Chamber-backed I-26 plan would demolish Burton St. homes

Alternative 3, a plan for the future I-26 connector backed by the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce and some Buncombe County commissioners, would demolish about 25 houses in the predominantly African-American Burton Street neighborhood, leaving 13 others nearby facing a sound wall. The commissioners vote to endorse an I-26 plan on Jan. 6.

The impact is highlighted in a PowerPoint slideshow by Asheville Design Center Chair Joe Minicozzi. The presentation shows that about 25 homes would be taken by the right of way required in Alternative 3, while a sound wall would be built facing the remaining homes in the area. Minicozzi’s presentation also targets parts of the state Department of Transportation’s statements and criticizes them for downplaying the impact on the area.

DOT’s report notes that there will be “substantial impact to Burton St. minority neighborhood (relocations)” but doesn’t quantify the number of homes that would be demolished. Another section in the DOT report that Minicozzi targets, focusing on “Community Cohesion,” mentions that Alternative 3 would affect “the Crowne Plaza Golf Resort, the Sun Com indoor soccer and recreation facility and businesses along Patton Avenue east of the existing I-240 interchange” but does not mention Burton Street.

Likewise, in a presentation to the commissioners at their Dec. 16 meeting, county staff noted that 61 homes in an Emma trailer park would be displaced by Alternative 3, but did not speak about the Burton Street residents.

In a Nov. 25 resolution, the Chamber of Commerce strongly endorsed Alternative 3, calling the I-26 connector “the largest and most important road construction project in our area in a generation” and asserting that Alternative 3 will maintain Westgate Plaza, minimize impacts on the environment, the Montford Historical District and “the developable land along the east side of the river north of Patton Avenue” while maintaining access to the River Arts District and providing better access to West Asheville.

“Alternative 3 meets the requirements of the criteria captured above concerning the quality of life, economic prosperity, protection of the environment, the safety of visitors and local citizens, and the beauty of the Asheville community,” the resolution reads.

The Asheville Design Center supports a plan it has developed known as “4b” that would disrupt less land and would not displace local residents. DOT has estimated that 4b would also involve a higher cost, though that assertion is contested by the ADC, whose representatives have said that their plan would save money on land-acquisition costs.

Right now, the Board of Commissioners is split over which alternative to endorse. Commissioner Carol Peterson and Vice Chair Bill Stanley support Alternative 3, while Chair David Gantt and Commissioner Holly Jones have voiced support for the design center’s plan. Commissioner K. Ray Bailey, who may end up being the deciding vote, has indicated that 4b “doesn’t do a whole lot for me” but has declined to say which alternative he favors.

Asheville City Council has already endorsed 4b. Construction on the connector is now slated to begin in 2013. The issue has been controversial for many years, as DOT’s proposed designs have drawn criticism from local groups that say those routes call for too many lanes and would negatively impact both the community and the environment.

— David Forbes, staff writer


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25 thoughts on “Chamber-backed I-26 plan would demolish Burton St. homes

  1. Gordon Smith

    Thanks for this reporting. This is the latest offense in Asheville’s track record of displacing poor African American families whenever they need another road (or public works building).

    It’s unacceptable for any of our County Commissioners to ignore the social injustice of again ordering Asheville’s African American community to leave their homes.

    No to 3.

  2. Keith Thomson

    4-B, without the Rube Goldberg embellishments added by the DOT, is the better alternative. K. Ray is the man to see that, and make it happen.

  3. Jeff Fobes

    If alternative 3 is harder on Burton Street, then two Burton Street residents have it wrong. Here’s what they told DOT back in Sept. 08:

    Sharon Martin said hers is “a neighborhood where, regardless of which alternative is chosen, friends and neighbors will lose their homes.”

    Vivian Conley said, “I am in harm’s way no matter what you pick. We live like with some kind of disease, [and] we don’t know when it’s going to take us.”

    — from

  4. 9-volt

    4-b fixes a lot of things that are wrong with the current traffic layout around town. The other options are band-aids on a broken leg and create as many problems as they solve.

    This project’s impact will be felt for generations to come, let’s get it right.

  5. Bryan Freeborn

    4b is the best option. It is too bad that there is not one “leader” in our county that can bring the various boards together to send a clear signal to DOT of what Asheville/Buncombe County’s wishes are. If the city and community groups favor 4b and the County and Chamber favor another. We will still be split and could cause even further delays in the project.

  6. Bryan Freeborn

    Or why the commissioner support something other than what the city does? The entirety of the project occurs inside the city limits. You would think that the city’s voice would carry the most weight.

  7. Jeff Fobes

    Restating my prior comment:
    Why does the Chamber favor 3 over 4b?

    This post states the Chamber likes 3 because it:
    • protects Westgate Plaza;
    • minimizes impacts on the environment, the Montford Historical District and “the developable land along the east side of the river north of Patton Avenue”; and
    • maintains access to the River Arts District and provides better access to West Asheville.

