Close to home: Mapping Asheville’s bond referendum

PENDING APPROVAL: If approved by voters in November, the $74 million bond referendum will move many projects from the city's "to-do" list into action. Combined, the transportation infrastructure and parks and recreation bond categories represent $49 million of the total. Shown above are some of the specific projects city staffers have proposed for neighborhoods throughout the city, though state law would allow substitutions within the same category. Graphic by Norn Cutson

With its unanimous vote on Aug. 9, City Council cleared the last official hurdle needed to place a general obligation bond referendum on Asheville voters’ ballots in November. Council gave the nod to a $74 million bond question that includes $32 million in transportation infrastructure, $25 million to support affordable housing development and $17 million for parks and recreation facilities. On Election Day (or during early voting), Asheville voters can opt for or against each category separately.

Now that the bond referendum is a go, voters are considering how the proposed spending will be spread around the city and what it will accomplish. While the city will have some flexibility in how it uses the money in each category — and even whether to draw on the full amount — Mayor Esther Manheimer noted on July 26 that it’s important to “spend the money on what we say we will spend it on.” The mayor has been giving presentations on the referendum to community groups, and she says the city should “stick to the plan” that it has laid out.

Around town

Two of the bond categories, transportation infrastructure and parks and recreation, include specific plans at locations around Asheville. Using a list of the projects and their locations developed by city staff, Xpress analyzed the proposed spending to determine how the bond funds will benefit different areas.

Not surprisingly, the center of Asheville — which boasts the highest population density in Buncombe County and contributes the largest share of city and county property taxes — accounts for the largest amount of bond spending, with $12.7 million, or 26 percent of the $49 million total for infrastructure and parks and recreation. Two projects make up the lion’s share of central Asheville’s booty: the $4.65 million second phase of the Dr. Wesley Grant Sr. Southside Center, which will add a gym, program rooms and outdoor facilities for recreation to the facility on Livingston Street; and a $4 million renovation at Memorial Stadium, which will improve parking, accessibility, bleacher seating, walkways, concession areas, restrooms and the ticket booth.

DIVIDING THE PIE: With $3.6 million in funding for the proposed Swannanoa River Greenway boosting its share of the spoils, East Asheville appears set to win big if the bond passes. But with 16 percent of the bond proceeds unallocated, it's too soon to say who will get the best deal. Graphic by Jordy Isenhour
DIVIDING THE PIE: With $3.6 million in funding for the proposed Swannanoa River Greenway boosting its share of the spoils, East Asheville appears set to win big if the bond passes. But with 16 percent of the bond proceeds unallocated, it’s too soon to say who will get the best deal. Graphic by Jordy Isenhour

East Asheville will receive the second-largest chunk of funding, with $10.3 million going to the area, or 21 percent. The big-ticket items in East Asheville include a 2-mile section of the Swannanoa River Greenway from South Tunnel Road to Azalea Park ($3.6 million); resurfacing Kenilworth Road ($1.9 million), Cisco Road ($490,000), Caledonia Road ($450,000), Beverly Road ($360,000) and Chiles Avenue ($340,000); new sidewalks on New Haw Creek Road ($1.1 million) and Swannanoa River Road ($756,000); and 10 new bus shelters ($250,000).

West Asheville is in line for $8 million (16 percent), with $1.4 million tagged for new sidewalks on Johnston Boulevard;  $1.9 million for resurfacing and sidewalk repairs on State Street; and $900,000 and $840,000 for resurfacing Old Haywood and Sulphur Springs roads, respectively. New restrooms and an information kiosk are proposed for Richmond Hill Park, at a cost of $520,000.

South Asheville will get $6 million, or 12 percent of the total. The area nets more than its northern counterpart, which critics sometimes claim gets an unequal share of city resources due to the significant numbers of elected officials who have historically hailed from that part of town. Road resurfacing makes up most of South Asheville’s bond-related initiatives, including resurfacing on Caribou Road ($1.7 million) and Brooklyn Road ($650,000), both of which are in the Shiloh neighborhood. Southern sidewalks will also receive attention, with $702,000 going to sidewalk improvements on All Souls Crescent and $510,000 to new sidewalks on Airport Road. Another $825,000 is allocated for facilities at Jake Rusher Park near Royal Pines, including a picnic shelter and restrooms, as well as improvements to the park’s playground, parking area and gazebo.

