New Belgium: A Behind the Scene Look at Making a Sustainable Site for the Brewery
When it’s all is said and done, New Belgium Brewing will be making a 150 million dollar investment in western North Carolina. The account of how New Belgium made the decision to build their east coast facility in Asheville NC provides valuable insight into the development of the site. In this case, the making of a sustainable site starts with New Belgium and the City of Asheville.
This is really a story of how a community whose focus on sustainable development helped attract a business that has sustainability as a core value. Let’s just start off by saying that New Belgium could have very easily picked a much easier location to build; they selected a Brownfield Site along the French Broad River very visible from the highway crossing over the river. New Belgium wanted to find a place to support their environmental focus as well as their bike culture, after all the bicycle is part of New Belgium’s brand identity.
Jenn Vervier, New Belgium’s Director of Strategy and Sustainability said that in the fall of 2010, “New Belgium determined the brewery should be on the East Coast and developed a matrix of more than 30 critical factors it would consider in its search”. These included work force, a progressive culture, Brownfield Redevelopment opportunities, and proximity to a population center with a vibrant downtown.
Using this matrix, they narrowed the search to a dozen cities it would visit in the summer of 2011 ruling out all those that did not have plans, zoning, or the infrastructure that would allow their co-workers to bike or walk to work. Asheville was one of the few finalists that met this key attribute along with Richmond, Va. and Philadelphia, Penn. When it came time to make the final selection, as Jenn Vervier tells it, “I just got the sense of like-minded people who believe in sustainable development and investing in the community.”
With sustainability being at the forefront in the decision to ultimately select Asheville as the location to build their East Coast Brewery, there was going to be a focus on sustainable development of the site itself. But to do this, a partnership with the City of Asheville to develop the site was forged. Several of the sustainable design features of the project are being implemented by the City of Asheville as a result of New Belgium Brewery’s investment in the development of the property along the river. Many of the improvements that are highlighted including the low impact parking lot, greenway, Craven Street enhancements, stream restoration and some of the stormwater treatment areas are part of the City’s long-term investment in the revitalization of West Asheville and the River Arts District.
From the beginning it was clear that the City of Asheville and New Belgium wanted this project to be a model showcasing what it really means to develop a site based on an environmentally sensitive design approach. Now there is no getting around that the property is in the floodplain and for a number of reasons it is best not to build in the floodplain adding impervious surfaces. If we had the perfect scenario then the site would be just outside the floodplain. However, after New Belgium completes the site redevelopment, there will be less impervious surface in the floodplain than there was before. And in terms of redevelopment of a previously impacted and underutilized piece of land, this is a terrific site to reclaim for use along the French Broad River as opposed to the alternative of developing a site that is undeveloped and in a natural condition.
What is perhaps most exciting about this development project is that there is equal emphasis on making a sustainable site as there is on green building practices. The building will include many materials that were salvaged during demolition of the existing facilities adapted for re-use in the brewing facility and the Liquid Center – the place for you and me to drink beer. But the site (the campus grounds) will also be something very special.
Given the emphasis put on visitors and co-workers to walk and bike to work, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Greenway & Multimodal Transportation Improvements are a major focus of the development. New bus shelters will be provided along Haywood Road. Craven Street is being improved with bicycle lanes, on-street parking, and sidewalks. A section of the French Broad River Greenway will also be constructed through the New Belgium Brewing site which will be connected via a greenway extension to the French Broad River Park, Carrier Park and Hominy Creek Park providing the single longest greenway in Asheville when complete. A connection to the West Asheville neighborhood from the greenway will also be built and in the future, this section of the greenway will connect across the river to the Wilma Dykeman Riverway and the miles of greenway and multimodal improvements planned for the other side of the river.
A Low Impact Parking Area & Trailhead for the greenway and for additional City of Asheville parking needs will also be constructed at the northern terminus of the greenway and adjacent to the brewery. This trailhead as envisioned will be one of the main access points for Asheville’s greenway system along the riverfront. The parking lot itself will include porous pavers to allow stormwater to infiltrate directly into the ground instead of running of into the French Broad River and has been appropriately called the Low Impact Parking lot.
Early in the process (back in 2012) a design workshop was conducted with the multidisciplinary team of design consultants hired by New Belgium to turn their vision into reality. During the workshop a strong emphasis was placed on creating a Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certified project and providing design solutions to help avoid impacts to natural systems. The environmental design professionals including the team’s Landscape Architects developed ways to completely avoid impacts to an existing stream and wetland on the property. A highlight of this is the use of an arch culvert to span the a creek avoiding impacts from construction altogether while providing needed parking for New Belgium employees.
When it comes to water— critical to making good beer—the emphasis on clean water continues. A stream literally cuts the property in half. This degraded stream will be restored and include native plants that typically grow along a streambank and the creation of a stream channel with rock structures to help stabilize the streambed and streambanks while providing habitat. A little mini ecosystem will be recreated around the center of the site.
All of the parking areas and roads have also been designed to drain rainwater runoff into a range of Stormwater Treatment Areas. Due to the number of treatment areas and the variety (bioswales, bio-retention, constructed wetlands, and more) this site will become a model for Low Impact Development in the city. This means the development will treat rainwater that is contaminated with oil and grease and pollutants before it flows into the river. A “green street” is also slated for construction along Craven Street providing stormwater treatment using a combination of soils and plants at the interface between the road and the site. The “green street” includes bio-retention areas and porous pavers for the on-street parking areas.
The final environmentally sensitive features of the site are the plants themselves. While due to legal reasons, edible plants are not part of the flora that will be planted, you may recall that this is a Brownfield’s site, there has been a focus on the use of Native Pollinator Friendly Plants for honey bees. Asheville is a designated Bee City USA community focused on the preservation and rejuvenation of honey bees and New Belgium’s landscape will help the City with this effort. The native plants selected from the region will support not only honey bees but other pollinator’s species as well.
One of my more memorable interactions with the New Belgium contingency visiting from Fort Collins, Colorado was when they used superlatives to describe how “lush, green and awesome” our vegetation is in North Carolina. We have a wide diversity of plants and it sometimes takes someone visiting Asheville to remind us of this. This diversity of plants has been applied to the landscape design features of the site.
Whether you are a beer drinker or not, one thing is clear; Asheville’s emphasis on sustainability providing clean water, bike paths, and a cultural emphasis on environmental concerns, is paying off in a significant fashion. It helped attract a company to make a 150 million dollar investment, after an in-process adjustment to the building footprint design in 2013, in our community. This doesn’t include the jobs it has already started to create, estimated by the Asheville Chamber of Commerce to pump an additional 41 million dollars into the community. Through the partnership with New Belgium Brewing and the City of Asheville as well as others, this development will enhance the riverfront and provide a model for sustainable development of a site. So, anyone who says sustainable development doesn’t work or costs too much may want to reconsider that position.
David Tuch along with several of his co-workers are a member of the Design Team working for both New Belgium Brewing and the City of Asheville providing sustainable site planning & design services. He is a Landscape Architect and the President of Equinox Environmental Consultation & Design, Inc.