Alternative 3, a plan for the future I-26 connector backed by the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce and some Buncombe County commissioners, would demolish about 25 houses in the predominantly African-American Burton Street neighborhood, leaving 13 others nearby facing a sound wall. The commissioners vote to endorse an I-26 plan on Jan. 6.
The impact is highlighted in a PowerPoint slideshow by Asheville Design Center Chair Joe Minicozzi. The presentation shows that about 25 homes would be taken by the right of way required in Alternative 3, while a sound wall would be built facing the remaining homes in the area. Minicozzi’s presentation also targets parts of the state Department of Transportation’s statements and criticizes them for downplaying the impact on the area.
DOT’s report notes that there will be “substantial impact to Burton St. minority neighborhood (relocations)” but doesn’t quantify the number of homes that would be demolished. Another section in the DOT report that Minicozzi targets, focusing on “Community Cohesion,” mentions that Alternative 3 would affect “the Crowne Plaza Golf Resort, the Sun Com indoor soccer and recreation facility and businesses along Patton Avenue east of the existing I-240 interchange” but does not mention Burton Street.
Likewise, in a presentation to the commissioners at their Dec. 16 meeting, county staff noted that 61 homes in an Emma trailer park would be displaced by Alternative 3, but did not speak about the Burton Street residents.
In a Nov. 25 resolution, the Chamber of Commerce strongly endorsed Alternative 3, calling the I-26 connector “the largest and most important road construction project in our area in a generation” and asserting that Alternative 3 will maintain Westgate Plaza, minimize impacts on the environment, the Montford Historical District and “the developable land along the east side of the river north of Patton Avenue” while maintaining access to the River Arts District and providing better access to West Asheville.
“Alternative 3 meets the requirements of the criteria captured above concerning the quality of life, economic prosperity, protection of the environment, the safety of visitors and local citizens, and the beauty of the Asheville community,” the resolution reads.
The Asheville Design Center supports a plan it has developed known as “4b” that would disrupt less land and would not displace local residents. DOT has estimated that 4b would also involve a higher cost, though that assertion is contested by the ADC, whose representatives have said that their plan would save money on land-acquisition costs.
Right now, the Board of Commissioners is split over which alternative to endorse. Commissioner Carol Peterson and Vice Chair Bill Stanley support Alternative 3, while Chair David Gantt and Commissioner Holly Jones have voiced support for the design center’s plan. Commissioner K. Ray Bailey, who may end up being the deciding vote, has indicated that 4b “doesn’t do a whole lot for me” but has declined to say which alternative he favors.
Asheville City Council has already endorsed 4b. Construction on the connector is now slated to begin in 2013. The issue has been controversial for many years, as DOT’s proposed designs have drawn criticism from local groups that say those routes call for too many lanes and would negatively impact both the community and the environment.
— David Forbes, staff writer