At $3.8 million, North Asheville will receive the smallest slice of the pie, about 8 percent of the total. $1.7 million of those dollars will pay for improvements to the Montford Recreation Center, while $1.3 million will go to resurfacing Lakeshore Drive. Hill Street will see $468,000 of sidewalk improvements, and Wembley and Osborne roads near Beaver Lake will each get about $36,000 for traffic-calming measures.

In the parks and recreation category, $5.2 million in requested funding has not yet been allocated to specific locations, with $2 million tagged for projects at outdoor courts and playgrounds, $2 million for land acquisition for future parks and $1.2 million for ball field lighting.

In the transportation infrastructure category, $1 million is earmarked for general greenway connections, linkages and extensions; $1.5 million has been set aside for road resurfacing contingencies, and $260,000 is dedicated to sidewalk improvement contingencies.

Zooming out to look at the city as a whole, the $32 million transportation bond package is expected to create 16 miles of resurfaced roads (with bike lanes on several resurfaced sections); 8 miles of sidewalk improvements (including Americans with Disabilities Act compliance); 4 miles of new sidewalks; and safety improvements that include new pedestrian crossing signals, speed humps on 8 miles of city streets and new bus shelters.

Overall, $8 million, or 16 percent of the total infrastructure and parks and recreation funds, remains unallocated to specific projects. Dawa Hitch, the city’s communications director, explains that, if the bond is approved by voters, those funds will be distributed throughout the city. And if residents don’t see their street or pet project on the list of bond items, Hitch continues, they shouldn’t assume there’s no money set aside for that purpose. “We are close to rolling out an interactive online tool to show the full scope of current city projects,” she says. The map-based application will show spending planned through the city’s $150 million, five-year capital improvement plan, as well as projects proposed for bond financing.

City Transportation Director Ken Putnam points out that state rules governing the use of bond funds do allow the city flexibility in the projects it will fund in each category. If the city can’t secure the right of way to build a specific sidewalk or bus shelter, for example, it can apply the funding to another transportation infrastructure priority. Since the city has a large backlog of identified street and sidewalk needs, Putnam says, there’s no shortage of worthwhile ways to use the funds.

Affordable housing

Compared to the infrastructure and parks bond packages, the $25 million affordable housing package is a horse of a different color. Rather than funding specific projects, the bond program will inject capital into the city’s affordable housing trust fund, which provides low-interest loans to selected affordable housing development proposals. According to Councilman Gordon Smith, who chairs Council’s Housing and Community Development Committee, efforts are already underway to review and potentially expand trust fund programs. Though existing policies could be used to deploy the bond funding, “We are more likely to adapt and grow the program if we end up with bond money in there,” Smith says.

Since the end of the recession, the housing trust fund has concentrated its resources on funding rental housing. Asheville’s efforts have yielded more units than any other city in North Carolina has managed to create, Smith explains. Even so, the number of residential units the city is building falls far short of local demand. According to a 2015 housing needs assessment prepared by Bowen National Research, Asheville will face a shortage of 3,580 rental units for households earning 120 percent or less of area median income by 2020. At the city’s current rate of new affordable rental housing construction of 100 to 200 units per year, “We’re still drowning,” Smith says.

In addition to promoting rental housing development, Smith continues, money in the trust fund could also be used to support new homeownership opportunities for low- and moderate-income families. Those homes needn’t be limited to single-family structures, he explains; housing types could include duplexes, triplexes, co-housing and tiny home communities.

According to Hitch, $10 million of the $25 million affordable housing bond total will supplement the trust fund.

MAKE YOURSELF AT HOME: If the bond referendum passes, it will give a big boost to the city's Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Since the 2013-14 fiscal year, the city has contributed $500,000 from its general fund to the trust fund annually, so the potential infusion of $10 million represents a large increase in the amount of capital the fund would have at its disposal. Current plans would reserve $15 million for reusing city-owned property for affordable housing development. Graphic by Jordy Isenhour
MAKE YOURSELF AT HOME: If the bond referendum passes, it will give a big boost to the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Since the 2013-14 fiscal year, the city has contributed $500,000 from its general fund to the trust fund annually, so the potential infusion of $10 million represents a large increase in the amount of capital the fund would have at its disposal. Current plans would reserve $15 million for reusing city-owned property for affordable housing development. Graphic by Jordy Isenhour

Bond money could also help expand efforts to reuse city-owned land located in areas convenient to transit, employment and services, Smith and Hitch both say.

