Asheville City Council

What have greenways done for us lately?

Just think of their recreational, health and fitness uses, or how greenways promote better water quality (by serving as a buffer between urban areas and waterways), or how they provide a safe route for bikers and pedestrians — or how they spur economic development, Charles Flink of Greenways, Inc., told Asheville City Council members on March 17.

Economic development?

That’s right. Not too long ago, Reichold Chemicals picked Raleigh as the place to relocate its national corporate office — largely because Raleigh had some cool jogging trails.

Asheville Mayor Leni Sitnick and other Council members laughed a bit at the slide Flink showed them of three overweight businessmen, in white shirts and ties, astride mountain bikes on a Raleigh trail. “I can appreciate the … hmm… juxtaposition of images,” Sitnick remarked.

Flink went on to say that greenways can increase the sale values of adjacent property, provide educational opportunities for children, and serve as wildlife habitats in the heart of the city.

But how do you pay for them, and how do you decide where they go?

The city has contracted with Greenways, Inc. and the Trust for Public Land to complete a “greenways master plan,” due out later this spring.

The plan starts with the greenway ideas of one of the nation’s first city planners, John Nolen, who created a plan for Asheville back in 1922. It ends with public comment: TPL and Greenways have held several community meetings, letting residents get a peek at a preliminary map of city greenways and then add their own ideas, explained TPL representative Will Abberger.

The next meetings will be held April 22 at the Haw Creek Elementary School and April 23 at the Shiloh Community Center, Abberger noted.

TPL was also hired to help the city plan and implement a greenway along the newly widened Broadway Street. That project is well under way: Five of the 29 properties needed to complete the greenway have just been donated to the city, and other acquisitions are being negotiated, Abberger reported.

Some of those remaining properties may have to be purchased, at a total cost of about $70,000, he estimated.

Council members said they were pleased that the negotiations were going well — and they were particularly interested in getting more of the remaining land for free. “If we’re going to make our greenway system work, we’re going to have to rely on the voluntary participation of our citizens,” Council member Chuck Cloninger reflected.

Vice Mayor Ed Hay added a boyish, “This sounds great!” and asked, “What’s next?”

Designing the actual greenway, Abberger replied.

City Manager Jim Westbrook interjected that the last leg of the Weaver Boulevard greenway will be completed later this summer. Under the plan, that greenway would eventually link with the proposed Broadway/Reed Creek greenway — and it could be created next year, depending on the cost, Westbrook said.

Pay a $1 for Bele Chere?

It’s just a thought, Mayor Sitnick said.

But what if you had to buy a commemorative button or pay a buck to get your hand stamped before walking into the Bele Chere melee? “In light of the city’s [$30 million] parks-and-recreation needs … we need to be looking at these kinds of ways to increase revenues,” Sitnick remarked.

In a survey last year, two-thirds of the respondents said they would not like paying to attend Bele Chere, Parks and Recreation Director Irby Brinson responded. “It’s like asking, ‘Would you like to have your taxes raised?'” Brinson added that, when established festivals start charging admission, “It kills the festival.”

Council member Barbara Field remarked, “I’m not opposed to making Bele Chere break even. But I’m not comfortable trying to use it as a fundraiser.” The annual summer festival was created to draw people downtown and showcase the Asheville community — not serve as a revenue source, Field argued.

Brinson noted that, even without a direct financial benefit to city coffers, festival-goers probably will spend about $12 million in the Asheville area during this year’s Bele Chere.

Cloninger said the idea of charging admission is “worth a look-see.”

Council members Earl Cobb and O.T. Tomes agreed.

But there will be no buttons or charges for the 1998 Bele Chere: Brinson said city staff and the Bele Chere board will consider it for 1999.

About Margaret Williams
Editor Margaret Williams first wrote for Xpress in 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987 and completed her Masters of Liberal Arts & Sciences from UNC-Asheville in 2016. Follow me @mvwilliams

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