It’s history: Council votes to demolish icehouse

Going, going… gone: Asheville City Council members voted to demolish the icehous, an iconic but long-vacant building in the River Arts District near downtown. Photo by Max Cooper

A photograph of the former icehouse at 91 Riverside Drive lingered on the projector screen before Asheville City Council members voted Jan. 8 to demolish it. “It seems like a terrible loss to tear it down, but on the other hand, I'm not sure there's enough there to salvage,” noted Council member Jan Davis, glancing at the image.

The only portion of the 50,000-square-foot structure that will remain is the iconic smokestack, which will be preserved. Stephanie Monson, a planner in the city’s Office of Economic Development, pressed Council members for direction, and staff reports described the icehouse as "significantly dilapidated, unsafe and the site of a substantial level of criminal activity."

Monson presented three options: Postpone a decision, repair and preserve the building, or (per staff’s recommendation) demolish it immediately.

Cecil Bothwell suggested holding off till the city could determine the property’s value. "My sense is that, having been in building trades for years, you don't want to tear down something of substantial physical investment if there's a chance of reusing it somehow," he said.

His colleagues, however, kept focusing on safety. Council member Gordon Smith called the decrepit structure "one of the scariest places in the city to go into, not only because it's dark and dingy and cobwebby but because of the evidence of what goes on in it."

Members of the public echoed Council members’ questions and concerns as they wrestled with the best way to proceed. Luke Perry of the West End/Clingman Avenue Neighborhood group urged Council to preserve as much of the building as possible and place an informational kiosk about the ice house there. A developer suggested creating a French Broad River museum on the site.

But in the end, Bothwell was the odd man out on Council’s 5-1 vote to demolish, after which they unanimously allocated $145,000 to pay for it. (Council member Marc Hunt was absent on vacation.)

Food trucks approved for Biltmore Village

Earlier in the meeting, Council considered allowing up to two food trucks in Biltmore Village, operating off-street like the ones downtown.

Some merchants raised fairness concerns, citing the architectural guidelines new brick-and-mortar establishments must satisfy. Today's food trucks are incompatible with the district’s historic character, argued Stan Collins, president of the Biltmore Village Merchants Association. Council member Smith, however, countered that food trucks have been around in some capacity since the 1890s.

And Davis, recalling his own initial reaction to food trucks downtown, said: "I was wrong; it's gone very well. I think it contributes to the area instead of takes from it.” The resolution, with an expanded definition of food trucks including those serving drinks only, was approved 6-0.

School safety

Mayor Terry Bellamy kicked off the meeting by discussing the city's response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings. Staff, she revealed, had met with the Buncombe County commissioners, the Sheriff's Office and emergency management teams last month.

"Behind the scenes, our Police Department, Sheriff's Department and Fire Department are constantly working with our school system to make sure our schools have the most up-to-date plans when it comes to safety and emergency management," she said, noting that this wasn’t the first time these groups had gotten together.

"Finding solutions to all these problems is going to have to include mental illness, not just gun safety," added Bellamy. "I hope that, as we talk about these issues as a Council, we will look at them in a holistic manner, not just a single shot."

Other business

Council members also unanimously approved the following items:
• a conditional-use permit requested by the new developer of the former Thoms estate in north Asheville. The permit will allow various changes in the subdivision plan, including community amenities and a parking lot.
• allowing outdoor speakers in the central business and River Arts districts. Complaints will be covered by the city’s noise ordinance.
• a franchise agreement for Amazing Pubcycle, a tour business featuring human-powered trolley vehicles.

Caitlin Byrd can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 140, or at cbyrd@mountainx.com.

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