Asheville City Council calls for Hillcrest bridge to be reopened

At the Aug. 24 Asheville City Council meeting, covered by Mountain Xpress Senior News Reporter David Forbes, members took the following actions:

• Voted 6-1 to ask that the Hillcrest pedestrian bridge at I-240 be re-opened (Davis voted against).
• Approved a discount tire store for Bleachery Blvd (member Jan Davis, who owns a downtown tire store, was recused from the vote).
• Approved, 4-3, an incentives package for Montford Commons; Bothwell, Smith and Russell vote against it.

Below, we’ve compiled Forbes’ live Tweets of the meeting.

5:02 p.m. Asheville City Council meeting about to begin

5:08 p.m. Mayor Bellamy reads proclamation for Minority Enterprise Development week (Sept. 13-17)

5:11 p.m. And another recognizes the 75th anniversary of the Blue Ridge Parkway

5:18 p.m. Jared the Subway Guy will be at Lighten Up 4 Life event kickoff on Wednesday, Sept 1, at Pack Square Park

5:19 p.m. Council member Jan Davis talks about Riverfront Redevelop Commision, hopes Asheville will “have riverfront like Chattanooga” in future

5:22 p.m. Housing Authority Deputy Director David Nash: goals include preserving Aston Park towers, replace burned Hillcrest units at another location

5:26 p.m. Other goals include more sustainable housing, green-building jobs for residents, supporting homeless, disabled

5:30 p.m. $5.9 mil in Recovery acts funds put towards more units in Klondyke, roof replacements in Hillcrest, Pisgah View

5:32 p.m. Nash: energy-efficiency improvements should save $757,000 a year

5:42 p.m. Ben Teague of Economic Development Coalition: Education/healthcare largest sector of local economy

5:47 p.m. Teague: EDC generated 549 new jobs directly in last year

5:49 p.m. Bellamy highlights drop in unemloyment, rise in homes sold, “economy beginning to grow back”

5:50 p.m. Worth noting: total employment down 0.4% according to EDC’s figures

5:52 p.m. Council member Bill Russell: “Are there things we can do as a city” to boost manufacturing, professional jobs

5:54 p.m. Teague: Opportunities to grow in specific tech manufacturing areas, need to protect, grow healthcare sector

5:56 p.m. Teague: “We’re down about 600 jobs” but employment rising

5:56 p.m. Council member Cecil Bothwell: More modest houses being built, asks if unemployment include people dropped out of market

5:59 p.m. Potential speakers being sworn in, as hearing is quasi-judicial

5:59 p.m. Now, public hearing on discount tire store on Bleachery Blvd, Davis (who owns a tire store) recused

6:02 p.m. Tire-store builders requesting exceptions from conditions on property, which call for restaurant on site

6:03 p.m. Developer also requesting smaller landscaping, setbacks due to nature of store

6:03 p.m. Developer also requesting smaller landscaping, setbacks due to nature of store

6:07 p.m. Tire store approved unanimously

6:08 p.m. Council now discussing incentives for Montford Commons project

6:12 p.m. Developers asking for about half the incentive requested on July 27: Five years of tax exemption, 50 percent fee waiver

6:18 p.m. Staff recommends against incentives: “It’s a good project” but doesn’t have enough affordable housing, synch w precedent

6:20 p.m. Vice Mayor Brownie Newman: Apartments aren’t all affordable, but are “middle class,” not meant for wealthy

6:23 p.m. Project has HUD loans, which limit rents to “workforce housing range”

6:30 p.m. Newman: “A lot of reasons to support proposal, nobody else’s building 250 units of mid-range housing within mile of downtown”

6:33 p.m. Newman: doesn’t want to give special favor to developer, but project shows need for some new policies

6:40 p.m. Bothwell: More workforce housing being built without subsidy than before

6:40 p.m. Bothwell: “Are other projects going on that aren’t luxury, uncomfortable w picking and choosing who gets subsidy”

6:43 p.m. Council member Esther Manheimer: Incentives asked for not excessive, “it’s serving a purpose, good example of infill”

6:45 p.m. But Manheimer says city should add condition that incentives are contingent on approval of similar deal w Council

6:48 p.m. Bothwell wondering if, while city’s making exceptions, can limit number of parking spots to make development “more pedestrian”

6:53 p.m. Newman makes motion to endorse incentives, direct staff to work out logistics

6:56 p.m. Asheville resident Fred English: “we’re in recession, we can’t afford” incentives for project

6:58 p.m. Incentives motion passes 4-3. Bothwell, Smith, Russell against

7:00 p.m. Staff will now work out details of incentive package. Council directs staff to make infill development near downtown policy goal

7:38 p.m. Homeless street preacher Chris Chiaromonte brandishing sign on his reasons for fast, claims it’s for poor

