At a forum on the controversial I-26 Connector Monday night, representatives of local groups, as well as Mayor Terry Bellamy and Buncombe County Board of Commissioners Chairman David Gantt urged residents of the Burton Street neighborhood to continue their activism and petition state officials to spare damage to their neighborhood.
“Burton Street, your neighborhood, is like the Energizer Bunny: you just keep on coming and that’s what I like, you’ve got real leadership here,” Gantt said, speaking to a packed house at St. Paul’s Missionary Baptist Church. “You’ve done the right things, you’ve got a great community center. Politically, you need to work the governor and work the [North Carolina Department of Transportation], work who’s appointed, work the local officials. You’re on the right track.”
Currently, the two interstate alternatives with the most support in the community are Alternative 3 — backed by the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce and, narrowly, by the commissioners — which would destroy eight homes in the neighborhood and leave many other residents facing a sound wall and Alternative 4b, endorsed by city council, developed by the Asheville Design Center, which would take two homes in the area and have significantly less impact.
“One thing that’s usually lacking in grass roots organizations is follow through,” Bellamy said. “That follow through needs to come in the form of e-mails and phone calls to the Secretary [of Transportation], to the [NCDOT’s] board. The conversation needs to be elevated to the staff of DOT and getting audiences. You need to send the engineers your concerns about the project. You’ve got to talk about the impact of 4b on your community and how it’s going to benefit your community and how it’s going to help it be successful.”
Before presentations on the impact of the two major alternatives and the interstate approval process by officials from the ADC and Southern Environmental Law Center, Burton Street residents led a walking tour through their neighborhood, highlighting the personal history behind many houses that could face demolition, depending on the alternative the state chooses to pursue.
It’s not the first time the community’s been hit hard by road construction: the building of I-240 in the mid-1960s also resulted in many Burton Street neighborhood residents losing their homes.
“I’ve only known this house as the Watts house,” resident Vivian Conley said, pointing to one of the houses that could end up demolished. “So many homes here are like that, you still know them by the original names, because even if they’re not living there anymore, members of the family are in the house.”
“To take this much out of one community a second time and displace this many people from their homes is just not American.”
Click here to see a photo gallery of the neighborhood walk.
—David Forbes, staff writer