Council condemns HB2 after some last-minute changes, sketches out the coming budget and gives the go-ahead for a major greenway, over some opposition. Also: bear selfies.
Above: Anti-HB2 protesters move onto the space near the Vance Monument after a smaller, pro-HB2 demonstration leaves on April 2. Photo by Max Cooper.
It’s an interesting time in City Hall, and in the city that surrounds it. The past weeks have seen many Ashevillians’ energy turn towards political matters, as the passage of HB2 — the far-reaching bill aimed against LGBT, labor and discrimination protections — rallied a wide array of locals against it.
Asheville City Council’s last meeting was March 22, the day before HB2 passed. With local governments across the state announcing their opposition, and Asheville a major LGBT hub, questions swirled in the ensuing weeks about the city’s reaction. While Mayor Esther Manheimer had issued a statement and the Buncombe County Commissioners had affirmed its commitment against discrimination — including on sexual orientation and gender identity — the city had not specifically condemned the measure. But that would change quite a bit when Council reconvened on April 12.
At the same time, the last Council meeting saw the elected officials and staff begin the long process of deciding where city funds will (and won’t go), one of the most important decisions of any year, affecting the allocation of over $150 million and everything from police to housing to the bus system.
When Council met again on April 12, HB2 dominated the agenda and the skeleton of the budget started to emerge, including Council going beyond staff’s recommendations on some key issues.
Council’s chambers were nearly full for those discussions, as citizens, representatives of local groups and city employees — including rows of firefighters — watched the discussions closely. They filled — so much that a crowd spilled into the city’s overflow rooms — as the resolution on HB2 came before the officials.
The meeting also provided an interesting contrast to the HB2 issue — a case of the local reaction to a state bill that’s drawn national and even international attention — as the chambers remained packed for a back-and-forth about the future of the Beaucatcher Greenway, a reminder that hyper-local issues around power, property and access also attract plenty of controversy during a politically fractious time.
Finding the cash
Before the formal meeting ever began, Council and senior staff spent about two hours wrangling over the budget. At its last meeting, Council had chosen to increase some fees and discussed some general options and challenges the city’s finances face.
Like most budget discussions, these were filled with everything from broad, big plans to minutiae. But despite the technicalities, some key points about there the city’s going emerged over the course of the wide-ranging discussion.
• The equity push — As the city’s issues with de facto segregation have received more discussion, the issue’s also made it to the Council dais. Back at its retreat at the end of January, Council agreed, as Council member Keith Young (joined by Council member Gordon Smith and others) pressed for a closer examination of exactly how equitable the city of Asheville is, both internally and in its larger policies. On a number of measurable fronts, from health to education to minority-owned businesses, inequity continues. African-American voter turnout also increased last election, which saw the election of Young end two years of an all-white Council.
That’s emerged in the budget planning as $350,000 for a diversity and equity study “to evaluate current business and hiring practices,” along with $110,000 for an equity manager to ensure that the city adopts and maintains better practices, and $40,000 for unspecified “equity programs.”
CFO Barbara Whitehorn noted that those numbers were intended to be flexible, and that the later specifics might vary, but that budgeting for them now would allow the city to proceed. Council members Julie Mayfield and Cecil Bothwell questioned budgeting for the position before the study was done or the nature of its recommendations known, but Mayor Esther Manheimer pointed out that the position is one many other cities have as well.
But City Manager Gary Jackson replied that “to do this well is labor-intensive” and that the $40,000 was necessary to join national equity associations and programs. He also reminded Council of the results of initial studies, partly funded by Environmental Protection Agency grants, to study income equity in Southside and the River Arts District.
“There are a lot of community connections that are not being made as well as they could be,” Jackson said, and these recommendations would help with those issues as well.
However, Jackson added that, if Council wished it, the city could take a “patient” approach to rolling the equity programs and position out.
“I think we’ve been patient enough, and I’d like to just move forward,” Young said, and Smith agreed. Council’s Governance Committee, meanwhile, will work out exactly what the terms of the equity manager’s job are over the coming months.
