Streets and sidewalks: West Ashevilleans meet with City Council

Sidewalk conundrum: Although the city of Asheville has spent $1 million on West Asheville sidewalk improvements, many challenges remain. Burton Street resident Vivian Conley said the only sidewalks in her neighborhood date back to desegregation days. Photo by Max Cooper

On Jan. 29, it was West Asheville's turn to have a community meeting with City Council, and about 70 people showed up, filling the auditorium of Hall Fletcher Elementary.

Every fifth Tuesday, Asheville Council members leave City Hall and host a neighborhood meeting. On Jan. 29, it was West Asheville's turn, and about 70 people showed up, filling the auditorium of Hall Fletcher Elementary.

That's above-average attendance for Council's quarterly community meetings. The area has an extremely active array of neighborhood groups, and representatives from Malvern Hills, East West Asheville, Burton Street, Pisgah View and West Asheville Watch all spoke during the meeting.

First, city staff touted their goal to introduce “form-based code” — a method of development that regulates building type instead of use. The approach could help efforts to continue Haywood Road’s revival as a thriving, multi-use district.

Over the years, it has been common for West Asheville residents to complain that the old town — incorporated into the city in 1917 — has not received its fair share of municipal services. So Public Works Director Cathy Ball reported that the city has spent $2 million to improve water lines and $1 million for sidewalks in the area since 2011.

But Malvern Hills’ Elaine Poovy responded, “You've had a traffic-calming policy in place, but have chosen not to fund any requests since 2006.” Last December, she mentioned, a child was hit by a car on Rumbough Place, and incidents on South Bear Creek Road led to the city installing new stop signs. Poovy also said that residents have pledged $2,000 to help provide three speed bumps in the area, but city policy doesn’t allow such contributions for infrastructure. “I sense a disconnect when Council says they support traffic calming, but don't fund traffic calming,” she said.

Several Council members expressed a desire to change the infrastructure-funding policy.

Continuing with the topic, resident Dick Rule noted that Vermont Avenue had de facto traffic calming, because it was in such disrepair that no one could drive very quickly.

Council member Gordon Smith responded that the city is on an 80-year cycle for road repairs and replacements. That is, eight decades may pass between maintenance and repair on the same stretch of road, according to the city’s current schedule. (See “Is your street on the schedule?”) That’s far longer than he’d like, especially since public-work professionals recommend a 40-50-year cycle. But, he explained, the long turnaround is due to constraints on the city’s ability to raise the needed revenue and a lack of support from the state.

Some residents’ infrastructure concerns weren't in the city's hands. Vivian Conley, president of the Burton Street Community Association, said that her neighborhood has made important strides, but, with plans at an apparent standstill, the proposed Interstate 26 connector could swallow up several homes in her neighborhood.

“We're still sitting there waiting to see if we live there or not,” Conley said. “We have all these plans that depend solely on I-26. It's not right. With the removal of that cloud, we can create businesses and jobs.”

As if that wasn't enough, Burton Street needs sidewalks too, she added, noting that some of them date back to desegregation days.

In response to these and other concerns, Council member Marc Hunt encouraged West Ashevilleans to “tune in at budget time” when the city balances competing interests and allocates its limited resources.

Mayor Terry Bellamy added, “We have to make some tough decisions.”

But residents said that it was encouraging that the discussion centered on what infrastructure improvements can aid the area's revival, rather than blight and crime — big issues in West Asheville not that long ago.

“We haven't had a single police question,” said Bill Rhodes of the community group West Asheville Watch (and a former Xpress reporter). “I would like to commend the police department for being very proactive. What a difference from seven to eight years ago, when we had four homicides on Michigan Avenue alone. I think we've come together as a neighborhood.”

Even counting the April 4, 2012, deaths at Mike’s Side Pocket on Haywood Road, overall, West Asheville crime has been significantly down in recent years.

Bellamy remarked, “It is so heartwarming to see so many people that care about this beautiful city,” she said. “Just eight years ago, we were talking about how many issues there were in Burton Street and Pisgah View. Now we're talking about traffic calming.”

David Forbes can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 137, or dforbes@mountainx.com.

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