Burton Street residents urged to continue activism

At a March 9 forum on the controversial Interstate 26 connector, Mayor Terry Bellamy, Buncombe County Board of Commissioners Chair David Gantt and representatives of local groups urged residents of the Burton Street neighborhood to keep fighting and petition state officials to spare damage to their neighborhood.

Hey, neighbor: Vivian Conley, a resident of the Burton Street community, leads a March 9 walking tour. Conley pointed out areas of the neighborhood that could be affected by the construction of the new I-26 connector highway project. Photo by Jason Sandford

“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 told 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 [state Department of Transportation], work who’s appointed, work the local officials. You’re on the right track.”

Two of the four remaining potential routes for the road have garnered the most community support. Alternative 3 (backed by the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce and, narrowly, by the county commissioners) would destroy eight homes in the neighborhood and leave many other residents facing a sound wall. Alternative 4b, developed by the nonprofit Asheville Design Center and endorsed by City Council, 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,” noted Bellamy. “That follow-through needs to come in the form of e-mails and phone calls to the secretary [of transportation], to the [DOT] board. The conversation needs to be elevated to the staff of DOT. … 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 … help it be successful.”

Burton Street residents got things started by leading a walking tour through their neighborhood, highlighting the personal history behind many of the houses that could face demolition. After that, officials from the Design Center and the Southern Environmental Law Center gave presentations on the two alternatives’ respective impacts and the approval process for the highway.

It’s not the first time Burton Street has been hit hard by road construction: In the mid-1960s, the building of Interstate 240 caused many neighborhood residents to lose their homes.

“I’ve only known this house as the Watts House,” said longtime resident Vivian Conley, pointing to one of the homes at risk of demolition. “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.”
To view footage of the Burton Street meeting and neighborhood tour, go to www.mountainx.com.

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