    Is the Chamber saying 3 does these things better than 4b?

    Using Freeborn’s line of thinking, if the Chamber prefers 3, it should state its position in the context of City Council’s and community groups’ endorsement of 4b.

  8. john

    The city isn’t going to make improvements to the already lacking streets in west Asheville, such as sidewalks, traffic lights, and speed bumps, so why would I want “better access” for more cars?

  9. Jason Sandford

    Jeff, here’s the Chamber’s thinking:

    Public Policy: Hot Topics:

    Chamber Makes I-26 Connector Recommendation
    The Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce recognizes the I-26 connector project as the most important infrastructure decision to face our region in decades. There is a critical need for a direct, multilane, freeway facility meeting interstate standards from the Port of Charleston, South Carolina to I-81 near Kingsport, Tennessee. The Chamber desired to make a recommendation looking at the best interest of all the citizens of Western North Carolina and has been actively involved in the project since 2000. There is a critical need for the new design to improve the safety of I-240 west of Asheville, improve the capacity of the existing and forecasted traffic in this growing area, reduce traffic delays and congestion along I-240 crossing of the French Broad River, and a need to increase the remaining useful service of the existing Smoky Park Bridges by reducing the volume of traffic on the bridges.
    After extensive research, input and consideration of the four designs as presented in the 2008 NCDOT plans and three dimensional simulation models, the Board of Directors of the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce recommends the selection of Alternative 3 for Section B in the NCDOT I-26 Connector project. Alternative 3 meets the requirements of the criteria captured above concerning the quality of life, economic prosperity, protection of the environment, the safety of visitors and local citizens, and the beauty of the Asheville community. The Chamber Board encourages NCDOT to study the existing interchange on the west side of the river for simplification and looks forward to discussing important aesthetic considerations for the project and signature enhancements of the bridges.
    Chamber’s History with Project
    a resolution on March 30, 2000 urging NCDOT to continue on schedule with plans to start construction of the I 26 Connector, while staying open to the consideration of design modifications from concerned organizations, as along as they do not delay the project;
    a letter on November 15, 2004 supporting the technical analyses by NCDOT engineers which indicated that eight lanes will be necessary to meet the projected travel demand for the year 2030, complying with federal standards for level of service on interstates;
    a resolution on November 23, 2004 reaffirming the importance of keeping the project on schedule and encouraging the North Carolina Department of Transportation to provide specific and appropriate state funding related to the recommendations of the I 26 Connector Aesthetics Advisory Committee for the I 4401 Project and for future design opportunities for the I 2513 Project, with the ultimate objectives of furthering economic development, complementing the environment, and improving the quality of life for the visitors and citizens of Asheville and Western North Carolina; and
    a resolution approved on December 10, 1993, requesting that NCDOT initiate ways to reduce congestion and traffic backups during times of construction, including, but not limited to, developing incentives, alternate traffic patterns and other measures as necessary to alleviate traffic congestion and maintain the traffic flow though our region which is so essential to our economic health
    Criteria for Decision
    Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce has completed a comprehensive analysis on the four design alternatives including 2, 3, 4, and 4B of Section B of the I-26 Connector project. In its deliberations, the Chamber dedicated thoughtful consideration to the following criteria in evaluating the design options:
    Maintain the view-shed along the French Broad River
    Minimize the impact on the Montford Historic District, the oldest local Historic District in Asheville – particularly related to noise and visual impact to the District and Riverside Cemetery
    Maintain Westgate Plaza and protection of land value along the west side of the French Broad River
    Minimize the impact on the developable land along the east side of the French Broad River north of Patton Avenue
    Maintain the potential of a walkable, pedestrian friendly connection across the French Broad River from east and west
    Minimize the repetitive local eastbound and westbound travel distance and gasoline consumption
    Minimize the impact on the east-west skyline with I-26 crossing under Patton Avenue
    Minimize the environmental impact on the French Broad River and banks of the river
    Provides future opportunities on the east side of the river to allow for better access to downtown from West Asheville

  10. Jeff Fobes

    Summarizing the Chamber’s position, then:

    The board’s support for 3 is based on:
    • consideration of all alternatives, including 4b,
    • maintaining potential of a walkable connection across the French Broad.

    No mention is made of minimizing impact to residential areas other than Montford.

    No mention of why the board finds 3 better than 4b.

  11. Piffy!

    Is it just a coincidence that this is being delayed/has been delayed long enough to perhaps coincide with the rumored massive federally funded freeway repair project around the country?

    Also, where can i find more specific info about what areas/neighborhoods will be effected by 4B?

  12. Joe Minicozzi

    We’ve been told from NCDOT folks that the majority of the funding is “lined up” already for the I-26 Connector, though its pooled in a fund at the state.

