The Interstate 26 Connector project has been a saga more than 30 years in the making — as well as a persistent source of community frustration and the butt of a recent Xpress cartoon by Brent Brown. The next chapter of that story comes Tuesday, Feb. 14, as Asheville City Council weighs whether to commit to nearly $4 million in aesthetic treatments for the project.
This new funding would come on top of more than $1.4 million the city has already budgeted for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure along the I-26 corridor. A staff report on the item does not identify a source for the money but says it would be allocated as part of a future capital improvement plan.
The top three priorities to be supported by the funds, as outlined in a December report compiled by the city’s I-26 Connector Aesthetics Committee, would be the Bowen Bridge, the Haywood Road Bridge and the Hill Street/Hillcrest bridges. Five other areas, including Patton Avenue east of the Bowen Bridge and Riverside Drive, would also see improvements. The N.C. Department of Transportation would be responsible for the remaining cost of the work, as well as any unexpected budget increases.
Examples of specific projects include new multiuse paths over the Bowen Bridge, historic markers and safety lighting on pedestrian bridges. The Aesthetics Committee recommended nearly $5.9 million in total city spending; it’s unclear what improvements were left out of the $4 million recommended by city staff.
Selection of a contractor to complete work on the areas covered by the Aesthetics Committee report is currently slated for mid-October.
141-unit development floated for New Leicester Highway
Council will also vote on a conditional zoning application to allow a 141-unit senior living development on a currently wooded 4.9-acre lot at 157 New Leicester Highway. The complex, proposed by Cohen-Esrey Development Group of Merriam, Kan., would consist of one four- or five-story apartment building and roughly 150 parking spaces.
Of those units, 28 would be made available at rents affordable to residents earning 80% of the area median income ($45,000 for an individual or $51,400 for a couple) for a guaranteed 20 years. Half of the affordable units would accept federal vouchers. In exchange, the developer is seeking nearly $1.69 million in property tax rebates over 16 years through the city’s land use incentive grant program.
Consent agenda and public comment
The consent agenda for the meeting contains 11 items, which will be approved as a package unless singled out for separate discussion. Highlights include the following:
- Adoption of the city’s revised Water Shortage Response Plan. A staff report accompanying the plan notes that the city will increase water production at the Mills River Water Treatment plant under drought conditions to preserve its main reservoir at Burnette Lake; city officials have blamed failures at the Mills River plant for recent water outages over the holidays.
- A revision of the city code to strengthen regulations around wildlife feeding. The new rules would specifically prohibit activity that attracts bears and give a broader range of city staffers authority to enforce the ordinance.
- A resolution scheduling public, in-person briefing work sessions for Council. The new meetings would take place at 11 a.m. on the first and third Thursdays of each month unless otherwise specified. Mayor Esther Manheimer confirmed with Xpress that the work sessions will replace Council’s current system of private “check-in” meetings.
Council members will gather in their chambers on the second floor of City Hall, located at 70 Court Plaza, starting at 5 p.m. The meeting will be carried live on Charter/Spectrum Channel 193 and livestreamed through Asheville’s public engagement hub and on the city’s YouTube channel. Members of the public can also listen live by calling 855-925-2801, meeting code 3906.
Prior to the regular meeting, Council will hold a work session in the same location at 3:30 p.m. to discuss potential funding for McCormick Field. As previously reported by Xpress, the ownership group of the Asheville Tourists minor league baseball team is seeking $30 million from the city, Buncombe County and the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority to pay for upgrades to the facility. No documents regarding the discussion were available as of press time.
Those who wish to speak during the regular meeting must attend in person and sign up at the door. No live remote comment will be permitted; no comment of any sort will be permitted at the McCormick Field work session.
Prerecorded voicemail messages can also be left at 855-925-2801, meeting code 3495; written comments can be sent to AshevilleCityCouncilFeb142023@PublicInput.com until 9 a.m. Feb. 14. General comments for City Council can be sent at any time to AshevilleNCCouncil@AshevilleNC.gov.
The full meeting agenda and supporting documents can be found here.