• A shift on transit — The bus system also ended up a major focus of the discussion. Unusually, it also marked a time when Council didn’t take staff’s recommendation.
Thousands locally depend on the system for transportation and issues about the competence of the management company, transparency, a lack of resources and the effects of 2012 cuts in evening service hours have made it a topic of controversy from riders, the transit workers’ union and local advocates.
Of its priorities, Whitehorn recommended that Council add $385,000 to the transit budget to add an additional bus to the S3 route, running down Hendersonville Road all the way to the airport. While South Asheville has boomed, both in terms of business and population, the route still just runs every hour and a half, resulting in major overcrowding. The extra bus would mean that the route, like most others, will run every hour and could reach more places.
But while Council members didn’t object to that step (Mayfield noted it would be “a significant improvement”) a number did have issues with it as the only major additional change in service that the city would pursue.
“The number one priority that I’ve heard from the community is extending hours,” Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler said. “I’d really like us to consider the additional hours.” Bothwell agreed.
Mayfield also added that the department “needs more help” and supported an additional
The extended hours would cost $250,000 a year for a total of eight additional hours, spread among the routes that city staff judge need them the most. The additional planner would cost $73,000. Staff was just recommending the additional bus on the S3 route.
“These are ongoing costs and at this point we don’t have the ongoing revenue to support them,” Whitehorn said. “My recommendation would be to choose one of the major issues, whether it’s the S3, the extended hours, the planner and implement that this year and then look at further investments
By the end of the budget planning, Council emphasized that they instead wanted all three done.
“I think there’s a deep desire on Council’s part to be more aggressive this year,” Manheimer said.
“We’ll take that direction back and we’ll figure out how to make that happen,” Jackson said. “Leaving here today it looks like we’re $295,000 out of balance. I can make that work.”
• More police downtown and more firefighters in North Asheville (maybe) — While neither would immediately happen in this year’s budget, city staff broached adding a new fire station and team in North Asheville and a massively expanded police presence in downtown and nearby areas. Each would cost over $750,000 per year and while that wouldn’t be included in this year’s budget, Whitehorn asserted that staff needed to start planning in the coming year to make either a reality.
Staff asserted that the fire station is needed in part because of Asheville’s unique geography, combined with Asheville’s growth, have hurt fire response times in part of North Asheville. The new station, with a four-person crew, would improve those, including response times in Montford (which Smith noted is the city’s most fire-prone area), and lower fire insurance rates for property owners throughout the city.
While staff hope to obtain a grant to pay for the first few years, the ongoing costs were still viewed as considerable, with Wisler expressing concern. However, Asheville Fire Department Chief Scott Burnette noted, in response to her questions, that the recommendation for a new fire station came out of extensive study and experience. Council agreed to go forward, but look for potential ways to save money.
The proposal for more police downtown comes in response to the boom in business and tourists in the area. Currently the Asheville Police Department splits the city into three districts, with downtown in the same district as the northern part of the city.
The APD already has a downtown substation and unit (one that’s received both praise and controversy over the years, especially for its dealings with buskers and the homeless) Chief Tammy Hooper said that they’re “pretty overwhelmed.”
“It didn’t really slow down this year, except when there was actual snow,” Hooper told Council, so she proposes to make a new district consisting of downtown, South Slope and the River Arts District, leading to increased policing throughout the area and, she hoped, the ability to better deal with a range of problems.
“Right now what we’re seeing, for the last few years, is a consistent increase in violent crime in the downtown area,” Hooper said, and combined with RAD and South Slope, violent crime there accounted for 21 percent of all the violent crime in the city last year. The increase was largely assaults
“We’re seeing a huge influx of travelers, homeless that we have to deal with, more bars, breweries, places where people are drinking and more nuisance and quality of life type crimes as well as serious violent crimes,” she continued. “We need to address it.”
The alcohol fueled more fights, she said, and the APD had witnessed a rise in drug use as well.
But Whitehorn noted, such a step would require a property tax increase or a “significant restructuring” of the way the city offers services. For the moment, Council adopted a wait-and-see approach on this step.
