Weaverville – In March, a representative from Traffic Planning & Design attended the regular monthly Weaverville Council meeting to provide council members with a presentation updating them on Weaverville’s Bike/Pedestrian Study. While Christy Carter of the Traffic Planning & Design made a brief presentation, she also brought along a 30-page study that the Tribune looked over. Here are the highlights.
The purpose of the plan, according to the document, is to identify connections, build the network and foster a pedestrian and bicycle-friendly town using sidewalks, greenways and bike facilities, like bicycle lanes.
Why the plan? According to the presentation, it is a vision for multimodal connectivity, positioning the town for future funding and partnerships and supporting local multimodal goals. While the plan does not say who came up with these goals, it does say how they will be achieved. A combination of community engagement meetings and project committee meetings will direct the project. A community engagement meeting was held Thursday, April 7. The project’s steering committee is scheduled to meet in June with another meeting of the public in July.
The presentation also laid out the results of the meetings held thus far, which stated that about 300 individuals have participated in meetings since they began in September of last year.
“We have a special community that is uniquely suited to walking/biking and should work to maximize that uniqueness by increasing the opportunity for residents to engage in these activities,” stated the report. “Increasing the opportunity,” the group says, will take connecting Creekside Village to these walk/ped areas, along with the new hotel on Weaver Blvd. as well as housing west of future I-26 and connecting them to Karpen Field on Reems Creek and the Golf Course.
The group pointed out that Main Street is bad for bikes, something no one would argue. They also saw a need for downtown connectors to Ingles, Lake Louise and housing south of town.
The committee says that people want more dedicated places to walk and bike but are not very willing to pay more in taxes for it, preferring instead to look to current funding sources and grants to make it happen.
The group has come up with 15 catalyst projects that they would like to implement to start improving biking and walking in the town. Still, additional feasibility and site visits are necessary before proceeding, noted the report. The project includes sidewalks over the I-26 bridge, with guardrail constraints and Main Street streetscaping with a bike lane.
What Carter Told The Council
In Carter’s update to the council, the idea behind the project is to anchor everything to the downtown and to make the area “a little more pedestrian-friendly…So no matter where you are in town, you can walk or bike to downtown and feel good about doing that.”
She told the council, as a land use planner, “It’s hard for me to look at Weaverville and not think about what’s going on without looking at it in terms of growth.”
Which she said leads her to policy discussions and that’s something she needs more dialogue with the council about.
“The way your ordinance is written currently is a developer would be required to add a sidewalk,” which she said needs more work to help take some of the “guesswork on where sidewalks are going to go.” Explaining to the board, “Why I think this is important goes back to that question of growth. A lot of your growth is probably going to happen on the edge of your city, or edge of the town and it’s probably going to happen during annexation.”
While stipulating that she was not advocating for growth or annexation one way or another, Carter did say, “But if you are going to annex in, we don’t have those lines on a map because those are not in your town. So we have a disconnect in that plan.” While saying Weaverville is not Asheville, it was the example she was thinking of for the town.
Carter also saw “another gaping hole in the ordinance,” which was redevelopment, saying developers are not currently required to upgrade the sidewalks. She also pointed out that the downtown sidewalks are “very narrow for a lively downtown,” indicating the sidewalks around Well-Bred Bakery, where outdoor seating is available, as a prime example.
She also talked about a “fee in lieu” program for developers. “Currently, if a developer comes in and says, ‘yea, we can’t make this sidewalk work,’ you handle that through a board of adjustment process. There [are] a lot of communities in North Carolina [that] instead of going through the board of adjustments process, will have a ‘fee in lieu’ program,” she explained, “The reason I’m bringing that up is, you’re leaving money on the table. Whereas if you do a ‘fee in lieu’ program where a developer can’t meet it, the developer does a fee in lieu that can go into a sidewalk fund.”
When asked by Vice Mayor Jeff McKenna about other towns in the area navigating these questions, Carter said that Asheville is not the best comparison, but that Black Mountain implemented some of the rules she had been discussing. Councilman Andrew Nagle thanked Carter for her work, adding, “Council needs to get a plan before we kind of run these ordinances so were not building sidewalks to nowhere.”