The U.S. Department of Transportation has announced that the City of Asheville is among 62 nationwide recipients of sustainable community grant funding stemming from a collaboration between the DOT and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. (See the DOT press release here.)
DOT and HUD announced a total of $68 million in Challenge Grant/TIGER II funds for innovative sustainable development planning projects that integrate transportation, housing and urban development (The full lists of recipients can be found here and here).
The City of Asheville will receive $850,000 toward its plans for its East of the Riverway Sustainable Multimodal Neighborhood initiative, part of a push for comprehensive housing, economic development and multi-modal transportation in the city’s river district.
“This grant award demonstrates that the City of Asheville’s sustainability initiative is in step with a larger national push for collaborative, comprehensive and sustainable development planning,” said Community Development Director Jeff Staudinger. “More and more, much like the partnership established by the DOT, HUD and EPA, Federal agencies are going to want to see multi-pronged strategies and regional cooperation in housing and transportation innovation.”
The challenge grant funding provides another step toward the East of the Riverway plan, one part of a larger plan for riverfront redevelopment that will leverage public/private partnerships and funding from multiple agencies. The award comes on the heels of the October 15 announcement of a $1.6 million HUD Sustainable Housing and Community Planning grant awarded to the Land-of-Sky Regional Council, of which the City of Asheville was a co-applicant.
The $850,000 award is less than the city’s initial request of $3 million, and the City of Asheville will next work with the DOT and its partners to prioritize the most appropriate use for the grant funding.
“We look forward to furthering our relationship with the U.S. Department of Transportation and working with them to identify the best ways this money can advance the East of the Riverway initiative,” Staudinger said.
Click here for more information on the City of Asheville’s riverfront redevelopment initiative. Click here to see information about the WNC Livable Communities initiative.
The Asheville Police Department’s recently opened Oakley Resource Center is the result of a series of partnerships and collaborations, all of which, says APD Chief William Hogan, were critical to the project’s success.
The 2,500 square-foot facility provides a satellite station for the APD’s Baker District, which serves north and east Asheville, and officially opened with an Oct. 27 ribbon cutting ceremony attended by residents of the Oakley community, N.C. Representative Patsy Keever, Buncombe County Commissioner Carol Peterson Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy, Council Member Jan Davis, and City of Asheville employees including a number of APD officers.
Throughout the presentation, Hogan and Bellamy praised the level of cooperation involved in building the new center, from its construction by A-B Tech students to a multi-departmental involvement by City of Asheville staff to the donation of materials by local suppliers.
“The collaboration with A-B Tech carpentry class speaks to a good partnership that is being advanced.” said Mayor Bellamy.
The pre-fab building was designed and constructed offsite by A-B Tech students to be an example of an energy efficient residential home before its new role as an APD station. A-B Tech President Dr. Hank Dunn and Vice President of Risk Management and Operations Max Queen were on hand for the ribbon cutting.
“When you’re a member of a community, your role is to say ‘How can I be involved? How can I help?’” Dunn said.
The Oakley Police Resource Center a few months before completion. The center officially opened Oct. 27.
Alongside the work by the students, the effort involved multiple city departments, who contributed to modifying and enhancing the station, including the city of Asheville’s building safety, information technology, parks, recreation and cultural arts, public works and water resources departments.
“This could not have happened without all the collaboration of the city departments,” Hogan said. “And without the support of the Mayor and City Council, it would not have been possible.”
The opening of the new facility, which will be a workplace and base of operations for some 40 APD officers, shows the department’s dedication to having a visible presence in the community, Bellamy said. It also provides the opportunity for the officers to continue close relationships with the surrounding neighborhoods and provides a place for neighbors to go if they need police assistance.
“This is an example of our commitment from our Chief,” she said. “We’re really doing what we need to do to make sure our city is safe.”
Click the link below to see a video about the new Oakley Police Resource Center.
In 1988, when David Foster first began working for the City of Asheville as a 19-year-old temporary laborer on a paving crew, the city, and especially its downtown, was a very different place. Working on the city’s street crews and making his way up through the ranks, Foster saw it all change. Twenty-two years later, the City of Asheville’s Assistant Director of Public Works says the kind of experience he has gotten over the years gives him especially useful insights into the divisions he oversees.