For the rest of the month, staff will tally up the proposed budget and present it May 10. The public will get a chance to weigh in May 24.
As the budget discussion continued, an audible murmur rose from the crowd gathering outside Council chambers for the HB2 resolution and once the officials concluded their number wrangling, people quickly packed the room — and another overflow room where they could watch the meeting live.
Public furor in Asheville had grown since the bill’s passage, the day after Council’s last meeting. The state legislature called a special session after Charlotte City Council voted in February to add protections for LGBT people’s access to public accommodations — bars, restaurants, hotels, taxis, etc. — and government contracts to a nearly 50-year-old ordinance against discrimination on the basis of race, religion and a number of other factors. Also included was a provision ensuring trans people could access the restroom matching their gender identity.
Passed in the course of a day, HB2 did end all local nondiscrimination ordinances that went beyond any categories protected by state law, which does not protect LGBT people from discrimination. It also required people using school or government bathrooms (including those in local government facilities) across the state to only use those matching the sex listed on their birth certificate, though the bill doesn’t specify how this will be enforced.
However, the bill went much further: it also stripped local labor protections, including the possibility of a local minimum wage (something Ashevillians had debated), and the right to sue for most types of employment discrimination in state courts. The bill was hit with a lawsuit by the ACLU and multiple LGBT rights groups, asserting that it violates the U.S. Constitution and federal law on several grounds.
The restroom provision has received the most public focus, as it had when Charlotte debated the ordinance as well. In the process, some proponents of HB2 have brandished bigoted stereotypes of trans people as predators, or asserted that nondiscrimination ordinances would allow them to assault others in bathrooms, something that has never happened. Some far-right candidates for local office even asserted that they would go into restrooms armed if trans people were allowed in.
A rally against HB2 the day after the bill’s passage drew around 300 people and denunciations from a range of groups. A brief rally by proponents of the bill only a few days later mustered about 30 people and was outnumbered by over three times as many counter-protesters. At the rally, a banner sported mugshots proponents claimed were part of a transgender crime wave. Perhaps not surprisingly, taht turned out to be completely untrue, as local photographer Max Cooper (covering the day’s rallies for the Blade) found out through ensuing research.
Meanwhile, local governments, businesses and institutions condemned the bill as it attracted national and even international attention. On the local front, in early March Council had balked (though opinions differed among the members) at pursuing a Charlotte-style nondiscrimination ordinance when LGBT rights groups called upon it to do so, as City Attorney Robin Currin disagreed with Charlotte’s move and claimed Asheville didn’t have the power to pass such an ordinance.
But on March 29, Manheimer issued a statement asserting “Asheville will continue to be a place where we can be proud to live, work and raise families in a community that celebrates our differences.” Council member Brian Haynes, in an opinion column in the Citizen-Times a few days later, asserted that the city needed be at the “forefront” of the fight against HB2, even passing ordinances like a local minimum wage as a form of “political civil disobedience.”
On April 5, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution (4-3, with the Republican commissioners against) in response to HB2 reaffirming its nondiscrimination policies for its workers and noting “it is in the best interests of the citizens and residents of the County to reiterate its support for a culture of diversity,” but not specifically condemning the law. Three days later, the city’s proposed resolution went up online as part of the agenda, its wording similar to the county’s.
Online, however, some activists criticized the wording as too tepid. Bothwell replied to some of those criticisms, asserting that he would propose something closer to Carrboro’s resolution, which specifically condemned HB2, praised Charlotte and swore to look for legal remedy.
Indeed, those waiting to hear the city’s next move found out (after a few proclamations) in the packed Council chambers itself, as City Clery Maggie Burleson handed out copies of a new, longer resolution that more closely resembled Carrboro’s.
“There was a request to go with a more thorough, enhanced resolution,” Manheimer said as the new copy made the rounds.
Indeed, it had changed. Instead of a general commitment against discrimination and an affirmation of the city’s existing policies (which prohibit discrimination in its workforce), the new resolution blasted HB2, praised Charlotte, tagged the law as unconstitutional and committed the city to fighting it.
