Railroad overpass on Riverside Drive (Courtesy Ashevegas)
Timing is tied to RADTIP road straightening project
By Roger McCredie- The news will probably come as cold comfort to Haywood Road and Craven Street area residents, who have already endured nearly a year of brewery construction noise, dust, chaos and traffic interruption, but documents obtained under the public information act show that New Belgium Brewing originally chose – and still intends to use — Riverside Drive as its primary truck access route.
It’s just going to have to wait awhile – specifically until the city finishes using its powers of eminent domain to help itself to the 36 parcels of private property standing in the way of proceeding with its River Arts District Transportation Improvement Plan, which will straighten out a 2.2-mile section of Riverside Drive and open the surrounding area to development.
Last week New Belgium announced that after ten months of using the Haywood Road corridor exclusively for construction hauling, it had heard the cries of the people and plans very soon to begin using a fleet of smaller trucks, to the extent that it can at present, on Riverside Drive. Specifically the company said, on its update website:
“While Haywood Road is our approved truck route, we agree that it is not the preferred truck route and over the last 10 months, we’ve been working with partners to consider other routes. Once RADTIP* is complete, the infrastructure will be in place for the majority of our trucks to use Riverside Drive north. Until then, we’ve found a way to keep half of our shuttle trucks off of Haywood Road.
“The community’s collective voice and willingness of neighborhood leaders and City staff to engage in this exploration is what enabled this solution,” says Jay Richardson, New Belgium Asheville General Manager. “The dialogue and engagement around this process and relationships that have developed are what’s important to us,” the site continues.
Recent “dialogue and engagement” aside, in February of 2012 the Asheville engineering and surveying firm Mattern & Craig conducted a study which identified five separate potential truck routes the New Belgium traffic could use. (The study was apparently a condition of New Belgium’s considering Asheville as its east coast operations location.)
Of the five earmarked sites, the city chose Riverside Drive, which the report declared was the least desirable route, mainly because (1) vehicle clearances at the railway bridge underpass were too narrow for New Belgium trucks and (2) remedial construction would be expensive and also time consuming, considering necessary negotiations with Norfolk Southern Railway.
Thus the city proposed Haywood Road – which was actually Mattern & Craig’s most desirable choice — as a stopgap route, New Belgium was satisfied enough to announce its choice of Asheville in April of 2012, and meanwhile the city, together with the Asheville Area Riverfront Redevelopment Commission (AARRC), began casting about for ways to implement its original Riverside Drive commitment, flawed as it was.
Other routes considered were the Craven Street connector itself, Amboy Road and Clingman Avenue.
Neither the city nor New Belgium made any announcement that the Haywood Road-based route was only a temporary arrangement, despite heavy criticism from neighboring residents, businesses and drivers who made frequent use of Haywood Road. In fact New Belgium guarded the Mattern & Craig study so closely that it referred to it only by the code name, “Project JO” (the code was derived from the initials of New Belgium’s sustainability director, Jenn Orgolini Vervier).
The logistical logjam broke free last October, when the North Carolina Department of Transportation awarded the city a $14.6 million TIGER VI grant for improvements to Riverside Drive. Money was now available to “fix” Riverside Drive. AARRC, which had been husbanding its own master development plan since 2009, now trotted it out for public view –greenways, bike paths, hotels, shops and all – and presented the straightening of Riverside Drive as the key element in realizing a fully developed riverfront, albeit on a flood plain. Estimated costs of the city’s enhanced involvement are now projected at $74 million, and both the city and AARRC now see a total investment along the city’s riverfront of nearly a quarter of a billion dollars.
But the linchpin behind the whole “fixing” of Riverside Drive, and hence the urgent push to develop the riverfront, actually appears to be traceable to meeting the requirements of New Belgium Brewing – ironically by implementing the truck route that was ranked fifth out of five such motorways proposed by Mattern & Craig.
The Mattern & Craig engineer who headed the “Project JO” study team was Gabe Quesinberry. In October of 2013, Quesinberry left Mattern & Craig to become Design, Constuction and Operations Manager of New Belgium’s Asheville facilities.
Quesinberry thus becomes another in the series of dots connecting New Belgium’s corporate structure to public and private Asheville sectors. Others include former local public relations consultant Susanne Hackett, who is now in charge of the brewery’s “community engagement;” Darren Dahl, writer for Forbes Magazine who “chronicles the growth of New Belgium Beer” for Forbes Magazine and is the husband of AARRC Director Stephanie Monson Dahl; and David Tuch, head of Equinox, the landscape design firm in charge of developing the greenway opposite the New Belgium plant, who is married to Shannon Tuch, Asheville’s Director of Development Services.
Asheville Citizen-Times Executive Editor Josh Awtry came to his post after a brief stint at the Coloradoan in Fort Collins, where New Belgium is headquartered.
In March of 2014 the city recruited Paul Fetherston, who was at that time serving as deputy city manager of Boulder, CO, 45 miles from Fort Collins, to be Asheville’s new Assistant City Manager. In announcing Fetherston’s departure, the city of Boulder said “,he will support key initiatives such as the redevelopment of Asheville’s riverfront … “
Part of New Belgium’s overall public relations program is a series of “Neighborhood Leadership Roundtables,” where locals and New Belgium contacts meet to exchange news and views. At least one present city council candidate, financial advisor Rich Lee, has found active support of New Belgium through these gatherings and in the community to be a handy springboard into local politics.
The roundtable meetings are held in the conference room of local solar energy consulting firm FLS, Inc. In 2013 FLS was in financial crisis and was rescued by a $30 million infusion from Vision Ridge Partners of Boulder, which shares New Belgium’s “green development” commitment and, according to Colorado records, donates to the same PAC’s that New Belgium does and participated in the same green development conference with New Belgium conference this year.
The Vice President of FLS is former city council member and current county commissioner Brownie Newman.