Letter writer: Where was the city planning for Merrimon Avenue?

Graphic by Lori Deaton

This is in response to the article on “Merrimon madness” in the April 22 edition of the Xpress [“Merrimon Madness: Addressing Safety Risks Along Asheville’s Major Roadways”]. I must admit, when I saw the headline for this article, I was happy that someone took the time to write about this major “elephant” in Asheville’s living room — the poor city planning that’s caused so much resulting traffic problems.

While the article’s focus was on “pedestrian safety,” it at least attempted to take a step at raising the issue. Yes, pedestrian safety is certainly an issue on Merrimon. But so is the safety of people driving their cars!

When I moved to Asheville just three years ago — before Trader Joe’s, before Harris Teeter — I thought Merrimon traffic was already on the brink of being reasonable for safety. But then comes not just one (Harris Teeter) but two (Trader Joe’s) large, commercial stores within the same area of space on an already maxed-out road that was not constructed to handle mega-commercial traffic.

My thought was, “Is there any city planning in Asheville?” and if so, what exactly is their definition of “planning” a workable and safe city? With the influx of new people moving here, and the tiny roads of the city that were not designed for this degree of commercial traffic of large stores — yet the “planner” apparently cares more about the commercial buck than any kind of safety for drivers and pedestrians.

As I watch so much of the lovely spaces in the town getting filled in by new, large buildings, and saying goodbye to the view of the sky, it is an easy math in my head to foresee the continuing increase in future traffic problems that will ensue. I can do that without having any kind of formal training in city planning.

So where is our supposed “expert” and have they been on terminal vacation for the past three years? As Asheville citizens care about going green, the environment and maintaining a small-town environment, it seems our city planners (do we have any?) have their priorities on the exact opposite of the spectrum. Simply put, their idea of green seems to be simply: money. Very sad.

— Gin Oman


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14 thoughts on “Letter writer: Where was the city planning for Merrimon Avenue?

  1. N

    1) Neither Harris Teeter or Trader Joe’s added any commercial space to that area of Merrimon Ave. Granted the Harris Teeter space was vacant for a while, but before that it was an automobile dealership and one that did major car servicing including being one of the top bodywork shops in town. It brought quite a bit of traffic to that portion of Merrimon Ave. The Trader Joe’s site had been occupied by a small shopping center made up of locally owned businesses as well as a Mexican restaurant. This area being heavily congested with traffic is nothing new.

    2) The reason why “so much of the lovely spaces in the town” are “getting filled in by new, large buildings, and saying goodbye to the view of the sky” is simple. People are doing what the letter writer did — moving here. As long as people want to do what the letter writer did, there will need to be places for them to do what the letter writer does — live and shop and places will need to be built for them to do so.

  2. Grant Millin

    Complex GroWNC analysis proved there are limits to growth in Asheville. Other US communities need to become more sustainable and thus desirable. Same thing across the globe.

    Before Gin moved here a Merrimon corridor study was attempted. It was terminated with extreme prejudice by business interests, or so the story goes.

    The amount of traffic flowing in and out of the corner of Chestnut and Merrimon is nothing like it was before Trader Joe’s and Harris Teeter. So no ‘same difference’ analogy there. Tourism is driving the local real estate industry. So drawing in wealthy folk via boutique hotels is a sure way to accelerate an unsustainable market distortion.

    Nothing could be less sustainable than all the hotels announced this year. There are no more hotel slots for Asheville that make any social or environmental sense. All these hotels blow away the possibility of Asheville becoming a ‘super sustainability’ town due to the carbon budget costs.

    There is actually no city planning director and there hasn’t been for X (x = unknown) years. Why is there no conscious, ethical urban planners that want the job? The city planning director job is no longer posted on the COA website so either the job has been filled… or it’s a position in limbo. Strange timing to leave that particular job open if option two is at play.

    Before hiring a new city planning director the people of Asheville should want to think about who the next city manager should be. Gary Jackson has been with us ten years and that’s plenty.

    • North Asheville

      Mr. Millin states, “There is actually no city planning director and there hasn’t been for X (x = unknown) years.” It turns out that the position has only been vacant since March 2014. And a posting today on the City’s website says, “Wednesday, May 06, 2015 Powered by NEOGOV
      The City of Asheville is currently working with Affion Public to fill the positions of Police Chief and Director of Planning and Urban Design. For more information and to apply visit the Affion Public website.