“Council will look to the court system for remedy, seeking opportunities to partner with other local jurisdictions and advocacy organizations in taking appropriate legal action against this unconstitutional legislation,” the resolution now read in part. “To adopt appropriate local ordinances to advance the cause of equal protection, and to encourage other local governments to exercise their legislative authority to promote equal protection and nondiscrimination.”
“Like the mayor said, it’s a stronger statement than the original one that was proposed,” Bothwell told the crowd, noting its roots in the Carrboro measure.
“I would note, interestingly, that the Carrboro mayor [Lydia Lavelle] helped draft the one originally attached to the agenda, but she drafted this one as well,” Manheimer added.
That day, Gov. Pat McCrory had issued an executive order calling for repeal of the portion taking away the right to use in state courts over employment discrimination, but Manheimer noted that didn’t change the bill and that the resolution was just as necessary as before.
The bathrooms aspect “was only a narrow part of what the bill did,” Bothwell said, particularly concerned about the . “To remove that right from people is beyond belief. It really is a new Jim Crow, regressing this state back 100 years.”
“I’m so proud to live in a city that believes and affirms that there are no lesser people,” Mayfield said.
Haynes was pleased with the resolution, but encouraged Council to go further in countering the legislature.
“Since the time that the Republicans gained control of the legislature and the governor’s mansion they have forced their will on local governments,” he said. “They have labelled our great city as ‘cesspool of sin’ like a school bully they have taken away control of our water and airport, leaving us with little recourse.”
The legislature, he continued, also stopped Asheville from pursuing progressive local legislation in pursuit of better wages.
“[N.C. NAACP President] William Barber challenged local governments to unite in a form of political civil disobedience, to pass their own minimum wage ordinances and force Raleigh to react. It’s long been said that the only way to stop a bully is to stand up to him.”
Public comment was overwhelmingly in favor of Council’s resolution, though the perspectives offered examples of a wide range of specific reactions to HB2 and different ideas about how the city should proceed from here.
“HB2 flies in the face of every reason I wanted to open a business in Asheville: it’s unjust, inhumane and illegal, to the extent that I am able, I will defy HB2 at my workplace,” Casey Campfield, owner of the Crow and Quill, told Council, and called for the city to take a local minimum wage seriously. “With the highest cost of living of any city in the state, a cost which is only predicted to rise in the coming years, $7.25 is simply not enough for our workers to sustain themselves. Clearly, you’re not unaware of this issue, as you recently passed a living wage increase for city of Asheville employees. Do you not believe the rest of the workers who make this prosperous city run deserve a fair income?”
“Will it trigger a legal battle with Raleigh? Yes it will, but it is a legal battle worth fighting and it is a legal battle I believe we can win,” he added.
Frank Goldsmith, speaking on behalf of Carolina Jews for Justice, said that HB2 went against the tenets of his faith that all people should be treated with love and respect.
“The Torah says that you shall not stand idly by while your neighbor bleeds and we interpret that broadly to mean that the suffering of any neighbor or any person is something that we cannot ignore,” he said. “We believe that this is wrong, we believe that it is contrary to our values, that it is contrary to American values.”
Deven Balsam said that, as a trans man, he had to tell his children about the reality he faced because of HB2 and the environment it created.
“It was with a heavy heart that I had to explain to them the steps they need to take if, at any given time, I did not return home,” Balsam said. “I explained that while in all likelihood I would be alright, there existed a small chance I would be detained for using what is now the wrong restroom or being the victim of vigilante violence.”
“Transgender people are not a threat to innocent people, they are simply people born with physical challenges and, with the assistance of doctors, are able to overcome some of them. I am not a monster, I am a hard-working, law-abiding, god-fearing father of three.”
“We feel called to address the often-overlooked intersections of race and transphobia,” Keely Hollahan, speaking on behalf of the Asheville chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice, said, with discrimination like that in HB2, including the removal of labor and discrimination protections, hits trans and queer people of color particularly hard.