7:39 p.m. City staff say rules prevent signs in Council chambers, get Chiaromonte to leave it outside

7:40 p.m. Council now discussing reopening Hillcrest bridge, staff say will cost about $170,000 initially, and about $140,000 annually

7:41 p.m. APD Chief Hogan talking about need for officer at gate: “We had a lot of horrific experiences on that bridge”

7:42 p.m. Hogan, when bridge was open “day in, day out criminal activity of serious nature” hence security need

7:43 p.m. Bothwell questioning cost, need for new sidewalks, street lights “a lot of these things are nice,” but not necessary to open bridge

7:45 p.m. Housing Auth head Gene Bell: Crime much worse in ‘96 when bridge was closed. “There were some really gross issues”

7:46 p.m. Bell: Narrow majority of residents back then wanted bridge closed, so they closed it. If majority now wants it open, we support that.

7:47 p.m. Bell: In ‘94 crime got so bad APD had 10-day lockdown in Hillcrest, bridge was part, but not only cause

7:47 p.m. Correction: bridge closed in 1994

7:49 p.m. Bellamy: Concern is crime will come back, even with APD presence. “That’s just the reality.” Wants residents poll after bridge opened

7:53 p.m. Charles Owens, father of Anthony Gilmore, who was killed crossing I-240: City should open bridge on interim basis

7:55 p.m. Owens: “How many more deaths have to occur? Opening bridge makes it safer for everyone in community”

7:56 p.m. Correction: Charlton Owens

7:59 p.m. Whit Riley: Would like to use bridge to get to Westgate, bridge closing hasn’t stopped crime in area, had gunshot victim in yard

8:00 p.m. Pastor Larry Nichols of nearby church: “My heart goes out” to Owens, but when bridge open “was more violence”

8:02 p.m. Nichols: “There will be rapes, violence, killings” if bridge reopened, wants to see $ invested in cleaning up community

8:04 p.m. Chiaromonte: “Unless we want to turn U.S. into one giant prison” should reopen bridge, use Hillcrest residents for security

8:05 p.m. Staff presentation mentioned need for community watch if bridge reopened

8:08 p.m. Laura Craig, who witnessed Gilmore’s death: “Not first time I saw people hit, almost hit going through there, about lives, safety”

8:11 p.m. Bellamy modifies motion to require cleaning out of overgrowth, sidewalk improvements

8:18 p.m. Davis saying he’ll vote no, feels “we’re going headlong into mistake”

8:19 p.m. Manheimer recalls going into area to deliver meals on wheels in ‘90s, “shocked” at conditions

8:20 p.m. Manheimer: Hillcrest “probably shouldn’t have been constructed as island it is” but feels the will of residents must be respected

8:21 p.m. Bellamy will support bridge opening, citing feelings of residents, surrounding community

8:23 p.m. Newman citing estimated $54,500 in additional APD patrols needed annually if bridge reopened, “money well spent” to help Hillcrest

8:25 p.m. APD would report on conditions 6 and 12 months after bridge reopened

8:26 p.m. Motion to reopen bridge passes 6-1, Davis against

8:28 p.m. Council passes motion for Hillcrest bridge opening 6-1, Davis nay. NCDOT will inspect before reopening #avlnews

8:40 p.m. Council unanimously approves adding members to Public Art Board, expects roles to include temporary, performing art

8:42 p.m. Battery Park resident Dani Wallace: “Disabled people are parking where they live” says merchants accusing them of abusing parking spots

8:43 p.m. Wallace accuses Downtown Association Executive Director Joe Minicozzi of denigrating the disabled in his effort to revise handicapped parking rules

8:44 p.m. Wallace: “Business owners take up far more spaces than the disabled,” who have trouble navigating from parking decks

8:46 p.m. Chiaromonte: 14-day fast “in response to cruel treatment of poor and homeless”

8:47 p.m. Chiaromonte accusing city staff of unjustly banning him from parks, says no clear way for him to reverse ban

8:48 p.m. Chiaromonte saying he’ll keep fasting on City Hall steps til he can no longer move “until I die if necessary”

8:49 p.m. Bellamy announces she’s leaving to visit China next Wed

8:51 p.m. Meetin’ adjourned


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23 thoughts on “Asheville City Council calls for Hillcrest bridge to be reopened

  1. Piffy!

    It’s hilarious/pitiful that there can be a discussion about the violence within a deeply disenfranchised community, and the blame rests on a bridge.

    If these issues truly are this deeply embeded, clearly some real, systemic changes need to occur SOON.

    Also, this:

    [b]APD Chief Hogan talking about need for officer at gate: “We had a lot of horrific experiences on that bridge” [/b]

  2. Piffy!

    Also, how does a bridge cost “about $140,000 annually” to ‘run’?

