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  • Asheville Citizen-Times

    Asheville river bar, outfitters facing closure holds out hope, eyes other site

    By Joel Burgess, Asheville Citizen Times,

    2024-06-11
    https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=0gO0C5_0tnQTLbj00

    Facing an Oct. 15 closing date of its unusual and popular riverside tubing, boating and bar operation, French Broad Outfitters is clinging to a bit of hope — and trying to make other plans.

    It might be that public support is enough to stave off the shutdown of what FBO describes as "a 2-acre bar/playground situated on a peninsula," where Hominy Creek meets the French Broad River. But company co-owner Brennan Splain told the Citizen Times that as of June 10 that hasn't happened.

    "I mean, I'm hoping to stay," Splain said, but he added "nothing has changed" in terms of the official notice he received about a recently rediscovered 2006 land conservation easement.

    The easement was intended to protect the river from uses that might pollute it or deter public access on 12 acres. But it also forbids French Broad Outfitters' 8-year-old operation, which takes up part of that area in question. Signed by the county, which owns the land, and RiverLink, a nonprofit holder of the easement, the agreement bans "commercial activities," except a now-closed sand dredging operation that predates the easement.

    "Yes, I do have a backup plan. But the hard part is there really is no place as special as this one," Splain said.

    He declined to talk about where a new location might be. FBO has its main shop site to the north at 704 Riverside Drive, across the river from Richmond Hill.

    Notably, the "commercial activities" clause does not forbid commercial rafting and tubing companies from using the public parking area or river put-in that is part of the county's Hominy Creek River Park next to the FBO property, a county official told the Citizen Times.

    Buncombe Parks and Recreation Director Alison Dains said the commercial use of the public infrastructure is OK.

    "There are rafting/tubing companies that utilize the public access to the river. As long as companies are not operating out of the park, the easement allows for public recreation, which includes the public river access," Dains told the Citizen Times.

    RiverLink Director Lisa Raleigh confirmed that interpretation and noted every agreement is different.

    "Each conservation easement is unique and specific to the landowners' needs at the time they are created," Raleigh said.

    The parking area and put-in at the park are often jammed with residents launching boats, paddle boards and tubes, as well as businesses dropping off groups of tourists.

    Splain said even if they find another spot for the bar, they will continue to use the put-in, meaning bigger crowds and pressure for the county to make adjustments to the park.

    One other approach offered as a way for FBO to stay is an appeal to a top state body of elected officials, said Moe Davis, a retired Air Force colonel, ex-Congressional Research Service official and former Democratic congressional candidate.

    Davis pointed to a North Carolina Department of Agriculture description of conservation easement rules that said once recorded, an easement "cannot be amended or revised."

    "The exceptions to this are few, and almost all requests to do so are denied. Amending or changing the conservation easement requires a vote from the N.C. Council of State," a body made up of 10 non-legislative elected officials including the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state and state auditor.

    "I've never been involved in one so I can't speak from experience," Davis said. "But it appears it's an arduous process."

    Joel Burgess has lived in WNC for more than 20 years, covering politics, government and other news. He's written award-winning stories on topics ranging from gerrymandering to police use of force. Got a tip? Contact Burgess at jburgess@citizentimes.com, 828-713-1095 or on Twitter @AVLreporter. Please help support this type of journalism with a subscription to the Citizen Times.

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