“We are getting threatened with our lives just for being in the bathroom,” Tara Darby said, and the bathroom provisions “aren’t a tiny little part of it if we could get hurt or even killed just going to the bathroom.”
“Your types of proclamations fight back just a little bit on HB2.”
Ray Bartlett, the only pro-HB2 speaker of the night, just said “sodomy is still a sin” before walking away from the podium.
Attorney Meghann Burke, who works with the Campaign for Southern Equality noted that, in her position, she heard many people’s stories, and those included horrific workplace abuse, parents denied ability to see their children or disowned by their family.
“Transgender people were, are and will continue to be the target of legislative bullying and violence,” Burke said. “It is incumbent on you, our elected officials, to stand up to legislative bullying. This resolution it’s a great start. It’s an improvement on the one I thought I’d be speaking to, and I wanted to commend Council on that. But as you observe, more is needed,” especially the passage of a nondiscrimination ordinance, along with clauses in contracts.
“I’m happy to see Council take a firmer stance than what was originally proposed,” Allison Scott, an Asheville native and trans woman, said, attributing the prejudices to the fact that many parts of society had made “trans people a joke” to encourage fear and violence.
“There’s so many people that this effects, but I’m tired of people saying this protects women and children. Twenty five percent of North Carolina children, where are these people trying to protect those children?”
“I now live in a community where I worry about my own safety and that of my friends and others in the transgendered community,” Zach Anders said. “My life could be at risk every time I use a public restroom.”
While that discrimination existed before, Anders added, HB2 had turned the clock back further.
Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, likely a commissioner after her recent primary victory and director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, urged Council to “see this as a first step,” listen to the stories from the trans community and find ways to push for further ways to directly fight discrimination.
Lindsay Furst, a local teacher, said that her first duty was to protect her students, including from laws like HB2.
“If I must, in my official capacity, enforce North Carolina’s HB2 I will be violating my first responsibility to the safety of all my students,” she said. “Our LGBTQ teens are dying, they are dying from homelessness, they are dying from overdose, they are dying from suicide, they are dying from violence against them. Laws and policies that deny their humanity and identity endanger and isolate them further. I will not ever stand down when my students are in danger.”
“What we’re talking about here is the basic fabric of the city that I love,” Ezekiel Christopoulos, of Tranzmission, said. “The feelings many people have around bathroom usage are pervasive in our community. I personally have been attacked in restrooms earlier in my transition and I don’t want that to happen to anybody. There are obviously provisions out there for assault and battery.”
“It’s important for us to stand with other cities around the state that are ready to pass ordinances like this,” he said.
Manheimer noted the city’s previous steps on LGBT rights, including domestic partner benefits and a nondiscrimination policy for workers.
“If there’s one silver living to this, it provides us with an opportunity to reiterate to our community that we stand together,” she said. “We won’t tolerate what I consider to be a fairly juvenile act on the part of the legislature.”
She added that “continued outcry” was making a difference, citing McCrory’s executive order as a sign that support of the bill had been shaken.
Young read from an email he sent the day of HB2’s passage to the rest of Council calling on them to take a strong stand against the bill and condemning it as evil.
“This egregious act requires condemnation,” Young read. “It erodes local government, it tramples decades of non-discrimination policies and portions of the bill can even be determined to open up almost all forms of discrimination, including those by the color of your skin.”
“Despite anyone’s personal reserves I will not stand idle while hatred looms under the blanket of religion or straw argument of safety. These same arguments were made to continue despicable policies that enslaved millions and discriminated against blacks throughout our country’s history.”
As the only minority member of Council, he continued, he was particularly opposed to the “blatant act of discrimination” and believed his fellow elected officials should not take the law lightly. As a Christian, he was particularly appalled at his religion being invoked to support the bill as “my Christianity teaches me love and acceptance.”
“I urge to you not to fear retribution from the state or re-election because those that support this bill will not vote anyway,” Young said. “Our fight is not a fight just for LGBTQ or blacks or Hispanics or women. In my mind this is a fight for anyone who is not a straight white male.”
