Asheville City Council

If, one day, you happen to be zipping down Kimberly Avenue, don’t be surprised to see a host of “Slow down” and “We have little children” signs dotting the spacious yards.

Apparently, Kimberly Avenue homeowners are willing to try just about anything to get motorists to obey the posted 25-mph speed limit, as Asheville City Council members heard during a north Asheville community meeting on Aug. 29.

Starnes Avenue residents, on the other hand, were just glad police have cracked down on prostitution in their neighborhood. A few other topics du jour included flying golf balls, rumors of heavy-handed police techniques, and changes to the Unified Development Ordinance that might increase population density in residential neighborhoods.

Slow down or else

Kimberly resident George Ibrahim took the first opportunity to have his say, after Mayor Leni Sitnick gave her usual “we’re here to hear from you” opening remarks. Whenever a month contains a fifth Tuesday, Council schedules a community meeting away from City Hall — visiting points east, west, south and north. And traffic is a standard topic. Said Ibrahim, “I want to address the traffic [problems] on Kimberly.”

Motorists routinely disobey the 25-mph speed limit and use Kimberly as a shortcut to bypass busy Merrimon Avenue, Ibrahim reported. “Can you tell us how you’re going to make [Kimberly] a 25-mph road?” he asked.

The mayor bounced the question to Asheville Traffic Engineer Michael Moule, who responded that the city is preparing to implement a new traffic-calming policy this fall; Kimberly is one of the streets being considered for such measures as the installation of speed bumps. This year, City Council approved an increase in the traffic-calming budget, which funded a pilot program on Lakeshore Drive last year. The new budget pumps $100,000 into the program, Moule explained.

Asheville Police Chief Will Annarino added that officers have issued 450 citations on Kimberly this year. But, he commented, “Whenever it’s more convenient [to use a street such as Kimberly], you’re going to continue to have problems. Writing tickets addresses the symptoms. It doesn’t necessarily solve the problem.”

That said, Annarino offered one solution that would nab most speeders and stop-sign runners: a photo-radar device that snaps shots of violators and the license tags of their vehicles. However, North Carolina law does not allow that technology (although it’s used in many other states) — a fact that Annarino said he’d like to see changed.

Mayor Sitnick then suggested better driver education — a kind of “driver-calming” approach. “There isn’t enough paper to write citations,” she noted.

None of this seemed to appease Kimberly resident Cecil Beumer, who made an unsuccessful bid for a City Council seat last year. He passed out law-enforcement data he had compiled, arguing that citations on Kimberly only increased after he complained about speeders at last year’s north Asheville community meeting. Before his complaint, the average number of citations per month in a two-year period was only six. The month after his complaint, citations numbered more than 150, Beumer said. “That’s unacceptable. The city manager should be ashamed,” he proclaimed.

Beumer also demanded that signal lights be synchronized around town and that the city install “smart-light” systems that give the green signal when a vehicle pulls up at an intersection and there’s no approaching traffic. He went on to deride the mayor’s suggestion of driver calming, terming it a “feel-good” approach. “The only way [to slow people down] is to hit them in their pocketbooks,” said Beumer.

Council members, for the most part, kept quiet — letting residents speak their minds.

City Engineering Director Cathy Ball mentioned that the city had recently contracted for synchronizing signal lights in the city’s central business district (the downtown area, essentially). A proposal with the N.C. Department of Transportation for citywide synchronization and other traffic improvements is pending, but will cost about $1 million, she added.

Residents had a few cheaper options in mind, though. Cathy Burd suggested raising the speed limit from 35 to 45 mph on the four-lane section of Broadway to draw some Merrimon traffic to that little-used route.

And Ibrahim — noting that it was “frustrating” the city couldn’t do much about Merrimon because it’s considered a “state” road –asked, “Why can’t you make [Kimberly] miserable to use as a shortcut?”

That was done on Edgewood Road from Merrimon to UNCA, in the form of speed bumps. The problem was, residents later decided the speed bumps were a bit too miserable, according to Council member Ed Hay and a few neighborhood residents.

“I feel like I need to demonstrate in my own yard to get people to slow down,” said Kimberly resident Mary Dorris, who home-schools her five children and worries about their safety. She offered to help the city install new stop signs — and give citation-issuing police officers a hot batch of cookies. “If I run out to your car with cookies, I haven’t done anything to them. I just want to thank you,” she joked with officers who attended the community meeting.

With Dorris’ idea in mind, north Asheville resident Jason Smith suggested letting neighborhood residents post “Slow down” and “We have three children here” sorts of signs on roads such as Kimberly — for a week, anyway. That might foster a sort of bond between motorists and residents, with the result that speeds would slow, he argued. And it wouldn’t cost anything or make residents wait for the city to take action.

