The Buncombe County Parks, Greenways and Recreation Department has hired Equinox Environmental Consultants to conduct a greenway feasibility study for the Swannanoa River/US 70 corridor. The study will take six to nine months to complete. The study area begins in the Ridgecrest community, east of Black Mountain, and continues west through Black Mountain, Swannanoa [and] East Asheville, [ending] where the Wilma Dykeman Riverway Plan begins at the John B. Lewis soccer fields on Azalea Road in Asheville. The goal is to have over 11 miles of greenways and trails for bicyclists and pedestrians to utilize for non-motorized transportation and enjoyment within the Swannanoa River/US 70 corridor.
A feasibility study is the first step in the preliminary planning of a greenway. The purpose of the feasibility study is to investigate the optimal locations for a greenway and alternative greenway locations. This type of study does not typically consider property ownership, but rather physical issues like land terrain, floodplains, steep slopes and road rights-of-way. A feasibility study also addresses the restraints that federal, state and local regulations and ordinances would have upon the land. Once these obstacles are identified and the trail options are more evident, a public meeting is called to gather public input on the desired elements for trails among the community that would house the greenway. Finally, the consultants will provide recommendations for implementation and estimates for how much a greenway of this nature will cost. The Buncombe County Greenways and Trails Commission will present the results of this study to the county commissioners for approval to continue planning this greenway.
Having given the basic information of what is going on with this study, I need to leave you with these important points: 1) the stage of planning for this greenway is not to the point that we are looking at individual parcels — especially residential and agricultural properties — this happens at a later phase of planning. Once it is determined if a greenway is a possibility, then the next phase of the planning process would unfold. When we are at that stage, staff members will contact the private property owners as soon as they have been identified to discuss the possibility of obtaining easements; 2) Buncombe County has no intention of using eminent domain for acquisition of property. Trying to put a greenway on [the] property of a hostile owner would be nothing but problematic. In addition, although greenways can be considered an infrastructure for public safety, they do not carry the same importance as, say, a water or sewer line, nor the political clout to warrant eminent domain; and 3) this study is being conducted by Buncombe County Parks, Greenways and Recreation Services. Any efforts and studies prior to or contemporaneous to our study (i.e. the Swannanoa Vision meetings) are not affiliated with the greenway planning of the county.
In mid-May, we will be holding our first public-input meeting. We expect to have a date, time and location determined very soon. Once the date and location are set, we will advertise public notices in Mountain Xpress and other media venues. We encourage everyone to come and give their input on Buncombe County's first regional greenway feasibility study.
— Dwayne Stutzman
Chair, Buncombe County Trails and Greenways Commission