists to form an “enterprise zone” which it says would protect the area from form based code-type development. This tactic, the site says, has been used successfully by the artists’ community of Burlington, Vermont.

At any rate, a public input session on the form-based code application has now been set for June 17 at Southside Center, and a design charrette has been calendared for the week of July 24-29.

A brand for the greenways

The AARRC’s approval of creating a name for the entire network of greenways embraced by the master plan was actually a ratification of a proposal put forth by yet another entity on that particular bandwagon.

Friends of Connect Buncombe, Inc., a nonprofit corporation, was “formed for the purpose of advocating for the implementation of the county Greenways and Trail Master Plan.” The organization promotes the concept that “greenway systems attract businesses seeking places with a high quality of life. Greenways spur job growth in construction, maintenance, tourism-related opportunities, and local businesses.

“Tourism and recreation-related revenues from trails and greenways include: recreation rentals and sales (bicycles, kayaks, canoes, campsites), recreation services (shuttle buses and tours), tours to places of historic and cultural interest, restaurants, breweries and lodging,” its website says.

Earlier this month Friends of Connect Buncombe took city and county government officials as well as representatives from the Asheville Citizen-Times and WLOS-TV on a bike tour of Swamp Rabbit Trail, the name given to Greenville County’s system of greenways that flanks the Reedy River.

In a follow-up editorial on May 10, the Citizen Times’ Josh Awtry reported that during the excursion he asked his fellow bikers, “Why is it that the notion of a trail network in Buncombe County is so divisive when there’s a lot of information pointing to hard-dollar benefits?”

According to Awtry, the answer came from Josh Holmer, a land surveyor and member of Asheville’s Council of Independent Businesses (CIBO): “I think that the issue with some of those folks is private property rights,” he quoted Holmes as saying. “I think that if you passed a local bill stating that no condemnation or eminent domain would be used it would calm a lot of folks down.”

The possibility that the city could ultimately use its powers of condemnation and imminent domain in carrying out the RADTIP plan has already become a hot button among property owners who may be affected by the RADTIP plan. From there it became a short step to wariness on the part of stakeholders along the greenway chain.

Budgeted costs for both the Code Studios charrette and study and the greenway naming project were not immediately available.

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