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Asheville's River Arts District too busy to wait for a greenway, advocates say

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6/28/2011 - Asheville's River Arts District too busy to wait for a greenway, advocates say
by Joel Burgess - Asheville Citizen Times

ASHEVILLE -- It's a good plan, residents and other supporters of the River Arts District say -- build a greenway for walkers and bicyclists from the southern end of Riverside Drive north to the outskirts of the city and beyond.

But with thousands of people now pouring into the district for events such as studio strolls and many of them spilling into Riverside's narrow lanes, the greenway can't happen soon enough.

Rather than wait for the permanent path whose construction is set to begin in 2013, residents, artists and others are pushing for a temporary walkway.

"Wouldn't it be nice to be able to walk safely from Curve Studios up to White Duck Taco," said Pattiy Torno referring to the landmark studios she owns in the district's south up to one of the newest restaurants in the district's far north. The stretch covers about one-third of a mile.

Talk of the trail is intensifying as the city is set to take on one more key piece of a potential greenway land.

The City Council today will take up accepting 0.3 acres, including a historic 1930 Asheville Gas Co. building at 14 Riverside Drive behind 12 Bones Smokehouse.

The conveyance from Public Service Co. of North Carolina would cost the city nothing.

That land and adjacent property given to Asheville by Progress Energy in 2008 were both cleaned of industrial pollutants and are now deemed safe.

Asheville would take care of one more small cleanup and pay $5,000 to take down a chain-link fence, said Stephanie Monson, a city urban planner.

With the fence removed, residents and others can eventually have access to one-third of a mile of land stretching along the French Broad River.

The building could be renovated into a bicycle rental shop or something else tied in with the greenway or other aspects of the district, Monson said.

The district's greenway would be part of the larger Wilma Dykeman RiverWay Plan to give walkers and cyclists access to the French Broad and Swannanoa rivers along 17 miles of paths.

The city and supporters such as the nonprofit RiverLink have been gradually accumulating riverfront property.

But the River Arts District has boomed in recent years with the addition of galleries, restaurants and the popular Wedge Brewery.

Rather than wait two or more years, a temporary trail could be the answer, Monson said.

"We recognize that the pedestrian safety needs and transportation needs and economic development needs for the area are outpacing the project schedule for that greenway," the urban planner said.

The trail could run a minimum of a one-third of a mile along the riverfront, or it could create a mile loop, crossing the river on bridges at Craven Street and Haywood Road.

No timeline or cost is set, but advocates such as studios owner Torno say it should be quick and low-cost.

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