Work to start on alternative road plan
MountainTrue’s Asheville Design Center will soon begin work toward an alternative vision of the N.C. 107 project in Sylva.
The N.C. Department of Transportation’s preliminary plans, released earlier this year, drew widespread criticism in the community for the extreme impact they would have on the business community, with about one-sixth of the businesses in town on the list of establishments to face relocation.
During an Aug. 6 public hearing, 135 people signed an attendance sheet, and of the 23 people who delivered public comment, none were supportive of the project as proposed. In its next regular meeting after that hearing, the town board voted unanimously to work with the Asheville Design Center, which offered its services pro bono to develop an alternative road plan to better meet the community’s needs. The six-person team will include a transportation planner, traffic engineer, multi-modal specialist, urban designer, student intern studying health impacts and Design Center Director Chris Joyell.
According to a draft scope of work dated Oct. 22, the Design Center’s process will span three months, kicking off next week and concluding with a final plan delivered in late January. In addition to meetings with town leadership, the DOT and utilities providers, the process will include one focus group meeting and two community meetings.
“What I’m seeking from the focus group is a good cross-section of the community to help me identify what are the issues we really need to focus on for the first community meeting,” Joyell. “I don’t want to show up to that first community meeting with a bunch of assumptions about how 107 is important to the community and what the desired outcomes are.”
Joyell said that the design team will determine who is part of the mid-November focus group but wants to include representatives from the business community, government and impacted property owners. He encourages people to email him with their comments on the issues as well.
“As I get those responses, I’m tracking who I’m hearing from, what those concerns are and those are all things I want to share with the team,” he said.
The first community meeting is expected to occur sometime in late November. Afterward, the Design Center team will meet with the DOT, Sylva officials and utilities managers and produce draft recommendations the week of Jan. 7. The following week, a second community meeting will be held to gather input on the draft document. Joyell expects to have the final recommendations complete by late January.
“We don’t want to build any unnecessary delay into this because we know that the issues on 107 need fixing, but at the same time I don’t want to rush to a deadline if it means ignoring the voices in the community that are going to help inform that,” he said.
Joyell expects that the Design Center’s process will wrap up around the same time that the DOT is releasing updated plans that include utilities, a key milestone for the project. At that point, Joyell anticipates that N.C. 107 planning will be far enough along to merit substantial discussion about potential changes but not so far along that it would be impossible to change its trajectory.