Burton Street community leaders are asserting that the neighborhood’s needs are being overlooked by those pushing forward with the Interstate 26 connector.
Last week, on March 18, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution asking state officials to proceed forward with the Alternative 3C interstate connector plan. Tonight, March 25, Asheville City Council takes up the same measure.
Over the past decade, Burton Street residents have fought crime, restored their community center, revived the annual agricultural fairs that community founder E.W. Pearson started in the early 20th century and crafted a plan for the their neighborhood’s future.
Now they worry their community, which was devastated by the initial construction of I-240 and faces the loss of many homes with various I-26 improvement options, could be further damaged. The interstate connector through their neighborhood has been a particular concern for residents for many years. Alternative 3C takes fewer homes than some proposals.
“[But] we don’t want to see it divided up any further than what’s already taken place,” says Clifford Cotton, Pearson’s grandson and a resident whose home will be affected.
Vivian Conley is a longtime resident and neighborhood activist. She has led meetings and tours to show the potential impact of I-26 on the community. Local and state officials aren’t taking the goals of their 2010 plan — developed in conjunction with the Asheville Design Center — into account when considering the future road and its affects on neighborhoods, says Conley.
“The community came together to create this plan, and we’d like to see that honored by the [N.C. Department of Transportation] because of all the work the community put in,” Conley says. “What we fear most is that they’ll just come in and do things without any discussion with the community whatsoever.
“I think a lot of people are capitalizing on our efforts to put Burton Street out there; they all want to be attached to our community, but they’re not putting any effort into the Burton Street community.”
Fellow community member DeWayne Barton has also addressed the I-26 issue over the years. He says that he worries that the rush to get something built could undo the community’s hard-won progress and that local officials are turning a blind eye to their concerns. “I don’t know of many communities that have put in the kind of work Burton Street has, only to be slapped in the face with no consideration,” Barton says. “With the amount of history and the amount of work and the example this community has shown communities throughout the city, to just be ignored now is not good.”
Barton adds that, as part of the ConnectUs group, he has received updates from WNC Alliance Director Julie Mayfield, a member of the ad-hoc group of local leaders and officials crafted the renewed push for the I-26 connector. And there’s been some contact with Asheville’s neighborhood coordinator, Marsha Stickford, as well as intermittent emails with Council members.
But Conley and Barton say that city government has been relatively absent and has not heard their concerns about I-26’s latest evolution.
Cotton says he worries that the city’s attention has shifted with the Haywood Road Vision Plan, something he and the other Burton Street residents who spoke to Xpress say they weren’t included in.
“It seems like what they [the city] are worried about is on Haywood Road and not this way,” he says. “On Haywood they’re talking about new construction and new building, but come this way and they don’t consider anything at all. We’d like to see something built here, more like it used to be. All the businesses in Burton Street are gone.”
Conley, who will lose her home under every I-26 plan so far proposed, notes that while she doesn’t object outright to the road’s construction, if transportation and elected officials don’t make considerable efforts to take Burton Street’s needs into account, the project could prove devastating.
“We’d like not to lose any homes, but we’re not against the expansion of the road,” she says. “Living right on the back of 240 myself, it is a bottleneck, it is a problem and it does need to be addressed.”
But she adds, “This will be the third invasion” of a major road project that takes homes and businesses away from Burton Street.
“When you’re trying to build community and keep the community that’s already here, working hard to preserve our history, you can’t do that when people are being sold out, bought out and land taken away from the community.”
Barton says that he feels local leaders aren’t sufficiently creative in working with them to figure out ways to help blunt the impact of the highway; he hopes that they will look at using state funds to relocate displaced residents so that they can continue to participate in the life of the Burton Street community.
“The city’s not really thinking about how to work with the community in a way that they feel benefit,” Barton says. “We want the city to reach out to us and figure out how to make this the least difficult process for all the families that are going to be affected and maintain those community members who are very important to this neighborhood.”
He sees much of the revival of this part of West Asheville as tied to the efforts of his community, noting that they’ve been “battling for years and years to get this center renovated, to get the drugs out, to pick up the neighborhood, to [make it] a place where we’ve got all these people building houses. People wouldn’t be in those houses unless the community had put a lot of effort into making this neighborhood a desirable place to be.”
Tonight, March 25, some Burton Street residents will bring their concerns forward to Council, and express hope that they’ll be heard by local and state government.
“I think we have been overlooked and not been considered,” Conley says. “The cloud hanging over community goes back years and years. We’ve been waiting for the highway to come through. Every five years they come and say, ‘It’s going to be done, it’s going to be done,’ so nobody can make any plans. When you get into 20-30 years of waiting for a final answer, it hampers the community.”