As redevelopment projects spring up in Asheville’s River District, some current tenants—including a group of volunteer bike mechanics—are finding their present digs in peril.
In recent weeks, an anonymous “concerned resident of the River Arts District” who professed to be an artist sent a letter to Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy, the city’s Building Safety Department and local media outlets. “I am afraid that the city is letting a safety and security problem fester that could come back to bite us with tragic results,” the letter said. “Asheville is trying to promote itself as an Art destination and I don’t want some easily preventable tragedy … giving the city a black eye.”
The letter referred to potentially unsafe conditions, including fire hazards, in a number of buildings, and outlined purported fire and building-safety code violations at several addresses.
Building-safety inspectors and fire marshals have since paid visits to a number of properties in the River District, including a few not mentioned in the letter.
“If we receive a complaint on a property, we’re mandated to investigate,” says Fire Marshal Wayne Hamilton. “Our only goal is to make sure it’s safe.”
For some, the inspections resulted in getting the boot. On April 27, a section of a rundown building on the corner of West Haywood Road and Riverside Drive was padlocked and deemed “unsafe for living” after inspectors discovered that the art space was doubling as a home for several people. On May 7, inspectors returned for a second look—this time at the other half of the building, which is occupied by the Asheville ReCyclery.
The ReCyclery is a volunteer-run, donation-based workshop where anyone can learn to fix their own bike or construct one using pieces from a collection of salvaged frames, gears and other parts. (See “Pedaling Toward the Revolution,” April 18 Xpress). The ReCyclery has been at the West Haywood location for a little more than a year, and co-founder Joseph Crawley says it’s the best space the shop has had.
But the inspectors say the location isn’t safe. Members of the organization are hopeful they will be able to stay in the building, but first it will need to be brought up to code.
If the space is modified to compliance, it won’t be the only construction taking place in the area. In late February, City Council approved rezoning for a number of properties in the River District to allow for higher-density development, and new residential and commercial projects are in the works.