“I think I have a perspective that others may not necessarily have,” Foster says. “I know how hard it is to throw the trash. I know how hard and hot it can be on the paving crew. I know that when you’re doing concrete work, the material tells you when you get to take a break, not so much your stomach or your thirst.”
Foster took on the role of Interim Assistant Director of Public Works in 2009, and in 2010 was formally promoted to the assistant director position. Having a history in the area (he grew up in Asheville, his father worked for the city’s Fleet Division, his mother for the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department), Foster says there is a sense of satisfaction seeing the changes that city initiatives like the downtown streetscape plan yielded.
Along the way, Foster has worked on street cuts, sidewalks, the Urban Trail and installing the first benches, downtown tree pits and bike lanes in the City of Asheville. “Our legacy is that we were able to go and put our fingerprint on most of the things that Asheville prides itself on now,” he says. “Most of the stuff we were piloting in the 1990′s is the norm now.”
As Assistant Director of Public Works, Foster oversees the Streets, Sanitation and Fleet Divisions, providing their administrative backbone. On a day-to-day basis, he reviews and analyzes the needs of the divisions and the public who depends on them. He points to upcoming innovations that will help improve the ability to be efficient for himself and the rest of the Public Works Department.
A revamp in the way street cuts are recorded and patched will put more responsibility on the Streets Division, adding accountability and speeding up the rate in which cuts are patched. “Most people who see a street cut don’t know what utility is making the cut,” Foster says. “They just know the road isn’t fixed. We’ll be able to tell you who made the cut and when it will be repaired.”
As of October 1, the Public Works Department also joined several other departments on a MUNIS software database that will allow easier and faster tracking of information that will benefit Asheville City Council and the public by being able to quickly show costs and benefits of specific projects.
Foster, a former motocross and hill climb competitor, spends his off time playing electric guitar, often jamming with his 12-year-old son, the youngest of three children.
In his 22-year career at the City of Asheville, he has earned a string of recognitions and awards, including the Colin Powell Leadership Award for National Public Works Week and City of Asheville recognition for Outstanding Supervisor, Outstanding Productivity, and Excellence in Public Service Award for Heroic Act Award.
These days, driving or walking the streets of Asheville, Foster is glad to be able to see the results of the work completed by the City of Asheville’s Public Works Department. “Its very satisfying. I can go on any street in downtown and almost any street in Asheville and see something that we’ve touched in some capacity or another. There was flood here or a tree down here, or even a little boy’s toy we had to pull out of a drain on this street.”
The Land-of-Sky Regional Council has been awarded a $1.6 million grant through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for Sustainable Housing and Community Planning in Western North Carolina. The Council is the lead agency in a WNC Livable Communities effort and a consortium of partners that includes the City of Asheville. The Livable Communities initiative is a push for regional cooperation in sustainable planning for housing, transportation and economic development needs, a process that will become even more important as the WNC area continues to grow.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for our region,” said Land-of-Sky Regional Council Executive Director Joe C. McKinney at an October 15 announcement at the Doubletree Hotel Biltmore. “This is the first real regional planning opportunity where the Federal Government is coming to us and saying, if you come together and plan, we will partner with you.”
In his comments at the announcement, Congressman Heath Shuler praised the grant award and the work done by the Land-of-Sky and the WNC Livable Communities Consortium. “You are leading the way in so many areas,” Shuler said. “$1.6 million will go a long way in looking at transportation needs, housing needs and jobs.”
The Land of Sky Regional Council is one of 45 regional organizations nationwide that received a total of nearly $100 million through the HUD sustainable planning program. McKinney credited a wide-reaching regional effort represented in the WNC Livable Communities Consortium, and thanked local agencies including Buncombe County and the City of Asheville for work in building momentum behind the cooperative effort.
“The City of Asheville is pleased to be a co-applicant for this grant with the Land of Sky Regional Council and the other great regional partners,” said Community Development Director Jeff Staudinger. “The City worked hard with its partners over the last year to prepare for this opportunity, which is now being recognized by HUD as one of 45 leading-edge national sustainability partnerships.”