  3. ashkat

    I agree. But from experience with a similar bridge in another city, think of it this way: The bridge is a cage. Two people, one at either end, can trap you in the cage. No way would I enter without an officer in sight.

  4. thedj

    I assume the $140K covers the the lighting and repair costs to bring the bridge up to code and make it safe, accessible, and attractive to the residents and onlookers, along with the salaries of the officers needed to staff the bridge area, and the likely cameras and monitoring staff.

  5. John Hill

    I think it should be opened. And if drug dealing returns, then take one of the APD officers that sit out on I-240 East or I-40 West with the speed traps and put him doing drug enforcement at the bridge. Let the HP give out the speeding tickets. Let the APD protect the citizenry of Asheville.

  6. Did the council think to bring in Chief Hogan to describe the extend of the “horrific experiences” on the bridge?

  7. Jeff Link

    Chief Hogan was not even in Asheville when the bridge closed in 1995.He became Asheville’s Chief of Police in June 2005 ten years later.

  8. LOKEL

    Is Hogan “flashing back to Nam” with that BS about horrible experiences on that bridge?

    Or maybe NOLA during Katrina ….

    What about the horrible experiences of being ran over at 55mph while trying to cross an interstate highway.

  9. LOKEL

    Perhaps MORE important the bridge is what in the sam hill is the Mayor of Asheville visiting China for ….. anyone.

  10. LOKEL

    Why doesn’t the City just offer FREE BUS service from Hillcrest to the Bus Station 24/7 (maybe dial-a-ride), leave the bridge closed and the problem would be solved, and probably not cost nearly as much as they claim re-opening would cost.

  11. Piffy!

    I bet you could hire a local youth to maintain the bridge for a fraction of the price.

    Also, if hillcrest is truly in that bad of shape, then maybe we should build a giant wall around it.

  12. randy wilson

    i don’t think that the bridge should be reopened. i think it is crazy for the city to spend that much money that they say it would cost to not just reopen it but to have security there. it was closed due to all the drugs & other crimes that were continually happening there. i think that by opening the bridge back up it will start all over again. also why would any one try to cross over that interstate at the times of day/evening that those have tried & it cost them their lives. it almost makes me think huh what were they thinking. did they really think they could outrun a car going 50 mph. i saw a man recently around the 5 pm rush hour trying to cross the interstate. i just knew he was going to get hit. he didn’t. thank God. i’m not cold hearted but i just can’t understand why a body would be trying to cross that interstate at the busiest times of the day. sadly there are those who have died trying to cross the interstate, but to me that’s just being used as a reason or an excuse to reopen a bridge that should stay closed. thank you

  13. Austin

    Chiaromonte: “Unless we want to turn U.S. into one giant prison” should reopen bridge, use Hillcrest residents for security.

    Burton Street cleaned itself up with stepped up police presence and neighborhood shunning of drug dealers. Only that combination will work for the bridge issue.

    Chiaromonte is right: it is up to the community of Hillcrest to make this work. Otherwise it’s just a bunch of good intentions and money.

  14. Carrie

    I’m confused, again, when it comes to decisions made by the council. It doesn’t seem like any of the issues have been addressed which made the bridge closing happen in the first place! Nothing, from what I’ve read, has been done to make it not the way it was before. Maybe they have said, but what are they doing about the crime/ drugs/ etc.? I would really like to know the plan here.

  15. Jimbo

    Welcome to Asheville City Council Carrie. They rarely to never address any actual problems for the public. They simply engage in distraction and generate soundbites in a feable effort to sway public opinion in their favor while not actually doing much of anything. For all their strategic plans and rhetoric, what have they actually accomplished that has not bordered on a complete fiasco if it ever got to the completion stage at all? How many more unfunded pie-in-the-sky dreams, usually having nothing to do with local government authority, do we have to listen to? How much more city taxpayer money has to be wasted by the incompetant lap-dog staff now that this council and manager has run off every qualified member of city staff and replaced them with know-nothing butt kissers? Just askin’ the obvious questions.

  16. Gordon Smith

    Thanks for the discussion, everybody.

    Safety and transportation issues are front and center across the city right now. We’re seeing folks from every corner of the city telling us they want more and safer options to get from one place to another.

    There are currently no available routes for west Asheville residents to directly access downtown. The pedestrian bridge closure has cut off that access. Residents of Hillcrest too often unsafely run across the highway.

    Regardless of whether the bridge is reopened or not, the safety issues on the Chicken Hill side of the pedestrian bridge and underneath the Smoky Park bridge must be addressed. There is often violence there. The cost of reopening the bridge is largely due to hiring more police officers to patrol the area. This needs to happen whether the bridge is reopened or not.

