Interview with Jason Gilliland: Landscape Architect for Jettie Rae’s

Jason Gilliland, RLA, is the co-owner and vice president of Site Design Studio based in Weaverville, NC. He has over 20 years of experience working on several development projects in Asheville, but most notably projects located in the River Arts District—one of the more challenging areas in our city.

As the landscape architect for Jettie Rae’s, Jason brings his immense knowledge about the River Arts District Transportation Improvement Plan (RAD-TIP) and his experience working on various other developments in the district. 

“Site Design Studio has been involved in RAD-TIP since we started our company,” Jason explains. “Our primary role was as the designer of record for the off-road greenway and multi-use path components of the project. From there, our scope expanded to include evaluation of potential off-street parking.”

We interviewed Jason to get his unique perspective on the Jettie Rae’s project. Below are 5 things you need to know to better understand the development of this restaurant concept.

1. RAD-TIP was created to restructure and revitalize this historic section of town.

At the halfway point in construction, the RAD-TIP’s main goal is to rebuild Riverside Drive and Lyman Street up to modern standards. Since Jettie Rae’s will be located at 144 Riverside Drive, our project is included in this restructuring plan.  

Jettie Rae’s is just a part of the larger goal to activate the greenway and river in ways that will fulfill the vision of RAD-TIP.

“I think there’s a level of accessibility and safety with (the Jettie Rae’s project) in terms of users of the river, the greenway, and the streetscape,” Jason says.

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2. Any development project in the flood plain in the RAD must undergo a no-rise study.

“As part of the RAD-TIP project, the City was required to do a no-rise flood study,” Jason says. “We propose improvements (to the landscape of the project) and (the developer) is required to do a design model of the improvements to demonstrate that the proposed improvements would not create a rise in the flood modeling for the corridor.”

Based on this information, Jason explains that the Jettie Rae’s project is utilizing the available design model data—basically the flood plain, floodway line—as part of their design.

“Jettie Rae’s will be required to do the same design model based on our proposed improvements,” he says. “This will be required upon council approval of the development project, just as it would be required for any other project in the flood plain.” 

It’s important to understand that no matter what, Jettie Rae’s would have to prove a no-rise condition with regard to flooding to be developed in the RAD.

3. The city wants to promote economic development and engage the riverfront and the greenway in the RAD.

“The proposed Jettie Rae’s project is adjacent to the greenway,” Jason explains. “It’s really engaging that experience along the riverfront.”

Specific goals of the RAD-TIP include creating more recreation opportunities and eventually connecting French Broad River Park to the city’s greenway system by completing the French Broad River Greenway West. 

Jason believes the restaurant use engages the greenway and should be viewed as a concession serving the recreational experience.

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4. The Jettie Rae’s project proposes little impact to the current parcel of land.

Jason says he finds the lack of impact the Jettie Rae’s project actually proposes on the parcel is unprecedented. Historically, the property was occupied with industrial buildings.

“There are already existing impacts to the site,” he says. “Such as the concrete pad, which will be utilized by the majority of our parking, and a small asphalt pad, which the (restaurant) will be sitting upon.”

He believes the Jettie Rae’s project is taking an underutilized, previously industrial site and making it safe, accessible, programmed, and engaged. 

“I would encourage the community to visit the site and see the footprints that have been staked in the field,” Jason says, “and really get a sense of scale and how little of an impact this project proposes.”

5. The same challenges that exist for the Jettie Rae’s project also exist for every other project in the RAD.

Jason explains that whether you build on one side of Riverside Drive or the other, you’re still going to have the same challenges with flooding and everything else that goes into a new development project in the RAD.

“(Jettie Rae’s) just happens to be right up against the floodway line,” he says. “But even on the other side of Riverside Drive, all the way up to the railroad tracks, it’s all flood plain.”

The same challenges exist throughout the entire RAD for new development, and the same challenges existed for the current successful development projects that have already been built in this area. 

“I think we have a very unique opportunity to engage the French Broad River and the greenway,” Jason explains. “Private economic development like this may not happen because there aren’t available development parcels on the west side of Riverside Drive that can engage in a manner that we can.”