    As for the Obama administration, they are interested in infrastructure projects that are “shovel ready”. We’ve been told that I-26 may be ready in 2013. I don’t think that it’d qualify. Additionally, they are also talking about other spin-off returns like mass transit and such within the project. Multi-modal is lacking in a lot of the projects, but Alternate 3 takes a chunk of land away in W.AVl that could be developed for transit accommodating density. Alternate 3 also keeps Smoky Park pretty close to the same thing, which would keep downtown disconnected by bike from W. Avl. Alternates 4 and 4b are the only ones that accommodate multi-modal most efficiently.

    Finally, here’s the breakdown on houses/businesses taken:
    Alt. 2 – 44 houses/55 businesses
    Alt. 3 – 61 houses/17 businesses
    Alt. 4 – 37 houses/19 businesses
    Alt. 4b- 23 houses/15 businesses

    I find it difficult to think that the Obama Administration would be supportive of a design that took residential properties, especially when feasible Alternates exist that take less.

  13. Piffy!

    I’m sorry, where can i find a map of those specific areas effected by each plan? i’m sure its right here and i’ve just overlooked it…


  14. Nelda Holder

    Is it correct that 4B is the only alternative that separates local and interstate traffic? I do know for a fact that this traffic was not being separated by DOT originally — way back when the planning meetings with the public were held out at UNCA. As someone who commutes across Smoky Park Bridge, I found that insane.

  15. Joe Minicozzi

    Alternates 2 & 3 do not separate the interstate from Patton.
    Alternates 4 & 4b do separate the interstate from Patton

  16. Jeff Fobes

    Nelda: Alternate 4b was developed by the ADC specifically as a design that would separate local and interstate traffic, and give Asheville a pedestrian and bike friendly corridor across the river, according to Xpress’ City Council coverage of 8/25/08

    “The Asheville Design Center—a volunteer effort by local architects and engineers—cooked up the plan last year. Noting the widespread controversy surrounding the I-26 connector and the substantial impact of a plan that would cut through West Asheville and replace the Smoky Park Bridge, the team sought to produce an alternative that would have a smaller footprint, leave more land available for infill development, and make Patton Avenue a boulevard connecting West Asheville to downtown.” [bold added]

    The 8/27 article provides a good background on DOT’s resistance to 4b and how DOT altered the ADC’s original plan.

  17. Joe Minicozzi

    Since we’re talking land, here’s the data on total right-of-way for the entire Section B of I-26 that will be in “interstate”:

    Alternate 2 – 295 acres
    Alternate 3 – 312 acres
    Alternate 4 – 275 acres
    Alternate 4b – 252 acres

    Another way of looking at this is that the entire Grove Arcade block is about 2 acres. So the difference in size between Alt. 3 and 4b is about 30 Grove Arcades.

  18. Nelda Holder

    Yes, I’m well aware of the work of ADC. I just wanted to know if any of the DOT-planned alternatives were finally separating that traffic. And don’t lose sight of my original point, which is that until the public starting questioning the plans, there was no separation in the works. I think ADC has taken that “common sense” quite a giant step further in factoring in both the character and terrain of Asheville and tailoring plans to this specific community. At the same time, I think the questions that the public raised so long ago now were on the mark.

  19. Margaret Williams

    I have the deja-vu feeling that talk of taking Burton Street homes came up much earlier in this debate —

    From a Sept. 1, 1998, Asheville City Council work session, in which a then-current route was called Corridor A (

    “It’s a bad idea. … If you run that thing through town, it’s going to be disastrous,” protested Council member Earl Cobb. Weeks earlier, Cobb had asked fellow Council members to invite North Carolina Department of Transportation officials to a work session so they could explain their plans. He has been vocal in his opposition to the project, arguing that the resultant noise, pollution, traffic and loss of nearly 70 business and residential properties will “destroy” the west Asheville area.

    … Widening the western section of I-240 to eight lanes would swallow up 68 homes whereas, six lanes would take out 58.

  20. Andrew

    I definitely think they should go with 4-b simply because it does not displace nearly as many homes or take up as much land. And have you seen the Alt 3 option? If I am reading the illustration right, it looks like it has a ridiculous number of 1-lane interchange ramps. It looks far worse than Spaghetti Junction in Atlanta. 4-b seems to fit the town so much better, and I applaud the ADC in their efforts in trying to get this to be the plan that passes.

    Mountain Xpress: you should post the next meetings about it in your paper so everyone who reads it will know when to go. I think that most people in Asheville would support 4-b if only they knew about all this.

    I have been through the Burton St. area, and honestly I think it would be a shame to demolish part of it (especially when they just got the new community center). The area is not without its charm, just like the rest of W. Asheville. But it sounds to me like the city doesn’t care simply because it’s a lower income african-american neighborhood. I think that’s terrible. In fact, I’d like to do something about it- I just don’t know what to do.

    That neighborhood has my support, however possible.

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