As the WNC region continues to grow, it will be the City of Asheville’s responsibility as a metropolitan center to be at the forefront of creating sustainable, livable communities, Staudinger said.
Participating members of the WNC Livable Communities Consortium are:
Land-of-Sky Regional Council
French Broad River Metropolitan Planning Organization
Land-of-Sky Rural Planning Organization
City of Asheville
State of North Carolina
The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina
Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce
Renaissance Computing Institute of the University of North Carolina at Asheville
Asheville Housing Authority
Asheville-Buncombe Sustainable Communities
Initiative of the Asheville HUB
Asheville Design Center
A working smoke alarm can be a lifesaver in the home. That is the message being spread this month by the Asheville Fire Department through educational events and visits to area schools.
“We have seen many families who have safely escaped danger because their smoke alarms alerted them about a fire” says Kelley Webb, AFD Fire and Life Safety Educator.
October is National Fire Prevention Month, and fire departments nationwide are conducting fire safety programs in their communities. The theme this year is “Smoke Alarms: a sound you can live with.”
The Asheville Fire Department kicked off the month with an October 2 educational event and fair at Wal-Mart on Bleachery Boulevard that encouraged people to purchase and install smoke alarms. The department is also making visits to several Asheville City and Buncombe County elementary schools within the City of Asheville to talk to children there about fire safety.
During the school programs, students are invited to learn about fire trucks and firefighting equipment and to pose questions to Asheville’s firefighters. But the main educational component is the department’s educational fire safety trailer which firefighters use to teach fire safety in the home.
The trailer has scaled-down versions of a kitchen and fireplace, both areas where children need to be aware of potential fire hazards. The elementary school students also participate in a mock fire drill from an upstairs bedroom, complete with a home smoke alarm and a smoke machine.
“We want them to be familiar with the sound of smoke alarms and to know what to do if an alarm goes off,” Webb says.
The safest way to get down the stairs, the students learn, is to slide or crawl feet first to avoid falling and to stay underneath any smoke. On the first floor, children should crawl to the door leading outside and go to a meeting place determined ahead of time by their family. Parents and their children can plan together to determine an evacuation route and an outdoor meeting spot.
Families should practice fire drills in their homes a couple of times a year, Webb says, as well as test smoke alarm batteries once a month and change their batteries twice per year.
Parents and students can find more information on fire safety at the links below:
A year ago, Dingle Creek, which runs through South Asheville and developed areas of Hendersonville Road, was on a short list of at-risk streams experiencing erosion and heightened sediment pollution due to increased development in the area. A 2008 City of Asheville study of the Dingle Creek watershed funded by a grant from the Clean Water Management Trust Fund found that increased stormwater runoff from impervious surfaces had intensified the volume and speed of the creek, adding to the depletion of its banks and allowing more water quality contaminants to flow downstream toward the French Broad River.
The construction of a one-acre wetland, contracted through the City of Asheville’s Stormwater Services division of the Public Works Department and completed over the summer is already showing signs of stemming the flow and allowing Dingle Creek to recover. A mix of stream bank stabilization, water flow diversion, plantings, and a series of bends, channels and steps have been installed, slowing down the water and allowing sediments to settle and keeping erosion in check. The design also resulted in several diversions and branches in the flow of the creek, with side streams and dry beds allowing the wetland to absorb the energy of flooding in the case of large rain events.
The Dingle Creek wetland project is located within the Ramble community, on a conservation easement donated by Biltmore Farms, Inc. The project was partially paid for by grant funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Matching funds will be paid over the next 20 years by the the Clean Water Management Trust Fund and the City of Asheville.
“We are most appreciative of the partnership with Biltmore Farms in providing the City an easement to construction the wetlands,” says Public Works Director Cathy Ball. “Without this easement, this project would not have been possible.” Since construction was completed in June, netting used to shore up banks has begun to be concealed by soil and vegetation, water plants installed during construction have spread, and most importantly, sediment deposits are clearly visible in pools along the creek.