While many of the Council member’s statements against HB2 received a measure of applause, the room erupted with cheers and clapping at Young’s remarks.
Wisler encouraged the crowd to take their passion to the campaign trail and the polling booth.
“You have to get out, outside of Asheville,” she said. “We have to turn this around and reach out to all your legislators and let your voice be heard, not just to us. This Council is completely with you, but you need to make your voice heard by email and at the ballot box.”
Mayfield also encouraged Council to look at additional steps they could take to encourage nondiscrimination.
With that, the resolution against HB2 passed unanimously.
Of greenways and bear selfies
From there, the focus (and the reason for the packed Council chambers), shifted to a matter as local as it gets: a greenway. The idea of a public park stretching along Beaucatcher Mountain dates back to John Nolen’s 1922 Asheville City Plan. In 2008 the city, with the assistance of funds from the county, state and several private organizations, purchased 30 acres of woodland and since then, planning and funding for the Beaucatcher Greenway has proceeded. The greenway is set to stretch 1.25 miles along Beaucatcher, connecting Helen’s Bridge and two future parks to McCormick Field, with a walking and biking trail marked by at 10 foot long asphalt strip.
On April 12, Council was deciding to put the project out for bid so construction could proceed. Parks and Recreation Director Roderick Simmons reminded Council that it was part of a larger effort to build a major network of greenways — over 30 miles in all — stretching throughout the city.
However, he noted, costs for greenways had risen dramatically in recent years. Before the recession, the city had the ability to do much of its greenway design in-house. But with shrinking budgets and retirements, local government lost that ability, raising the cost of greenways dramatically as the city hires private contractors. From 1994 to 2006, the average cost of a greenway was $415,902 a mile. Now it’s $2.3 million.
Iona Thomas of Stewart Engineering, the firm designing the greenway, noted that “your community really cares” about the plans and the project had “overwhelming support.”
That care, however, took some very different forms some residents and locals had either opposition to major parts of the greenway, while others were concerned about specific design aspects being improved before the greenway proceeded. In a March 25 Citizen-Times column that the design needed “serious rethinking.” Most of the speakers, however, staunchly supported Council moving forward, claiming it would provide an important amenity for the public, allowing Ashevillians who weren’t wealthy to access the nature and views of the city. Manheimer was recused from the discussion as her law firm represents one of the parties involved in the greenway.
One of those opposed to much of the current design was Geoff Kemmish, speaking on behalf of some homeowners in the greenway’s path and asserting that Council and staff
“None of us were opposed to a greenway, but it’s going to upend our lives so completely that we’ve paid an awful lot of careful attention,” Kemmish said. “We have been ignored, we have been stonewalled, we have been fed misinformation and sometimes, a flicker of cooperation.”
Kemmish claimed the greenway design would lead to increased crime, vagrants and a general decline in the standard of living for homeowners in the area.
“The thing that worries me most is safety,” he said. “For the last 10 years, the old encampment on the mountain has been inaccessible thanks to the gates that everyone seems to be upset about. For those 10 years our lives have been blessedly free of the dead bodies, the rape victims banging on our doors in the middle of the night, the vandalism and the little piles of human excrement. This plan makes that campsite accessible again.”
And then, Kemmish continued, there was another danger: bear selfies.
“What’s the chance of someone on this greenway trying to get a selfie with a bear cub? One hundred percent,” he said. “What’s the chance of a mother bear, who’s a very big bear, defending her cub? One hundred percent. None of the interpretations of the design have made any provision for this, not even warning signs.”
Nancy Brown, president of the Sky Club association, noted that residents at the historic, high-dollar building were “adamantly opposed” to the greenway’s design and the influx of visitors it would bring.
“The Sky Club is not your park,” she said. “It is first and foremost the home of taxpayers who do not deserve to have strangers walking by or onto their property for their enjoyment.”
Trespassers, Brown claimed, had increased as construction of the greenway approached and “the privacy, security, property values and historic ambience of the Sky Club and its owners will be adversely affected for no reason.”