One project already underway, Smith points out, is the redevelopment of the former city parks maintenance facility at 338 Hilliard Ave. If approved by City Council, Tribute Companies of Wilmington will build 60 units at varying levels of affordability on that site. The only other company to respond to the city’s request for proposals for the property (Kassinger Development Group of Charleston, S.C.) proposed dedicating only half the new units as affordable housing, while the other units would rent at market rates, says Jeff Staudinger, the city’s assistant director for community and economic development.

Hitch says $15 million of the affordable housing bond total will support the redevelopment of city-owned land for affordable housing, with parcels on South Charlotte Street the primary focus of that effort. The property currently houses city fleet and transit services, which would be relocated to make way for housing development.

Smith adds that land banking — purchasing land for affordable housing development — is another strategy the city could adopt. The city could reserve some cash for “when those [land purchasing] opportunities arise, whether it’s a big home run like the Innsbruck Mall property, or smaller, locationally efficient properties that would also be suitable,” he explains.

Considering that the city will have seven years to allocate and spend the bond funding, Smith says, if the affordable housing portion of the referendum passes, “We have time to build a program, and to let the building community know what we are trying to do, so that they can come and meet us along the way.”

Still to come

While this article considers the “spending” part of the bond equation, there’s also the “paying” question. Future Xpress coverage will look at such issues as how long the city will have to pay its bond bill, how much Asheville will pay in interest and how the city will manage so many new projects.

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About Virginia Daffron
Managing editor, lover of mountains, native of WNC. Follow me @virginiadaffron

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37 thoughts on “Close to home: Mapping Asheville’s bond referendum

    • Virginia Daffron

      As I write in the article (and in the caption of the main graphic), no, the allocation is not binding. Knowing what a careful reader you are, I assume your question is a rhetorical one.

      • Lulz

        Remember, as soon as word got out the cockroaches lined up to ensure that they get their fair share of the bond money. Which of course means and as we all know, that this has absolutely nothing to do with the years of NEGLECT by the city, but as a means to scam even more money out of us.

        Here’s a good idea Virginia, why don’t you like investigate the need for a bond after so much growth AND taxation here? Like you know, the city and county have been taking in record amounts of money yet like where is it going? Infrastructure? LOL, only in certain places lulz.

        • Lulz

          Ooh look LOL, city spends 400 grand on study lulz. And still needs that bond to pass for more of their glaring economic sanity lulz.

          The only thing these tools on council needs is swift kicks to the curb. That’s the only way real change happens here folks.

        • Lulz

          See Virginia, I have a sneaking suspicion that if a majority gets in that’s actually accountable to the taxpayer, many of our esteemed current members in local government will end up in jail due to their corruption. Smith, Bothwell and oh so especially Newman. That latter is as dirty as they come and has gotten very wealthy off of his solar scam.

        • luther blissett

          “Like you know, the city and county have been taking in record amounts of money yet like where is it going? Infrastructure?”

          Like I said, you’ve proven yourself unworthy of a reply — or a malted milkshake, for that matter.

          But for the benefit of everyone else: it’s mostly going on cops and firefighters. Shall we audit the police and fire departments, or just slash their pensions and benefits? And a big chunk of Asheville’s growth premium (sales tax from tourist spending) is going to Raleigh to be distributed to loyal GOP voters in the boonies out east while another chunk (the hotel tax) goes to an unaccountable board, again by state decree.

          The idea of city government being “accountable to the taxpayer” in NC is mostly BS, because in NC all prosperous cities are deemed as cash cows whose milk should be redistributed to the meth-and-conservatism parts of the state.

          • Lulz

            Cops and Firefighters? LOL, you left out the TDA, Chamber, Art Museum, Riverlink, etc. but continue with that line of BS buddy.