“That’s what we want to see,” says City of Asheville Stormwater Services Manager McCray Coates. “Our main goal is to remove the sedimentation.”
Wildlife in the area has also responded to the habitat recovery. Deer and turkey regularly visit the site and fish have begun to populate the pools created in the wetland project.
Wetlands are a natural guard against water quality degradation. Sediment removal keeps downstream waters and wildlife from being adversely affected, and vegetation removes nitrogen from the water that may have seeped in from fertilizers used in lawns and agriculture.
As part of its strategic goal of sustainability, the City of Asheville employs landscaping and natural features to retain and manage stormwater flow. The Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts Department has established such features at Richmond Hill Park, Carrier Park, the WNC Nature Center, and Reed Creek Greenway. But the Dingle Creek watershed project is the first of this scale.
“It’s a real good project,” Coates says. “This is the largest one we’ve done so far.”
On October 4, the City of Asheville launched an interactive project called “Asheville Asks, Asheville Answers.” Every few weeks, the City of Asheville will post a special logo on its Facebook page, inviting people to post questions they have about the city in the comments section. Answers by city staff are recorded on video and posted throughout the week.
In case you missed the first series of video answers, here’s a round up from the week of October 4 – October 8, beginning with a video introduction by City of Asheville Public Information Officer Dawa Hitch. Each video begins by showing the question posed on Facebook.
Click here to go to the City of Asheville Facebook page.
Construction of the new recreation and cultural center at Livingston Street is well underway, and the first phase of the project is expected to be completed early next year. But some of the energy-efficient and environmentally sustainable elements of the project are already beginning to emerge.
The Livingston center will be the first construction by the City of Asheville to pursue a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold rating since a 2007 vote by Asheville City Council mandated that all new municipal buildings meet at least that level of certification.
“This is nice precedent, to have a building at this level,” says project manager Al Kopf, from the City of Asheville Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts Department.
Probably the most prominent design feature for people passing by the site at the corner of Livingston and Depot Streets is the “butterfly” roof, designed to collect rain water both for cisterns and to channel water into collection basins that reduce stormwater sediment runoff.
But another green feature for the center lies underground and out of sight: geothermal technology that will heat and cool the center. Beneath what is slated to become part of the center’s parking area, engineers drilled six holes 450 feet underground to tap into the naturally more stable subsurface temperature. Fluid-filled tubes run from a heat pump inside the 8,000 square-foot facility and into the six-inch wide bore holes, where they draw or release heat underground.
Conventional heat pumps typically exchange heat to or from the outside air, which experiences wide fluctuations in temperature. The geothermal wells, on the other hand, stay in the neighborhood of 55 degrees year round regardless of the weather or season.
“The ground stays a relatively similar temperature, so it becomes a good effective heat exchange,” says Jerome Hay from Sud Associates, the firm contracted to install the geothermal system.
The underground geothermal technology was installed over the past summer, but there’s plenty more to come for the center’s green elements. Apart from collecting rainwater, the building’s roof will have living vegetation in some sections, and the remainder will have an energy-efficient reflective index.
Jane Mathews, of Mathews Architecture, which has been contracted to track the building’s LEED compliance, notes that 90 percent of the spaces in the building will have natural lighting, and all corridors will be lit by sunlight. The center will also utilize low-flow plumbing fixtures and high-efficiency lighting.
The impact of construction is also closely tracked during the building process, with at least 80 percent of the materials from the demolition of previous structures having been recycled. Materials going into the new facility include recycled tile and Forest Stewardship Certified lumber. Wherever possible, building materials travel no more that 500 miles to get to the site.
“You have to credit City Council for taking the initiative and setting the bar this high,” Mathews says.
Click here to see more information about the City of Asheville Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts initiatives..
The City of Asheville has secured grant funding that will allow for the installation of crossing signals at four high-traffic intersections that connect pedestrian commuters with transit and business centers. The Federal Transit Administration grant, secured through the French Broad River Metropolitan Planning Organization, will fund the majority of the cost for pedestrian signals at the intersections of Haywood Road and Louisiana Avenue, Clingman Avenue and Hilliard Avenue, Choctaw Street and McDowell Road, and Biltmore Avenue and Southside/South Charlotte Street.