Debbie Gerrary, formerly a Sky Club resident, said she’d already packed up and left because of the coming greenway, the people it would bring and the “dangerous” situation that would result.
“I have been driven out of my home already,” she claimed. “The very thought of hundreds of people, or dozens at a time, coming onto my private property is frightening to me.”
“You know and I know that there’s going to be dozens of people traipsing across the face of that mountain,” she continued. “Yes, it is beautiful. I know: I spent a lot of money to live up there for five years. But there’s no way to keep the people on that asphalt trail. They’re going to wander all over the face of that mountain. Someone will be hurt.”
The only solution, she claimed, was to start from scratch and redesign the whole greenway to address the concerns of the Sky Club and other residents who had problems with the project.
Steve Rasmussen, however, noted that some of his concerns, especially about saving a red oak tree, were addressed. Nonetheless, he also had concerns about the amount of asphalt and the need for measures to prevent erosion and future landslides.
“I hope that Parks and Rec is learning from this the value of public input,” he said. “We have to constantly remind cities that listening to citizens is very important and really produces a better result in the end.”
Supporters, however, said that the greenway would prove a great amenity, especially to lower-income neighborhoods nearby.
“The Beaucatcher Greenway will provide both transportation and recreation benefits,” Mary Weber, chair of the city’s Greenway Committee, said. “This beautiful wooded greenway is just steps from downtown and will connect two future, privately-funded parks, enabling people to see great views without driving very far or own a house on the mountain.”
The green spaces, she said, would help overall public health and make it accessible to the general public, with over 5,000 people within walking distance, including “some of the most affordable housing in Asheville.”
“The overwhelming majority of people support this greenway,” she concluded, and it was time to move forward.
“A local trail such as the Beaucatcher Greenway is accessible in a high-density area near the East End neighborhood, Kenilworth, downtown, hospitals, businesses, apartments and new developments with diverse homeowners of socio-economical backgrounds, ” Cassandra Boyd, president of Friends of ConnectBuncombe, a nonprofit that supports greenways, said. “This trail defines equity and access. According to census data this tract is located in one of the most disadvantaged areas of the city of Asheville, with 52 percent of residents living in poverty. It’s not just the people who are living directly next to the greenways that need access.”
“At the end of the day we have to go back to the people trained and educated in this process and let them do their job,” Dana Davis, a board member of the Asheville Parks and Greenways Foundation, said. She also presented Council with 1,138 signatures in support of the greenway and noted broad support from groups like Asheville on Bikes, the Chamber of Commerce, Asheville Greenworks, the West Asheville Business Association and more. She also cautioned that “all the donors are watching” and that any delays could endanger private funding for the greenway.
When the discussion moved to Council, Bothwell noted that many of his concerns had been addressed by recent design changes, and defended the tack he’d taken.
“I have raised questions about this project which unfortunately some people have cast as being in some way totally against this greenway,” he said. “I’m really pleased with the questions I’ve asked, I’m really pleased with the answers I’ve gotten.”
He claimed that raising those concerns had already led to more design improvements, including a less prominent retaining wall and less removal of nearby trees.
“There have been changes made because questions were asked,” he continued. “I don’t think it’s that anybody on this panel doesn’t want to do this. That was misinformation that was spread around, I think some of us have asked questions about the best way to get this done.”
Nolen, Smith said, had envisioned “this gem of a city park that would overlook the city and be accessible to everyone” and now, 94 years later, Council was carrying it forward.
“Even for government, that’s a long time,” he said, drawing chuckles from the crowd. “It’s time that we came together to get this thing done.”
“As anyone who’s familiar with government knows, big things take time,” “They take time to get started, they take time to build momentum. But once that momentum’s created? We gotta go, we’ve got to do it, we’ve got to get it done. Now is the time. The money is there, the support is there, the expertise is obviously there.”
Future generations, he concluded, would thank Council for its support of the greenway project.
While there wasn’t a formal vote, all the Council members present agreed to give staff the go-ahead to put the greenway up for bid and start building.