    A reopened pedestrian bridge will increase transportation options for Chicken Hill, the River Arts District, Hillcrest, and west Asheville residents. Increased safety there will improve the quality of life for Chicken Hill, the River Arts District, Hillcrest, and west Asheville residents.

  17. “There are currently no available routes for west Asheville residents to directly access downtown. The pedestrian bridge closure has cut off that access. Residents of Hillcrest too often unsafely run across the highway.”

    Gordon, I’ve seen this written by you more than once. I’m curious if Clingman /Haywood Rd. is not considered a route into town. I use it almost daily, and it sure seems like a route from West Asheville to me. And a preferable one for Westvillians, because it avoids Smoky Park Bridge where there are daily accidents. But also Patton Ave doesn’t seem to be a very viable route from West Asheville…I rarely see folks crossing Smokey Park Bridge to access downtown. I seriously doubt folks would be using the pedestrian bridge from west Asheville.

    I think a can of worms has been opened up…unless serious precautions are taken.

  18. Gordon Smith

    Davyne –

    Direct route. Haywood to Clingman requires a big downhill and a big uphill with a lot of added time and effort.

    No one uses SPB to get to downtown, because it doesn’t currently go downtown. It stops at the pedestrian bridge.

    I understand your fears. This is why Council made the decisions to clear the underbrush, clean the sidewalks, light the area, check the bridge, hire more police, and enlist the neighborhoods.

  19. CityRez

    Mr. Smith, you illustrate the problem very well. If safety and transportation issues are “front and center” now, it’s only because the neighborhoods of this city have had enough of this council’s lack of action and placed your council’s failures squarely at your feet and exposed it to even the pitiful local media.

    How many people have to die before you consider an issue “front and center?” How much money needs to be embezzeled from the city before you acknowledge there’s a problem with management? How many lawsuits need to be filed against the city before you understand reality is not as you would pretend it to be?

    The lack of sidewalks in Asheville neighborhoods has been endlessly debated for decades by do-nothing elected people like yourself who constantly deliver lip service and order expensive studies rather than just live up to your obligations or responsibilities.

    East Asheville had to start paying for and building their own sidewalks before the city looked bad enough that they had to take an interest. You change established zoning in neighborhoods like it was your socks. You spend more and more of our money on the bus system while “consolidating” routes. (I love that ingenious bit of word selection propaganda)

    You seek to involuntarily annex areas of the community while failing to adequately plan for the real expense obligation they bring to other city taxpayers. Then you trot out your first year projected numbers to make us all feel better.

    Don’t be too proud to lay claim to the front and center issues as if you’re on top of them. If anything this council is egregiously late in getting to them. The money spent to create the illusion of action by your council could easily be used to actually make some lasting impacts. Instead the city spends all our money “studying” problems, generating plans, and promoting those studies and plans which always seem to dissappear a couple months later.

    How long are we to expect the increased patrols or the increased “safety” in the west side of town as well as others? Is this going to be yet another showpiece that get’s quitely shelved a month after it’s supposedly given high priority? How is this any different that the other initiatives the city is funding without any improvements? It seems we’re always paying more and getting less or everything but talk.

  20. Piffy!

    [b]Direct route. Haywood to Clingman requires a big downhill and a big uphill with a lot of added time and effort.[/b]

    Surely you jest.

    EVERYONE uses that route (Dont do it drunk, tho!).

  21. “Direct route. Haywood to Clingman requires a big downhill and a big uphill with a lot of added time and effort.”

    Duh…….anywhere in West Asheville off Patton (which is the assumed alternative) is ” a big downhill and up hill” effort. That said, you did state there were no alternative to and from West Asheville…yet there clearly is. This myopia give me little encouragement that you and Council will follow through. Our elected officials and paid staff, don’t seem to understand that there is an aura of incompetence swirling around City Hall.

  22. ashkat

    ~~”Direct route. Haywood to Clingman…EVERYONE uses that route (Dont do it drunk, tho!).” ~~

    Upper Clingman speed limit is 35 mph, meaning slowest speed is 40 mph on steep downhill into sharp curve with hidden drives. APD can do nothing. DOT so far refuses to lower limit. Many do it drunk. The telephone pole across from the Silver Dollar was knocked down at least twice in 1 yr. Same period, other telephone poles down, a car went halfway down slope into Owens Bell Park, a parked car was hit. Clingman lofts fountain already was knocked down. Between Hilliard and Silver Dollar the Clingman “enhancement” will do little except allow a very small amount of street parking and move telephone poles into yards so they don’t protect pedestrians anymore. That part of Clingman is not safe for pedestrians and cyclists.

  23. Piffy!

    yeah, ashkat, i just meant that is often where they do dui checks.

    But it is indeed a oft-used route from west to central ashe-Ville.

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