Proposed is a 1.25-mile stretch through woodlands overlooking downtown. The greenway would run along Beaucatcher Mountain from Memorial Stadium and White Fawn Reservoir to Helen’s Bridge. A number of retaining walls and backfill areas would be required to widen the existing road, and somewhere between 80 and 135 superb, old-growth tree specimens would have to be sacrificed. Throughout the planning process, the roads were shifted to accommodate public concerns. Stormwater mitigation was another issue requiring some back and forth. 333 persons were counted as having participated in a public forum held prior to the meeting, and 112 had formally provided feedback.
One standout comment came from Dr. Mark Brenner who teaches Environmental Studies at Warren Wilson College. “Many of the environmental concerns regarding the Beaucatcher Greenway are overblown,” he said. For example, most of the proposed path followed old roads where tree roots had already been somewhat disturbed. He further said dirt or gravel surfaces generate more sediment pollution than a paved surface would. Nitpicking aside, he said what was most important was providing access to a natural area. He reported from a recent teaching experience with seventh-graders from Durham, he was “shocked to hear how few of them ever actually got out in nature.”
In an overview rushed for time, the city’s Greenways Coordinator Lucy Crown covered a number of changes to the plan prompted by concerned citizens. Because of the steepness of the mountain, a number of switchbacks would be required. Pervious pavers would be used where necessary, and some of them would be ADA compliant. In at one place, the steepness was so bad, a stairway would be necessary.
The city has been planning for the greenway financially, so no new big tax will have to be sprung on unsuspecting residents. Sources of funding include 2012 limited obligation bonds and a Tourism Product Development Fund grant awarded in 2015. During the meeting, Crown cautioned members of council not to mix up funds, which had been allocated for specific projects. As of now, no environmental impact study is required for the Beaucatcher Greenway, but moving $1 to the wrong place could precipitate a nightmare like the Pack Square Conservancy experienced. City departments had already been restructured to optimize federal funding. To date, $349,157 has been spent on land acquisition and design. All told, the project is expected to cost $3,751,264.
During Tuesday’s meeting, a number of citizens expressed concerns about the project. Geoff Kemmish was among residents to complain about difficulties trying to figure out how to find out what was going on. For example, the results of the tree survey were sketchy, suggesting tree #408 was doomed, with no way to know which tree that was. Kemmish was among many to insinuate the city was underplaying impacts. Problems included viewshed obstructions caused by retaining walls, one of which he calculated would have to be over fifteen feet high. He also said there would be liabilities due to the bear population. He said there would be a 100-percent chance some idiot would want to take a selfie with a bear cub, and a 100-percent probability the cub’s mom would swing into defense mode.
Nancy Brown, a resident of the Sky Club Condominiums, suggested the greenway would, counter to the city’s claims, need to acquire private property. She described Helen’s Bridge Park as a non-park. Gates had been set up to deter vandals, some of whom enjoyed throwing rocks off the bridge at cars. She, among others, complained that volumes of trespassers had increased since the public forum and attention in the press. By her estimates, there were now two to three groups of twenty each day. Others argued there would be no way to keep trekkers on the asphalt.
Those speaking in favor of the project shared that greenways were known to mitigate obesity, chronic disease, and behavioral health issues. The greenway would connect four neighborhoods to two parks. Steve Rasmussen suggested council bid out some of the more challenging portions of the trail to local landscape engineers to demo concepts. Councilman Gordon Smith explained the project had momentum, and “now is the time.”
In Other Matters –
Council approved modifications to the UDO’s subdivision standards. The most substantial change had not been included in the staff reports published with the agenda. Councilwoman Julie Mayfield had recommended it in light of the frustration neighbors often feel when they show up to planning meetings to voice a concern about a project only to be told there is nothing that can be done.
The adopted amendment reads, “The developer is required to meet with representatives of the neighborhood in which the proposed project is located. This meeting is to allow the developer to explain the proposed project, be informed about neighborhood concerns, and explore opportunities to address those concerns in cooperation with the neighborhood. The meeting must be held in the pre-application stage no more than four months prior to the submittal date, must be at a location and time designed to allow interested neighbors to attend [sic.]. It is recommended, but not required, that the developer retain a neutral third party to facilitate the meeting. The developer shall provide notice of the meeting by first class mail to all property owners within 200 feet at least ten days before the meeting. A written report of the meeting must be submitted with the major subdivisions application.”
Timothy Sadler, a regular at council meetings, suggested noticing tenants as well as property owners about large projects proposed for their neighborhoods. In spite of the inclusiveness of the suggestion, City Attorney Robin Currin balked, recognizing accountability would be difficult should, for example, somebody renting in a 300-apartment property claim they never received their notice.