For a small Southern city, Asheville boasts a surprising number of Gothamlike street names. Where else in Dixie can you shop on Wall Street, live on Madison Avenue and boogaloo down Broadway? Unlike the Big Apple, however, Asheville’s version of Broadway is anything but bright lights/big city. All that may soon be changing, though.
Following a public hearing on the issue at their Aug. 27 formal session, Asheville City Council members unanimously adopted a plan described by Chief City Planner Gerald Green as a blueprint for redeveloping the Broadway corridor. In his presentation outlining the city’s plans for the boulevard, Green described the rise and fall of what was once the gateway to Asheville. During the city’s formative years, Broadway marked the end of the old drover’s road that once funneled livestock and crops into the city. Later, when cars replaced buggies, Broadway became an integral component of the old Dixie Highway linking the Northern states with Florida. But with the advent of the superhighways that cleaved the city, Broadway — like many of the neighborhoods caught in the concrete path of progress — quickly became isolated and relatively forgotten.
In its present state, the thoroughfare symbolizes the challenges facing a growing city. The southern end of Broadway, near downtown, is lined by dilapidated buildings, vacant lots and a smattering of small businesses; Green showed a series of uninspiring photos of the section. But like Asheville as a whole, Broadway defies easy categorization; within a mile, the motley street becomes a boulevard flanked by green fields and pockets of trees, small houses and a bucolic university campus. In a sense, Broadway embodies the greater yin/yang struggle for balance in an urban community set in the midst of natural splendor.
That beauty, though, also poses one of the city’s greatest challenges, because it makes so many people want to live here. Asheville’s 2025 Plan projects a net population gain of 20,000 within the next two decades. And planning for that growth has become a top priority. Green believes Broadway will play a key role in that boom. “It’s appropriate for a city, in a reasonable manner, to accommodate growth,” he noted, adding, “and if this isn’t an appropriate location, then there are none in Asheville.”
Green went on to describe how the city should encourage mixed-use development, affordable housing, preservation of existing residential neighborhoods, improved transportation and safety along Broadway — no small order. He also went to great lengths to characterize the plan as “conceptual.” In other words, the specifics of how the redevelopment would occur would be worked out later during future City Council meetings.
Those very details, though — such as zoning designations and construction guidelines — could prove to be significant stumbling blocks once the public and city leaders start hashing out how growth along the road will be governed. Council member Joe Dunn alluded to some of the thorny issues that lie in wait when he commented on proposed limits on building heights, parking and street-level windows.
Members of the public who spoke during the hearing also touched on specifics. Theo Hartman called on Council to preserve as many trees as possible; Eleanor Petrone asked that the city consider separate zoning designations for the north and south sections of the road, with the historic Five Points intersection serving as a boundary. Her comments were echoed by neighborhood resident Veronica Gunter, who added that the city should make every effort to include public comment when the time comes to work out the details of implementing redevelopment.
One topic that seems sure to dominate upcoming discussions about Broadway is the long-running greenway proposal; the Broadway portion would link with the existing Weaver Boulevard greenway, described by Green as part of an “emerald necklace” that will eventually circle the city. Simply trying to define the word prompted some semantic gymnastics. Green noted that downtown’s Urban Trail is technically a greenway, even though it’s short on trees and long on pavement. Mayor Charles Worley described a greenway as “a pathway where you can walk, but not always a huge expanse wider than that, but opening up in appropriate places.” Reaching consensus on what the greenway should look like and how it will be built is but one of the many challenges facing Asheville. The city has some parcels along the corridor already in hand and also rezoned all the property fronting Broadway RS-8 a few years back, noted Green, in order to stave off commercial development until an area plan was in place.
In the end, there was little discussion of the plan once Green assured Council members that the evening’s vote was not on the nuts and bolts of redevelopment but was, rather, a first step — a show of political will. In that spirit, on a motion by Council member Carl Mumpower, the plan was adopted unanimously.
At their August 29 formal session, the Asheville City Council also took the following actions:
1. Adopted an ordinance amending the Alarm System Ordinance that seeks to reduce the number of false alarms (Asheville City Police responded to 9,117 false alarms last year), by a vote of 6 to 1 (Carl Mumpower voted against).
2. Voted unanimously to adopt a budget amendment, in the amount of $50,106, to receive grant money from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and allocate it to the Housing Assistance Corporation.
3. Voted unanimously to adopt a budget amendment to consolidate accounting for Section 108 Loan-related activity in a single fund.