Filling the holes

  • City green-lights Civic Center roof replacement
  • Some gated communities can expand
  • City to help fund water hookups for affordable/green housing

Through snow and rain and heat and gloom of night … it leaked. Over the years, the Asheville Civic Center’s roof—probably the ailing facility’s No. 1 structural woe—has gotten less than glowing press. Celebrities have been rained on; audience members have been relocated midconcert. So it was easy for City Council members to unanimously support finally replacing it.

Since the last time they visited the issue, however, the design concept has been scaled back considerably. Once envisioned as a “green” or “living” roof that would feature grass and soil, the current plan simply calls for a white-plastic roof, architect John Cort explained. One of the 1974 facility’s original designers, Cort said the roof would still have a positive environmental impact, however.

White roofs, he noted, have been growing in popularity because they help keep buildings cool, saving energy. They also damp down the overall heat impact on a city by reducing the amount of heat-absorbing black surfaces. The $152,099 contract approved by Council July 22 clears the way for the Cort Architectural Group to proceed with construction plans and project administration. Actual construction could start in the spring.

The Civic Center dilemma has dragged on for many years, so there was some excitement about finally getting the ball rolling.

“I’m so glad to see this—let’s get this thing going,” urged Council member Bill Russell, making the motion to approve even before Council had heard the staff presentation.

But Vice Mayor Jan Davis, noting that misinformation about the roof has been floating around the community, wanted staff to explain what was being considered.

A year ago, Council approved a feasibility study that included analyzing the green options. The study, however, found that the existing structure could not support the weight associated with turning the Civic Center’s roof into a lawn.

Fletcher resident Dennis Justice, who has tracked the issue for years, emphasized the urgency of the situation, proclaiming, “This has to go forward. This roof has to be replaced.”

For The Block, a new redevelopment plan

by Jason Sandford

A nonprofit organization that’s been working for years to revitalize the Eagle and Market streets in Asheville’s urban core won approval from City Council to move ahead with planning a proposed $15 million renovation of two existing structures and construction of a 10-story building behind them.

Council gave the Eagle Market Streets Development Corporation the go-ahead to explore a partnership with officials representing three companies that would combine talents under one banner, which would be called Eagle Market Renaissance LLC. The proposal calls for that yet-to-be-formed company to team with the nonprofit as the equity partner in ownership.

Despite the complicated partnership, a slow real-estate market and the organization’s spotty record of accomplishment at redeveloping Eagle and Market streets over the past 14 years, key players say they’re excited about the plan.

Sherman Golden, executive vice president of the real-estate-development company Em Johnson Interest Inc. said he’s “very confident we can replicate the success” of other urban-redevelopment projects he’s been a part of in cities such as San Francisco and Birmingham.

Golden and his company propose to link up with Sylvia Farrington, president of consulting company Asheville Global Services Group Inc., and Tayani Suma, president of Atlanta-based Mission Redevelopment, another development company. The three would form Eagle Market Renaissance, which would oversee the renovation of the Del Cardo and Collette buildings on Eagle Street. The partnership would also oversee the construction of a 10-story mixed-use building with 46 condo units and 4,000 square feet of commercial space on a vacant lot behind the two older buildings.

Suma said the Eagle Market Renaissance group plans to use some federal community- and urban-development money to help fund the project. If everything goes according to plan, ground won’t be broken on the project until 2010, she said, adding that the group will also be keeping a close eye on the economy and the real-estate market.

At a July 21 meeting at the YMI Cultural Center at the corner of Eagle and Market streets, about 50 residents listened to Suma, Golden and Farrington present their plan. Harry Harrison, YMI executive director, said he hoped the project would be unique to Asheville and questioned whether the condo units would be affordable. Suma said some of the one- and two-bedroom condos would be “lower-priced properties,” while others would be sold at market rates. There are no rental units in the plans.

Johnnie Grant, an Asheville native and publisher of the Urban News newspaper, echoed Harrison’s concerns about the affordability of the proposed units.

“I know it’s about economics,” Grant said, “but first of all, you need to think about the people that are here.”

