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City eyes Redevelopment Commission, streetscape makeover for 7th Avenue

Image shows brick paver crosswalk and treed median in the 300 block of Seventh Avenue East. HUNTER MARKS, BROOKE JOHNSON/Watermark Landscaping Image shows brick paver crosswalk and treed median in the 300 block of Seventh Avenue East. HUNTER MARKS, BROOKE JOHNSON/Watermark Landscaping

A vision for development of the Historic Seventh Avenue District includes brick paver crosswalks, a grassy median and design elements that tie the area to Main Street while maintaining a distinctive look.

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Image shows brick paver crosswalk and treed median in the 300 block of Seventh Avenue East. HUNTER MARKS, BROOKE JOHNSON/Watermark Landscaping

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“People come to Seventh Avenue and they know this is something different,” landscaper designer Hunter Marks said.
Among the images presented by Marks and his Watermark colleague Brooke Johnson were new gateways at the U.S. 64 and Mud Creek entrances Seventh Avenue, brick pedestrian plazas with planters and tree-lined medians.
“From this area down to railroad tracks you’d actually pick up one parking spot,” he said of the western-most blocks. “That was rally something we tried to pay attention to because we know the local businesses do not want to lose parking.”
Marks made the presentation to a rare joint meeting of the Hendersonville City Council and the Seventh Avenue Advisory Committee. The council and Seventh Avenue advisers also heard a presentation from the UNC School of Government on an Urban Redevelopment Area, one strategy for encouraging revitalization of the once-thriving retail, commercial and hospitality district that drew its lifeblood from the train depot.
A tool allowed under state law, an Urban Redevelopment Area is based on community consensus and public input and can encourage development through a governing Redevelopment Commission by acquiring property, clearing blighted areas, making site improvements and contracting for construction, demolition and repairs, said Marcia Perritt, special projects manager for the Development Finance Institute, a consulting group affiliated with the UNC School of Government.
“There has to be participatory community that helps sets the goal for what that URA can be,” Perritt said. It signals to the private sector that local government is serious about redevelopment.”
Just now serious was not clear.
The City Council and Seventh Avenue board asked few questions. A decision on a Urban Redevelopment Area would be made by its council and it’s at least months away. A Redevelopment Commission can acquire blighted property and resell through competitive bidding, and it could sell the land with conditions like providing affordable housing or a job-generating use.
“What it does not do is guarantee any type of state or federal funding,” Perritt said. “It could help to enrich grant applications but it doesn’t guarantee any kind of funding.”
The City Council could act as the Redevelopment Commission itself or appoint members.
“Redevelopment Commissions that are independent of elected bodies are more successful,” Perritt said.
The City Council has been reluctant to commit to condemning property for redevelopment, a common feeling among many local elected bodies.
“Those parcels have to be blighted parcels,” Perritt said. “We know that’s a poltical hot potato, it’s sometimes controversial.” Acquiring blighted property tied up by far-flung heirs “is one area where eminent domain can be very useful.”
Eager to hit the road before the roads got icy and the college football championship kicked off, the Seventh Avenue advisers and City Council members had few questions or comments and City Manager John Connet said he was not asking feedback yet.
“I’m going to send you away and let that percolate,” he said.
The city planned to put discussion of the idea on the agenda for the next advisory board and the City Council’s annual planning retreat Feb. 23-24.