Letter: Sidewalks project shows little cooperation with neighborhood

Graphic by Lori Deaton

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.”


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11 thoughts on “Letter: Sidewalks project shows little cooperation with neighborhood

  1. Taxpayer

    The city always asks for public input (the budget, Merrimon Ave, Vermont Ave) and then they proceed to do what they planned on anyway. The taxpaying citizens have no say. None. Sorry your street lost all those trees.

    • indy499

      The requests for input is all theater as are the innumerable studies paid for an now on city shelves.

  2. aaaaaa

    Many of us have lived in the area for a long time…we put heart, soul, blood, sweat, tears and lots of hard work into making this a wonderful community. Then came the TDA and the Republican General Assembly. They saw what we had built and decided to put us in our place. We’ve been pimped out, ignored, minimized, and humiliated. Now the only people that matter are the rich hotel owners and wealthy resteraunters, rich developers and rich people that the TDA attracted. Those of us helped build this community don’t matter anymore. Our opinions don’t matter anymore.

      • WNC

        She often comes to mind while
        Setting still in traffic
        Watching wrecks
        Seeing ambulances carry those alive and dead
        Burning fuel going nowhere
        Thinking how much extra tax dollars have to be spent to achieve needed roads and improvements around traffic centers.
        Vast amounts of pollution spent going nowhere

    • indy499

      What a funny warped brain. Thanks for the laugh.

      I have no idea what a wealthy resteraunters is but restaurateurs sure aren’t wealthy.

      • aaaaaa

        Sorry for my poor spelling. Certainly not all restaurateurs are wealthy….I’ve worked in food service and had friends who owned restaurants, managed them and worked in them….not that I’m a big authority, I work in another field. Lots of restaurants who lease their space have had their rent raised through the roof after someone who isn’t local purchased the building. These spaces are almost invariably leased to….again, people who are not local…..to open an expensive restaurant that many of the locals who work in the service industry can’t afford. Locals who want to open a restaurant can’t afford the spaces available, local chefs have a hard time finding positions because the new owner already had someone else in mind and the service workers who staff them are poorly paid. My point is simply that where we used to all be working towards a better community, around 2010, with the advent of the TDA and and the policies of the Republican General Assembly, it became not what could be put into the community, but how the cool community we built could be profited on.

      • MV

        Actually, there are many wealthy restauranteurs…just as there are many who are not.

  3. Traffic Cone Calvin

    Considering the majority of residential streets off of Haywood lack any sidewalks at all, the City seems intent on using its meager sidewalk allotment to intentionally frustrate citizens. The sidewalks on Vermont could have been left alone for decades, and other residents would have welcomed the ability to walk without being mixed in with thru traffic.

    • Robert

      I concur. And yet, I sort of fear the day the city geniuses come to make ‘improvements’ in my neighborhood.

      • aaaaaa

        I would feel the same way if I lived in the city and stuff like that is a major part of the reason I moved from Asheville to out in the country, about 40 minutes away

        . This is an exceptionally cynical view of the situation that the letter talked about…..I wonder if there is already a developer with eyes on this area. Because the tree issue so publicized, the city had to ‘compromise’ with only taking down 11 trees instead of all of them. The Americans with Disabilities Act might require certain repairs to the sidewalk, but it seems that could have been accomplished by removing sidewalk sections, adding soil, perhaps a bridging material over the roots, repour the sidewalk and make sure that any added grade was very shallow.
        Taking down these trees might be a first step towards trying to get the current homeowners to sell. Every time a home goes up for sale, the same developer buys it, probably rents it as they acquire more of the homes until they can take the whole area , bulldoze the existing homes and put huge homes on 1/4 acre lots. Can you imagine how much those would go for? Big developers can afford to take a long view, too….10 to 15 years easy.

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