The Eagle and Market street area, the historic home to Asheville’s African-American business community, is known as The Block. Its redevelopment has languished, though, while downtown Asheville has witnessed a rebirth over the last two decades.

In 2004, a planned public-private partnership to renovate the Collette and Campbell buildings and build a new building on a vacant lot for $6.6 million fell apart. The plan spurred a lawsuit and failed to gain the support of City Council, in part because some Council members said they felt the Eagle Market Streets Development Corp. had failed to be inclusive of all the stakeholders in the area.

Marvin Chambers, chair-elect of the Eagle Market Streets Development Corp., noted that there have been a “number of promises and projects” over the years, but he urged residents to put their time and energy into the project. “We need to become involved,” he said.

Nonetheless, some Council members voiced frustration about how the process has played out over the past year.

Council member Robin Cape, who pushed for investigating green options for the roof, said there was no reason the feasibility report should have taken this long—and the delay had cast a shadow on the whole concept.

“It’s been a year,” she noted. “That seems like a ridiculous amount of time to get a yes or no. I’m frustrated that it [gave the impression] that the green roof was the holdup.”

Information showing that the idea wouldn’t work was available six months ago, said Cape. “This was choreographed—or maybe it was just fate—to make the green roof a laughingstock,” she lamented.

Council member Carl Mumpower, who has fought the idea from day one, cited it as the latest example of Council’s overreaching, but Cape said she has no regrets about having pursued it.

“I hope this Council never backs off [from trying] to pull our community into a future that is smarter,” she declared.

Fenced in

When Council enacted a ban on gated communities last year (see “Asheville City Council,” June 20, 2007 Xpress), it was responding to loud concerns that gates do not project a welcoming image. But the move also left one developer in the lurch. Biltmore Farms, which is developing the gated communities Biltmore Lake and The Ramble, complained that the ordinance prevents them from building the next phases of their projects on property they already own.

“We really look at this as an issue of fairness,” said Community Development Associate Chad Lloyd of Biltmore Farms.

A proposed amendment to the ordinance, Assistant Planning and Development Director Shannon Tuch explained, would apply only to developers who owned the property in question before the 2007 ban took effect. Nonetheless, the discussion revived last year’s philosophical debate.

Asheville resident Jesse Junior, who regularly speaks out against Council’s approval of development proposals, said the message sent by gates is clear. “It says: ‘We want to exclude you. … We are afraid of you. We want to keep you away from us,’” he asserted.

Reiterating her objections to gates, Cape also acknowledged the impact on Biltmore Farms’ long-term plans if Council didn’t make this allowance. “We have moved away from gated communities,” she said. “But we also honor and respect relationships we had before.”

The amendment passed unanimously.

In the pipe

The environmental and the affordable met when Council members approved new criteria for city assistance with connecting new developments to the water system. Last year, Council approved partial city funding for hooking up developments that meet its affordable-housing guidelines. Now they were considering whether to add criteria proposed by the Sustainability Advisory Committee on Energy and the Environment to the mix. The resulting application form for developers would assign points not only for the percentage of units classified as affordable but also for environmentally sensitive practices such as tapping alternative energy sources and installing ecologically friendly landscaping.

The new form was approved on a 5-2 vote with Mumpower and Russell opposed—but not before some words were exchanged.

Mumpower, who has several times accused his colleagues of embracing socialism, once again resorted to the S-word, saying they are now “reaching into the pockets of water customers to advance this Council’s socialistic agenda.”

Council member Holly Jones, a longtime advocate for affordable housing, said Mumpower could call her a socialist if he wished but that she would still support the initiative.

“One of our goals is to promote [affordable] housing,” she noted. “And one of the biggest costs to developers is the cost of running water lines.”

Meanwhile, Council member Brownie Newman praised the addition of environmental elements.

“This is going to reduce fees for people who are investing in our community,” he said. “This is not a requirement to do [green building], but it is an incentive.”

According to the staff report, the program is expected to cost about $500,000 annually. Council instructed staff to report back in a year on the program’s effectiveness.



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One thought on “Filling the holes

  1. LOKEL

    Why EXACTLY is it he City Council’s responsibility to engender private developers to build “affordable” housing in Asheville?

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