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Petition: “Save Beaucatcher Mountain!”

Helen's Bridge RS

Helen’s Bridge

As greenway development looms, citizens seek impact study

By Roger McCredie-  Beaucatcher Mountain property owners and others are circulating a petition designed to halt development of the Beaucatcher Greenway at least until an environmental impact study can be conducted.

The petition, which has garnered nearly 400 signatures since it was first posted Feb. 29, is addressed to Mayor Esther Manheimer, asks the city not to proceed with plans that “will cause irreversible harm to one of the last wild spaces with old growth trees in the Asheville city limits.”

The 1.25-mile Beaucatcher corridor, as presently laid out, begins at the purportedly haunted Helen’s Bridge near the Zealandia estate on the north and meanders along and down the mountain before terminating on the south below the old White Pine Reservoir at Memorial Stadium above McCormick field.

The area of urban forest referred to in the petition is earmarked for clearing to make way for the greenway’s trailhead, which is to comprise a stairway, retaining walls and other manmade features.  The petition’s preamble claims construction of the trailhead will involve the taking of 82 old-growth trees and “will damage root structures and harm or kill even more trees.”

In addition to the features that are planned for the trailhead, the greenway is slated to include a ten-foot-wide asphalt pedestrian-and-bike trail, as well as seating and other amenities, according to Stewart Engineering of Raleigh, designers of the space.  Stewart maintains that:

“Materials used along the greenway for walls, signs, seating and other amenities will reference the areas natural environment, cultural history, architectural influences and adjacent land forms. The goal in selecting these materials, shapes and forms is to create a consistent feel along the greenway and trailheads that results in an identity for the Beaucatcher Greenway and connecting parks.”

None of which offers any comfort to the authors and signers of the petition, who, though they say they do not object in principle to the idea of a greenway on Beaucatcher, have serious reservations about its contemplated form and have been trying to express those reservations for some time.

“For eight months,” the petition states, “community members have suggested viable options that accomplish the same goals faster, cheaper, with less environmental damage, and with community support instead of opposition,” But, it continues, “Asheville Parks refuses to conduct any environmental impact assessment by qualified professionals.

“We request that City Council ask the Tree Commission and a local entity with forest ecology expertise to propose design modifications, lessen environmental damage, and make the results of this evaluation public. Ample time remains for the city to modify its plans and prevent irreversible environmental damage. Asheville is not the kind of place where dozens of trees are cut down and many more are harmed in the name of preserving a greenspace. Asheville is not the kind of place where city planners bulldoze through damaging, unpopular projects over the valid and reasonable concerns of the public. Our city is better than this.”

The petition was started by Lisa Bakale-Wise, an attorney from New York by way of New Orleans, and her fiancé, Will Spoon, a native of Black Mountain.  The two became aware of the proposed Beaucatcher Greenway development when they bought a house on White Pine Drive, adjacent to the greenway acreage.

Bakale-Wise has said that the petition grew out of repeated attempts by her and Spoon to obtain concrete information about the project’s impact on their neighborhood – attempts which, according to her, have borne little or no fruit, with one notable exception:  a pledge of support from City Councilman Cecil Bothwell, who said he was “shocked” by the city’s blueprint for developing the Beaucatcher Greenway.

As the Greenway Master Plan, a public document, was first drafted in 2008 and was revised and redistributed in 2013, it was not clear how Bothwell only recently became acquainted with the city’s plans; nevertheless he says he intends to oppose them vigorously.

He has company. Nature lovers object to the plan on aesthetic and ecological grounds.  Property owners are objecting on grounds of loss of property to eminent domain, destruction of privacy and decreased property value. They say they have been systematically denied a chance to comment on the project. Watchdogs are objecting on grounds that the city is once again, they say, plowing ahead with a pet project without performing due diligence and with no regard for legal process.

And framing all the objections is a March 31 deadline by which the city is supposed to begin letting bids for the greenway construction project or risk losing a million-dollar grant it received late last year from the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority.  (The grant further stipulates that the project must be completed by July 1, 2018.)

The approaching deadline has ramped up scrutiny of the city’s overall greenways program, which, upon completion, will surround Asheville with a necklace of interconnected manmade walking and bicycling trails.  Four greenways – French Broad, Glens Creek, Reed Creek and River Bend – are complete and in use.  They have a combined distance of 4.6 miles. In all, the city posits a total of 12 greenways totaling 15 miles.

The idea of a unified park/greenway system for Asheville dates back at least as far as the late 1990’s.  In a 1998 referendum, voters turned down a proposed $18.2 million bond issue intended for the establishment of such a system.  The idea went dormant for a decade, until the original draft of the Greenways Master Plan was published in 2008.

Almost as soon as it was made public, the plan was saddled with controversy.  One vocal opponent was County Commissioner Mike Fryar, who criticized the expenditure of $115,000 for the drafting of the plan in a tight economy when, he said, the city and county should be focusing on income-producing projects.

Now, as then, the city maintains that “greenways are beneficial to community members because they provide safe and fun ways for everyone to get around town.”  Accordingly, with the TDA grant deadline just a few weeks away, it plans to host a series of open houses to educate the public about the whole greenways project.  The open house devoted to the Beaucatcher segment will be held from 5:30 till 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 16, in Lord Auditorium at Pack Memorial Library.

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