The city of Asheville Capital Projects Department began the Vermont Avenue Sidewalks project in late 2018.
Since then, there have been many public meetings, presentations of design options, email communications with city Capital Projects staff, Asheville City Council and Mayor Esther Manheimer. By October 2021, there was a plan that the majority of the neighborhood was in favor of, and we believed that the city was going to move forward with the plan in summer 2022. Then a new survey was posted that allowed the entire city of Asheville to weigh in on the changes on our street, and three years of consultation between the neighborhood on Vermont Avenue was scrapped.
For the entire year of 2022, residents of Vermont Avenue in the project area have communicated with Jade Dundas, Capital Projects director, and his staff and Rachel Wood, assistant city manager. We have continued to try to communicate with the Capital Projects staff and Wood, and Asheville City Council and Mayor Manheimer. At the December 2022 meeting, Ms. Wood told some of us that a reconsideration of the project was possible as well as maintenance on existing sidewalks, if we wanted more engagement on this project. We have had no response from any member of the City Council or Mayor Manheimer. No plan for maintenance has been proposed, and the project has not been reconsidered.
I am afraid the city of Asheville is not interested in neighborhood input. When city spokesperson Kim Miller says they have received “overwhelming clear feedback from the community on the preferred design option,” [“Squeaky Wheels: Community Groups Discuss City Advocacy,” Dec. 7, Xpress] she must be unaware of the 625 signatures on a petition to the Asheville mayor and City Council that states, “We, the undersigned, endorse a withdrawal of the current Asheville city plans that will cut down many of the trees and disturb the root systems of the remaining ones, ruining the neighborhood character and destroying much-needed native habitat for pollinators and other wildlife” or the video recording of Ms. Wood in which she stated there are options, if the neighborhood would like to continue input on the scope of the project. I have a digital copy of both the petition and the video recording.
At this writing, the Capital Projects Department is planning to begin cutting 11 of the maple trees on Vermont Avenue Tuesday, Feb. 21. Our neighborhood’s character will be forever changed, and Mr. Dundas, Ms. Wood, Mayor Manheimer and the Asheville City Council will not respond to neighbor input. There is a great deal of talk about the city of Asheville cooperation’s with neighborhoods. That has not been the experience with the Vermont Avenue Sidewalks project. There has been a lot of communication, but not much cooperation.
— Mary Ann Braine
Editor’s note: The 11 trees mentioned above were indeed cut down Feb. 21, according to the Asheville Citizen Times. Xpress asked the city of Asheville about the letter writer’s points and received the following response from Dustin Clemens, program manager for the Capital Projects Department: “We would encourage interested readers to visit the Vermont Avenue Sidewalks project page at [avl.mx/cg0] to learn about the project background, previous design concepts and public engagement information.
“The history of the project shows how the sidewalk design has been heavily influenced by public feedback. The project has evolved from 7-foot-wide sidewalks requiring removal of all street trees to the final design, which preserves the existing sidewalk width, existing green space and 21 healthy trees. The final design will result in 54 total trees, a net increase in total trees by 22. This evolution is directly attributed to welcomed feedback provided by residents. We look forward to completing this project, which will provide a safe, accessible sidewalk and contribute to increasing Asheville’s overall urban tree canopy.”