Path of proposed Beaucatcher Greenway (map courtesy City of Asheville)
Despite criticism, city lets bids for controversial project
By Roger McCredie- The City of Asheville is forging ahead with the development of a public greenway along Beaucatcher Mountain, undeterred by complaints that it amounts to “an act of vandalism,” as one objector put it.
At last week’s meeting, council by consensus approved letting City Manager Gary Jackson proceed with gathering bids for developing the 1.2-mile stretch of Beaucatcher from just above McCormick Field northward, across the ridge and down to Helen’s Bridge near the old Zealandia Estate.
The move came over vocal and detailed objections from area residents and conservationists who say the installation of the greenway, which will involve felling more than a hundred trees and laying a ten-foot-wide asphalt roadway, will not only ruin the natural appearance of the hillside but will also result in destabilization of the slope and greatly increase the likelihood of damage from stormwater runoff. One group of property owners says the greenway route will invade their privacy and that the city plans to co-opt a private driveway for greenway use – a move they are preparing to litigate against.
Citizens have also criticized the city for what they say has been a lack of transparency in making its plans known, as well as a “campaign of misinformation,” to gain public support. As well, the officials say the cost of the project may top out at more than double the benchmark per-mile price for creating a greenway.
At last week’s council meeting Geoff Kemmish, who owns a condominium in the historic mountainside Sky Club structure, said that installing the massive retaining walls necessary to create the roadway would be “an act of vandalism.” Kemmish came armed with visual aids that depicted retaining wall height above the proposed roadway. “That’s twenty-seven feet,” he said, indicating one stretch of wall.
And Nancy Brown, President of the Sky Club Homeowners’ Association, said the greenway’s route, which would run directly in front of the historic structure, would seriously impact residents’ privacy. “That’s my bedroom window, right there,” she said, pointing to a photograph of the house.
“The Sky Club is not your park. The Sky Club is a historic building for this city, and its look will be diminished by adding a walkway in front of it,” Brown told Council.
The three-story mansion now known as the Sky Club was built by realtor Oliver Cromwell Hamilton in the 1890’s as his private residence. He named it Ardmion. The property was sold at auction in 1935 and became a popular restaurant/night club. It was converted into condominiums in the early 1980’s. The greenway’s path is congruent with Ardmion Road, the former estate’s driveway and now the gated Sky Club entranceway. Sky Club condo owners are contesting the taking of the driveway for greenway use and have retained attorney Albert Sneed, of the Van Winkle Law Firm, to act for them.
Mayor Esther Manheimer also practices law at Van Winkle; accordingly she recused herself from discussion of the greenway during the meeting.
As to the project’s expense, apparently, a revised plan giveth but construction cost taketh away.
Tweaks to the greenway’s construction methodology have produced projected savings of $500,000 according to Iona Thomas of Stewart Engineering, the firm the city has hired to design the greenway project. However, Thomas said, rapidly rising construction costs will probably overtake those savings. She said total cost could eventually exceed $4 million, which far exceed the $1.5 million-per-mile figure often cited as the average price of greenway development.
Thomas did say the latest adjustments to the plan will result in a reduction in the height of retaining walls along one stretch, will reduce the width of “disturbed area” along another stretch from 27 to 14 feet, and will save 22 trees.
The exact number of trees earmarked for felling has been the subject of sometimes heated disagreement between city officials and conservationists. Early on, the city compiled an inventory of 407 trees lying along the greenway route. Of these, the city originally said, 82 would have to be cut. The number was later revised upward to 135, which would mean that, if the current plan saves 22 trees, 113 are still due to be taken – although the planners’ count is 104 trees.
In March, Will Spoon, who with his fiancée Lisa Bakale-Wise founded a group called “Friends of Beaucatcher Mountain,” charged that City of Asheville Greenways Coordinator Lucy Crown “lied about the number of trees to be removed” in an article published in the Asheville Citizen-Times. That article quotes Crown as saying, “much less than 82 trees” would be cleared for the greenway.
But Crown later told the Tribune she was misquoted in the Citizen-Times article. “In all 135 trees are due to be cut along the whole greenway site,” she confirmed, but only 12 are to be cut at the southern trailhead site. That’s where that twelve trees figure came from. I was misquoted in that article.”
“I have seen no new plans but have heard some modifications will be made to protect some of the older trees and if that turns out to be the case, I accomplished some of what I was trying for,” Spoon told the Tribune this week. “I hope planners will be more transparent about the real costs of building greenways in the future; had they made the tree removal counts known to the public instead of putting out misleading information they would have gotten a much less positive response than they are now claiming to have gotten. They duped the public and the council endorsed their tactics. I love this city and that really disappoints me.”
The latest project timetable calls for the greenway to be completed and open by June 30, 2018.