Council member Charles Worley wisecracked, “The only cost might be the fine for violating the sign ordinance.”

“Are you going to take them all to jail? Give them a ticket — so what?” Smith countered.

“I think [Worley] was joking,” Hay offered, smiling.

Into the meandering dialogue on traffic, Beumer — a retired engineer — tossed in that he used to work for the company that created those radar cameras back in the 1970s. He knows they do the job, too: A girlfriend who predated his Asheville wife got a speeding ticket that way, back when Beumer lived in Texas. “I know this because she was driving my car,” Beumer deadpanned.

Hay asked if Beumer could get the city a deal on the devices.

Probably not: The company was bought out by Lockheed years ago, which now concentrates on making missiles.

Fortunately, no one took those up as a possible traffic-calming measure.

But one Jackson Heights community organizer did joke, “One traffic-calming tool we use is [called] potholes.

The UDO question

C.D. Williams and other north Asheville residents urged Council members to be careful about making changes to the Unified Development Ordinance, much haggled over and adopted in 1997.

Williams, a regular at Council meetings and outspoken during the UDO debates, joked, “Y’all have heard from me before. I’m that fellow with the baseball-proof mailbox.” With the same friendly approach, he asked Council members to reconsider “messing with the UDO” — referring to a proposal currently in the works that would allow duplexes, triplexes and quadruplexes in single-family neighborhoods. Increasing population density in neighborhoods exacerbates air-pollution problems by adding more cars, and creates crowded conditions in neighborhoods — both of which cause folks to leave neighborhoods, Williams argued.

The proposal on the multi-unit developments has yet to come before Council, the mayor noted.

Jackson Heights resident Keith Thomson pitched it a different way: He pushed Council to consider allowing a mix of commercial, institutional and residential development along major thoroughfares such as Patton Avenue. This approach would encourage “smart growth” and get the city, neighborhoods and developers to work together on such issues as affordable housing. “That’s what I’d like to see,” said Thomson.

And Wanda Adams suggested that the city address infrastructure needs — including the aforementioned pothole-ridden streets — before making UDO changes that increase neighborhood densities. “It puzzles me how we increase density, when we can’t fix what we already have,” noted Adams.

Prostitutes and golf balls

In th past, prostitutes strolled downtown under the I-240 bridge on Lexington Avenue. But after a series of police crackdowns — and since lower Lexington Avenue has been rejuvenated, with new businesses such as Mystic Coffee filling its once-vacant storefronts — the prostitutes have moved closer to home: Starnes Avenue in Montford, where two houses were easily marked by neighbors and police as “flophouses.”

The Asheville Police Department nets 60-70 arrests during a typical Starnes Avenue crackdown, Officer Mark Creson told homeowners at the north Asheville community meeting, but recent sting operations have netted a quarter as many arrests. Also, residents have been noting tag numbers so that Creson and fellow officers can dutifully follow up with strategic phone calls to the homes of men seen trolling for prostitutes in the neighborhood. “Lots of times, we get the wives on the phone. And that gets a response,” Creson revealed.

For the improved state of her street, Starnes resident Marilyn Hastings thanked Creson and other officers who have worked with residents to get the prostitutes out. She also thanked him for working on proposals to change the way traffic flows on Starnes and nearby Elizabeth Place, such as erecting barricades or creating one-way routes that would discourage visits by those seeking prostitutes.

Other Starnes residents joined in the thanks.

A few other topics popped up at the meeting as well: Margaret Beumer added to the traffic complaints by mentioning the trucks that may be illegally using Kimberly. And, she pointed out, there’s a potential danger in the flying golf balls that sometimes soar into the road from the golf course. Beumer said it was a wonder no one’s been hit yet.

“I’ve been hit!” a north Asheville woman piped up.

But police tactics were what worried Montford resident Adam Baylus. He told Council members he had attended a recent forum at which speakers claimed APD officers had harassed young people and the homeless in a program allegedly called “Clean Sweep,” that the APD routinely videotapes protesters, and that it has the largest departmental budget in the city.

“There is no Operation Clean Sweep. There never has been,” Chief Annarino claimed. As for videotaping, Annarino explained that the department has clarified its policy, taping only situations in which there could be a legal question about how police interact with protesters, and in which there’s the potential for violation of laws.

As for the budget issue, Council member Worley added that the police, fire and public-works departments are the top three budgets in the city. That covers public safety and infrastructure, he noted.

After a few more odds and ends that included Cathy Burd asking for help in convincing Public Service to lay natural-gas lines down her street, the two-hour meeting came to a close. As usual, Sitnick thanked everyone for coming and managed to get in the last word. “Most people in Asheville are good citizens,” she declared.

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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