          • luther blissett

            Repeating BS doesn’t make it true. Stick that in your milkshake.

            Again, for those who aren’t hard of thinking: public safety is $45m of the $105m general fund; $38m of that total is salaries and benefits, the rest is operating costs. Property tax receipts are $54m, the rest comes from interstate revenue transfers, sales tax distributions, fees and licenses, billed services. So a third of the city’s budget, equivalent to 70% of property tax revenues, pays the 500+ cops and firefighters. (Turns out that if you multiply the average public safety officer’s salary and benefits by 500, it’s a big number! Who knew?)

            It’s remarkable to see such innumeracy on display over and over again. The TDA is even more of a distraction, since the occupancy tax is not city revenue by state law.

    • Lulz

      Go away non city taxpayer. Come back when you actually practice what you preach LOL. But that’s like called integrity and not hypocrisy lulz.

      • bsummers

        “Integrity” sounds hilarious coming out of a sockpuppet who slings hate at others, but is afraid to reveal who they are, or if they even live in the US, much less in Asheville. Come back when you have the courage of your convictions.

    • Lulz

      LOL, they raised the vehicle fee to 30 smackers lulz.

      DO NOT support the bond. The crooks and cronies need to cut their spending and/or stop funding things that they have no business giving money to. All you’re doing by supporting handing them even more money is ensuring that even less gets done and even more leeches in their arts and non-profit scamdustry make more money while the majority here have less money in their own pockets. And in the end, the roads will still be in disrepair, the homes will still be pricey, and people will still be forced to give even more.

      • luther blissett

        It’s remarkable how much ‘Lulz’ sounds like a former BCGOP chairman with all the talk of crooks and cronies and scams and shady deals.

        • Lulz

          Let’s see, council wants to spend 400 grand on another study and wants more money for a bond LOL. THAT’S NON-BINDING!!! That SOUNDS like a bunch of BS to me but of course I sound like the former chairman WHICH is more important lulz.

        • bsummers

          Well that makes sense. That former chairman doesn’t live in Asheville, does he? That might be why ‘Lulz’ (if that is his real name) is afraid to reveal his identity. Hmm… good working theory.

  1. Peter Robbins

    I hope everyone noticed, in all the clutter, how good this story is.

    • luther blissett

      Agreed: Virginia’s been doing excellent work lately and deserves recognition for it.

      It’s been argued that “South South Asheville” (i.e. south of the Parkway) isn’t getting much from the bond project list. That’s for a number of reasons: the ongoing Hendersonville Road improvements are already accounted for, development is newer and less in need of repair, and mostly because there is much less Asheville down there than the residents seem to think. That’s down to the number of unincorporated communities just off Hvl and Long Shoals Road, but since the annexation question got put to bed by the NCGA, you can understand a hesitancy in the city to fund improvements that would primarily benefit residents of Royal Pines and Arden. Let the county handle that.

    • bsummers

      Yeah, but she didn’t used the word ‘crackkk’ even once. That exposes her lib’ral bias.

  2. HRH

    Sorry, if City Council thinks we should take on all this debt after decades of NO leadership and infrastructure improvements, they should NOT expect this BOND SCAM to pass… let the CITY leaders work within existing budget to get needed projects DONE.

    Hell no…not another BOND SCAM from the crackkk taxpayer THIEVES ! ! !

    • luther blissett

      ” let the CITY leaders work within existing budget to get needed projects DONE.”

      Shorter YepHRHPoker: “live in your car for five years until you can afford to buy a home with cash.”

      Or maybe he’s proposing the Trump approach to business: hire people to get the projects done and afterwards stiff the contractors?

      • bsummers

        Or borrow from Trump’s proposal on the national debt, and offer existing City bondholders 70 or 80 cents on the dollar for what they’re owed. What could go wrong?

        • Lulz

          Why yes because lackluster growth of 1 percent for that last 8 years coupled with 10 trillion in debt is such rational national economic policy. But HE gets a pass from you because he’s a democrat AND black. And a double whammy in the PC immunity book. But there’s that word integrity again. Oh, and he’s for high wages blah, blah, blah yet YOU dude live in an area CONTROLLED by DEMOCRATS that is known for its low wages and lack of anything affordable and are like in denial.