At its September 28 meeting, Asheville City Council approved an agreement with the N.C. Department of Transportation to perform the work and a 20 percent in-kind match for the grant.
“This is a big win,” says City of Asheville Transportation Planner Barb Mee. “Working together with the MPO and NC DOT, we were able to fund pedestrian infrastructure at some important intersections that were identified in the Asheville Pedestrian Plan.”
The four sites were selected based on their connectivity to transit stops, access to workplaces and the challenges posed by vehicle traffic to pedestrians, criteria spelled out in the FTA Job Access and Reverse Commute (JARC) grant application process.
For instance, Mee notes, the Clingman/Hilliard crossing will give residents in the West End/Clingman neighborhood easier access to downtown, while the Choctaw Street signal will allow better access to Mission Hospital, a major employer in the city. The Biltmore Avenue crossing is one that has been identified as a priority by the Asheville Bicycle and Pedestrian Task Force, a group of volunteers who examine ways to improve access in the city.
“We have a long list of places where we would like to see pedestrian crossings,” Mee said. “But coordinating with the N.C. DOT, and working within the grant requirements we were able to identify these as priorities that we could get done.”
JARC funding is typically allocated by the FTA to create opportunities that transport people to workplaces. In its application for the JARC funding, the City of Asheville pointed out the importance of pedestrian crossings to people who rely on transit to get to their jobs. That connection won the support of the FTA, which cited the city as an example of creativity and innovation in its use of the funding.
The N.C. DOT will perform the design and installation of the crosswalks and signals while the City of Asheville will make sure adjacent sidewalks conform to current ADA regulations.
Transportation Planning Manager Mariate Echeverry highlights the ability of the locations to extend the walkability and connectivity of those areas of Asheville.
“It is important for us to pursue these pedestrian linkages so that you don’t have fragmented sections of sidewalk with no easy way to leave them,” Echeverry says.
A timeline on installation of the signals is currently being developed, Mee says, as city transportation and engineering officials meet with N.C. DOT representatives to determine next steps.
Click here to see more on the City of Asheville’s steps to enhance pedestrian amenities in the city.
On October 29, an advisory committee made up of members from a diverse selection of stakeholder organizations got a first hand look at the challenges and opportunities in creating a riverway redevelopment plan in the City of Asheville’s River District. For three hours, the Advisory Committee for the Wilma Dykeman Riverway River Arts District Section visited key locations within the district that could play a large part in connecting greenways, sidewalks and parks as well as new business and transportation corridors there. The tour marked the beginning of a series of meetings for the group, which will lend its input and community perspectives to the design process.
With stops at locations like Jean Webb Park, Riverview Station, and Depot Studios, the tour was designed to give a glimpse into the kinds of concerns a redesign must address, including stormwater management, historic preservation, brownfield sites and right-of-way access for bike lanes. Additional visits to areas like Carrier Park showcased the successful results of riverside redesign, especially in the case of the French Broad Greenway extension, which relied on the partnership and cooperation of multiple property owners for its success.
The tour was one key step in keeping a steady flow of public input and community outreach in the formative stages of the RiverWay plan, says Stephanie Pankiewicz, who was selected by the City of Asheville to head up the public involvement process. The design contract, awarded to Wilbur Smith and Associates by the City of Asheville and announced at the design launch in June, includes a detailed stakeholder and public process, she notes. That design plan will be necessary to apply for funding for the restructuring of the corridor, and the design process itself is paid for by a federal appropriation channeled through the North Carolina Department of Transportation.
Pankiewicz says the outreach process will include additional meetings over the next few months with area business and property owners, advocacy and community groups, as well as utility providers. November will see a series of public meetings to collect even more input, Pankiewicz says.
Community input is a key priority for the city during the formation of a design plan, says Stephanie Monson, Urban Planner for the City of Asheville’s Office of Economic Development, who along with Transportation Planner Dan Baechtold, was available to answer questions on River Arts District tour.
Click here to see more on the Wilma Dykeman Riverway Plan.