      From COA news archives:
      Planning Director Judy Daniel announced her retirement on Wednesday, March 19 (2014) after six years leading the city’s Planning and Development Department and a career spanning 30 years.

      • Jake

        I concur in Mr. Millin’s view, as while Ms. Daniel may have held the position for six years, she did precious little while occupying it.

      • Grant Millin

        I completely forgot Judy. It’s seemed like years since the position has been open. She was in the exit process for some time prior to 3/14 so the question mark as to why there was no seamless transition with Judy doing a organized handoff process over a few weeks with the incoming planning director stands.

        I’m not angry with people in city hall so much as being a citizen and city council candidate willing to ask “why”? Why are things the way they are at Asheville’s city hall? This planning arena Gin rather eloquently introduces for us again (again, since ‘real estate uber allies’ is a power base in ‘happy, green, and diverse Asheville’ too) is not something there’s a logical explanation for on each point. There’s no point in throwing up defense mechanisms around the mayor, our favorite city council member, and city hall staff. That’s serious work and I’m the first to say it has to be based on what I know.

        But why there’s no planning director and who that next planning director will be are ‘big picture’ notions everyone who cares should be asking about. The way the last hotel that ever made any social or economic sense for Asheville was constructed years ago and more still get scheduled for construction is another big picture notion for the sake of Asheville’s future security. People can choose to walk away from that sector and use resources using a more responsible innovation doctrine serving the greatest number of citizens.

        For added context I am part of the East Asheville Alliance and we’ve been looking into a Tunnel Road Corridor Study since at least November 2012. One of the delays on city hall’s part has been ongoing references to “changes in the planning department”. This included who the planning director was going to be after Judy. So citing what’s on the “Affion Public” website doesn’t help citizens see that switching out city managers first shapes who the new planning director will be, Anonymous “North Asheville” person.

        • Anonymous North Asheville Person

          If the current city manager is completely responsible for hiring all top, important positions (police chief, planning director, etc.), then that does call into question his effectiveness. What role, if any, does Council serve in the vetting/hiring process?
          How do citizens have some say in hiring of city manager, police chief, and planning director?

          • Grant Millin

            Anonymous North Asheville Person, you’re doing great. I’ve made my statements, which are probably not entirely matched to your goals. I don’t recall any “completely responsible” clause or reference in anything I’ve said at least.

            I’ve brought up the importance of who the next city manager will be and its part of why I’m running for city council. There are a lot of factors involved in city hall and citywide issues. Indeed who is mayor and on city council matters.

            Unfortunately I don’t converse much with anonymous avatars.

          • Anonymous Avatar

            “Unfortunately I don’t converse much with anonymous avatars.”

            Too bad. Many of them vote.

  3. FLASHBACK 2006: With the exception of the self-inflicted Staples debacle, the present zoning of the corridor has served the community very well. Property owners wishing to build or expand outside the constraints of present ordinances must seek approval from the P&Z Commission and then City Council. During this case-by-case review process, neighbors have an opportunity to express their concerns. To now overlay such a large area with a one-size-fits-all straight-jacket is an example of inappropriate and overzealous planning that may not retain its appropriateness over the long-term.

    Read more: http://timpeck.blogspot.com/2006/02/more-merrimon.html

    • donathan_white

      cool blog tim. I will add the site into my favorites folder in my browser.

  4. clayton moore

    Why is Asheville having problems? Lack of consistent law enforcement. Expired license plates are abundant here. Mufflers are optional on most Harleys here. (do not mess with the tourons is the motto).
    Millions of gallons of drinking water ooze out from the century old pipes. Loss of revenue big time.
    Projects like the giant wall of Fairview were built before Matt Stoned found out it would cave in on Charlotte Hwy. OMNI has turned the Grave Park Inn into a 10 bucks to park to see gingerbread houses…i.e. keep out you locals. I guess I will head back to Estes Park where the air is weedy…

  5. Jim

    The Harris Teeter lot was to be a mixed use area with a hotel as its center point but was denied.

    Merrimon was never pedestrian friendly mainly due to the narrowness of the road. And why more people don’t use Broadway with it’s wide lanes and lack of lights is ironic considering the traffic jams on and long transit times on Merrimon.

  6. Dean Klein

    Merrimon Avenue is also known as US25. There is a lot of traffic going out of town and into town on it.

    You have downtown on one end, UNCA, Beaverdam community, and more and more people moving in daily – escaping whatever urban or rural hell they came from.

    It ain’t gonna change until Asheville falls off the radar again, and I’m not holding my breath.

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