          • bsummers

            But HE gets a pass from you because he’s a democrat AND black.

            Wrong. If Obama gets any sort of a “pass” from me on the economy, it’s because he inherited the Great Recession started under his predecessor, and for most of his presidency, has a hostile GOP congress laser-focused on preventing him from succeeding at anything, including the economy.

            But I know you won’t acknowledge any of that, my terrified little anonymous friend – you’re driven by hatred of anything on the political left, not by looking for actual solutions.

          • Lulz

            LOL, oh you mean the Clinton era policy of allowing banks to loan to low income home buyers that of course caused a huge bubble? LOL, again Mr Eve, if you had one iota of integrity you’d be madder than hell that under Obama, the banks got rich and Wall Street is up DUE TO government money being invested in it. By said banks. But of course we deflect and ignore.

            The ESTABLISHMENT, whether local or national is the problem. Locally, it ridiculous that Newman has become a millionaire WHILE in office. You don’t suppose there’s like a huge conflict of interest here when that crony can control government contracts? Has this tool ever recused himself from voting in this stuff? Never.

            As I said, there’s a huge, and I mean mega huge reason why there’s like a big gamble on keeping the current regime going. Because if by the grace of God some people are elected that actually serve the taxpayers and look into the 2 decades of this local farce by the Smith, Bothwell, Newman, along with some lawyers and realtors, and a bunch of “non-profits” with insider connections, , some heads are gonna roll. And some people are gonna go to jail.

          • Lulz

            Oh Barry BTW, what does the left represent? Open borders, globalism, sanctuary cities, poverty in mass to continue the farce of caring for those that can’t make it for votes, low wages, keeping blacks in perpetual stagnation for votes, uneducated masses to stay in power for votes, control in everything from smoking in private establishments to regulating insurance, allowing illegals who commit crimes to go free that many times kill, continued mass unemployment coupled with free migration across the border that lowers wages. Increased fees and taxation that enriches those in government who control the money. A huge government class that is immune to laws, breaks them, ignores the Constitution and treats it as irrelevant, Makes up laws that apply to certain citizens yet completely allows others to break them according to their illegal immigrant status. Uses the departments within government such as the IRS to bully those that are politically and ideologically the opposite to persecute, jail, tax and fee, and eventually stamp out. Creates undue regulatory burdens in order to create more jobs within the government and fill them with political allies and hacks who carry out extreme leftist ideals. The list goes on.

  3. Fin

    Nice to see a few of you respond with insults instead of a solid rebuttal. Try being polite instead of ignorant. And no I’m not voting for the bond because affordability isn’t in the councils dictionary when it comes to everyone else in this city not just 2%. Fees and taxes make the town more expensive. Just in case some of you don’t make that connection. Anyone who trusts this council and city leadership to control this money is foolish.

    • bsummers

      You mentioned roads earlier. Don’t forget that the legislature cut approx. $1.5 million annual funding stream for roads/sidewalks from Asheville in 2013 with House Bill 252. That on top of all the other legislative cuts to the City’s revenue – decreased sales tax distribution, elimination of the business license fees, etc. etc.

      Starting in 2012, with the recession still hurting municipal budgets, the legislature just whacked away at the cities, with Asheville getting a couple of kicks all their own. That contributes hugely to the need for this bond package.

      • Fin

        Im not disagreeing with you but we have ability to make it easier at home for hard working folks. Business license fee should be eliminated. Thats just government greed. You adding a fee to someone who already pays sales, payroll, taxes. Here a fee for the pleasure of employing our locals…….

        • bsummers

          The business license fee was eliminated in North Carolina, over a year ago. And you might call it “greed”, but the truth is that it has been a source of revenue for local and state governments since America was young – I haven’t been able to find anything about North Carolina, but the Governor of South Carolina instituted the first business license fee in 1748.
          http://www.cityofspartanburg.org/business-licensing/history
          It’s been around for centuries – it wasn’t just somebody’s notion a few years ago to ‘stick it’ to local businesses.

