When bids for the River Arts District Transportation Infrastructure project were opened in May, city leaders and staff came in for a nasty surprise: Costs that had been estimated at just over $50 million came back more than 50 percent higher. At the same time, delaying the project to rethink the scope of the construction effort wasn’t a good option, since $14.6 million in federal transportation grants for the project require that the work get underway this summer.
At its Tuesday, June 27 meeting, Asheville City Council will hear a report on the city’s scramble to respond to the difference between the estimated and actual costs for the project. Council members are expected to vote on an amended project budget, which includes a $6-million increase in the city’s bill.
According to a staff memo, city staff has developed a modified project scope that includes “all of the core elements of the RADTIP and Five Points Roundabout.” Which sounds good, until you consider what’s not a core element: road improvements at the north and south ends of the 2-mile project area that stretches along Riverside Drive and Lyman Street; the planned Town Branch and Bacoate Branch greenways; the French Broad River Greenway West; and the Livingston Street complete streets upgrades, which were intended to benefit pedestrians, cyclists and transit users.
(For more information on the original scope of the project plans, see Road to redevelopment: Big infrastructure upgrades on RAD’s horizon.)
Presentations and reports
Council will hear a report on the Asheville Regional Airport. According to documents attached to Council’s agenda, the airport added three new routes — to Jacksonville, Fla., Washington, D.C. and Newark, N.J. — in 2016. Existing service expanded with more flights and larger planes, especially during peak travel periods. During the year, 826,648 passengers flew into or out of the airport, a five percent increase over the previous year. Operating revenue increased by $16.7 million, to a total of $115 million in assets over liabilities. Parking contributed 29 percent of the airport’s revenues, while flight operations contributed 28 percent.
The airport has completed three phases of its four-phase upgrade and expansion program. A new 8,000-foot runway is expected to open this year, along with a five-story parking garage.
A public hearing on a proposed 133-unit apartment development at 175 Lyman St. has been continued to Council’s July 25 meeting.
Zoning-related public hearings for the June 27 meeting include:
- Changing the name of Hillcrest Drive to Luna Lane.
- Changing the spelling of Kitchen Place to Kitchin Place.
- Rezoning 28 Forsythe St. to allow minor property line and site plan changes.
- Voluntary annexation of a 1.26-acre parcel at 421 Airport Road.
Council will hear public comment on a proposed economic development incentive grant for Riverbend Malt House, a manufacturer of locally sourced craft malt for the craft brewing industry. The performance-based grant would not exceed $95,000 in the form of tax rebates spread over five years.
According to a staff memo, the purpose of the grant is to:
… induce Riverbend Malt House to make investments in the City for expenditures to acquire and install machinery/equipment, make facility improvements which increase the tax value as determined by the Buncombe County Tax Department in the amount of $9,500,000, and create 22 quality jobs within four years; at least 5 of these will be hired in 2017. Riverbend is committed as a compensation strategy to always paying above living wage levels.
Finally, Council will hear public comment on a proposed change to the city charter to elect members of City Council via six electoral districts, while continuing to elect the city’s mayor at large. Council members plan to place the question of whether city voters would prefer to maintain the current at-large system for electing all members of the board, or switch to the new system, on the November ballot.
Council is acting on the district elections question under pressure from the state legislature. While a bill to force Asheville to adopt districts failed last year, Republican Sen. Chuck Edwards of Hendersonville resurrected the issue again this year. The Senate passed SB 285 to create Asheville districts in April; a House committee is now considering the measure. On the advice of City Attorney Robin Currin, Council is following a strategy to place the question before city voters as a possible means of fighting Raleigh’s dictate in court if Asheville voters object to the district plan.
Council will hear comment from members of the public on items not previously discussed on Council’s agenda.
Asheville City Council meets at 5 p.m. in Council chambers on the second floor of City Hall at 70 Court Plaza, Asheville. The full meeting agenda and supporting documents can be found here.
For more of the latest city and county news, check out Xpress’ Buncombe Beat.
Comprehensive Plan work session
Prior to Council’s formal meeting at 5 p.m., officials will conduct a work session on the Living Asheville Comprehensive Plan at 3 p.m. in the first floor conference room of City Hall.