          Framing it as greed only gives cover to those who took it away from municipalities without acknowledging the negative impact on city budgets and eventually city property owners. Many of the other cuts to municipal sources of revenue, including the ones targeting Asheville alone, are cloaked in this ‘justifyingly-punitive’ tone. And it’s not honest or helpful – if you want to make the case that the tax burden should be shifted (not reduced, just shifted), then do that. But that’s not what the GOP-controlled NCGA has done for the past 5 years. Cutting existing revenue streams without “holding municipalities harmless” as Nathan Ramsey liked to put it, merely shifts the political burden of raising revenue onto local governments. It was a cynical, partisan ploy designed to hit the mostly-Democratic city electeds, as we’re seeing in this discussion.

    • luther blissett

      “Fees and taxes make the town more expensive… Anyone who trusts this council and city leadership to control this money is foolish.”

      Let’s remember that Asheville gets back a tiny fraction of sales tax revenues generated within the city, and the GOP majority in the NCGA would like to take an even bigger cut to redistribute out of Buncombe County. If that distribution were even slightly more favorable to Asheville — which matters in a city that has always relied upon the service sector, and which is responsible for infrastructure to support commuting workers and tourists as well as residents — then we wouldn’t be having a conversation about fees and licenses.

      Do you trust the NCGA with your sales tax dollars? Do you even know how much you’re paying in sales tax per year, especially with its expansion to cover everything from movie tickets to labor at the auto shop?

      • bsummers

        All true. The GOP-controlled NCGA created brand new taxes on things average people pay for, cut money going to cities & counties (guaranteeing that they will have to raise local taxes or take on more debt themselves), all so they could crow about the huge tax cuts to the wealthy & to corporations.

        “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”
        ― Warren Buffett

      • Fin

        The problem is that there is no accountability on the spending end. I have close friends that work in police, fire department, and development services office and the stories they have about wasteful spending is mind boggling. I don’t support the NCGA and the way they waste our dollars but the tax situation, as unfair and lopsided as it is, has been this way for a long time, and if you don’t believe adding greenways and more sidewalks make the town more expensive just look at city’s in California, Colorado, Austin, Texas. Our roads are a complete joke and once they burn thru this money with, overages and poor oversight , we will have to raise taxes again to start the second round of paving the streets that are 60 years past their life expectancy.

        • luther blissett

          “if you don’t believe adding greenways and more sidewalks make the town more expensive just look at city’s in California, Colorado, Austin, Texas. Our roads are a complete joke–”

          Whoa there. You mean “cities where people want to live and work and visit?” Well, surely City Council should just tear up the asphalt and replace it with gravel, and pump raw sewage into the French Broad. It’ll take a bit of effort, but if the goal is to make Asheville more like Hickory, that’s a start.

          You’re implying that sidewalks are a frivolous luxury but roads are not. That’s a pretty warped view of affordability. Last time I checked, cars were expensive to own and run. (Even more so with extra sales tax on repair work.)

          If the bond passes, advocate for ongoing transparency. There’s no reason why the city can’t be required to give monthly updates on spending and progress on projects. And if you want to make the public case for the city to audit the PD and FD, then go right ahead: as I said upthread, that’s where the most money is spent. But politically, it’s difficult for a leftish-leaning council to trim the public safety budget without causing a ruckus. It’ll take public advocacy and probably a whistleblower or two.

          • Jeeves

            Rates will continue to increase and so will rents. Plan and simple math. And in 20 years these affordable housing complexes will be trashed. Hard to afford Asheville when people don’t want to work.

    • Lulz

      LOL, they aren’t looking for solutions. They want to keep the status quo and thus continued gentrification. On one end to keep the money train rolling with excess fees and taxes and on the other, to present themselves as democrats and thus identify with what THEY USED to represent. Once we get down to it though, the current government may seem incompetent financially but it’s not that. What they do is kick back money, bribe, represent the interest of only the few wealthy, and if someone tries to speak up, is immediately attacked with hateful labels.

  4. I definitely oppose 2 out of 3 bonds. the one I’m not sure about is the affordable housing bond. Generally the way to make asheville housing affordable is deregulation, but funding could help provided we get enough units per million. The units have to be small enough and cheap enough and lee Walker heights aren’t. I hear they cost 300 grand per additional unit, which is absurd. I won’t support a bond at that rate!

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