Blog :: 03-2011

I-26 Connector Update

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3/31/2011 - I-26 Connector Update
by Mark Barrett

Asheville-The state Department of Transportation has proposed putting one of the city's most hotly debated issues of
the past two decades on ice, moving to strip funding for the I-26 Connector at least until 2020.

A draft, 10-year Transportation Improvement Program contains no money for the $556 million project, which would
expand Interstate 240 in West Asheville from four lanes to eight and create a new French Broad River crossing.

The state already has spent $14.2 million on planning and acquiring land, though local government agencies, business groups and neighborhood activists had never reached agreement on a route.

"I'm certain it's an awful lot of hours that not just me but the whole community has spent discussing that project," said former Mayor Louis Bissette, who co-chaired a committee that tried to find consensus on issues related to the project.

"I'm extremely disappointed," Bissette said. "People are going to continue to get injured out there (on I-240), and there are going to be accidents, and it's going to continue to stop up the works," he said.

The state Board of Transportation is scheduled to adopt the 2011-20 Transportation Improvement Program in
July. It is the subject of a public meeting in Morganton today.

The connector project ranked poorly on a proposed DOT priority list last year. The omission from the state's list of road projects worth funding is further confirmation construction will, at the minimum, be delayed for years.

The Board of Transportation also is asking DOT staff to see if there is a way to include money for smaller sections of urban loop projects in subsequent plans, but that may not result in much change in the I-26 Connector schedule.

Long time coming Discussion of the connector project began after the state General Assembly in 1989 included an urban loop project in Asheville on the list of highway projects to be funded by increases in taxes and fees.

The connector was conceived as a way to deal with traffic congestion and safety issues on Smoky Park Bridge and on Interstate 240 in West Asheville.

DOT and a committee of local residents agreed in the early 1990s the project should run largely along the route of I-240 instead of making a wider loop through northwestern Buncombe County. Most of the traffic the connector would handle is local.

State plans in 1998 called for the connector to be completed in 2008 or 2009.

But controversy over how wide the road should be, where new bridges across the French Broad should be and how those bridges should connect to existing roads went on for years. DOT repeatedly pushed back projected construction dates.

DOT added changes to the I-26/I-40/I-240 interchange to the project and has been looking at ways to separate interstate and local traffic on Smoky Park Bridge, both at the request of local residents.

A DOT engineer involved in planning for the project said that work has been suspended because it appears no money will be available to build it for years to come.

Betty Lawrence, a local attorney who was among opponents of DOT's original plans, said it makes sense to scale the project back to focus primarily on ways of moving traffic around Smoky Park Bridge.

"I think that the fiscal reality is such that we're not going to get the project as planned in the foreseeable future," she
said.

 

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sheville's organic conference teaches sustainable living

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3/7/2011 - Asheville's organic conference teaches sustainable living
by Clarke Morrison

  "Asheville, North Carolina, is a healthy place to live. With organic and sustainable farming becoming ever more popular in the region, the availability of locally produced foods in restaurants and stores is increasing steadily." - Ben Falcon

 

 

Organic farming growth healthy

 

Camden Moore plays with a worm in the insect class during the children's program. The Organic Growers School conference is on the campus of UNC Asheville through Sunday with hands-on activities, classes, lectures, vendors and much more. (Margaret Hester 03-05-2011) 

Camden Moore plays with a worm in the insect class during the children's program. The Organic Growers School conference is on the campus of UNC Asheville through Sunday with hands-on activities, classes, lectures, vendors and much more. (Margaret Hester 03-05-2011) / Margaret Hester/mhester@citizen-times.com

ASHEVILLE -- Melissa Mc-Adams loves tending her vegetable garden along with the chickens and goats in her backyard.

 

But yearning to learn more, she traveled from her home in Charleston, S.C., to join some 1,500 people attending a conference this weekend put on by the nonprofit Organic Growers School at UNC Asheville.

 

Saturday morning Mc-Adams took in a class called backyard economics, where the instructor described how to unleash the potential of a small space.

 

"It talked about how much you can grow in just a small backyard," she said. "We grow all kinds of stuff, but we wanted to explore the subject a little more.

 

"Being around other people with the same interest and experts that have the knowledge is really helpful."

 

Now in its 17th year, the event is the largest sustainable living conference in the Southeast, said Meredith McKissick, director of the Organic Growers School. The conference each year attracts hundreds of people from across the U.S. and Canada. It also includes classes and hands-on activities for children.

 

"We're trying to spread the word about organic and sustainable agriculture, and we believe that speaking to farmers, gardeners and consumers is the best way to do that," she said. "This conference kind of speaks to the people who are following that path and also to folks who want to learn more about it and become more self-sufficient."

 

Sustainable farming is healthier, better for the environment and helps the local economy, McKissick said.

 

"Supporting local organic farms is a great way to sort of localize the food system and therefore give a boost to local economies," she said.

 

Organic farming is one of the fastest growing segments of U.S. agriculture. According to a 2010 survey by the Organic Trade Association, sales of organic food and beverages have grown from $1 billion in 1990 to $24.8 billion in 2009.

 

And Western North Carolina has become something of a hotbed for organic agriculture.

 

"The movement has really grown," McKissick said. "We have a great support system in this area for farmers. There are a lot of things available to customers in this area that can be produced in this area."

 

This year's conference, which continues today, offers more than 70 classes and hands-on workshops on topics including starting your first vegetable garden, baking bread, saving on home energy costs and raising a goa t herd.

Linda McLean, of Weaverville, listened in Saturday on a talk called water wise landscaping.

"We've had such a problem with drought here," she said. "I'm learning how to landscape our gardens so we can take what nature gives us and not have to stand there with the watering hose."

McLean the choice of classes was nearly overwhelming. "I love gardening, but I'm also interested in learning about healthy cooking and some alternative medicine stuff," she said.

Lee Barnes, of Waynesville, manned a table where he doled out small packets of seeds from the Seed and Plant Exchange. The seeds are from varieties of plants not commonly grown in commercial agriculture.

"Our seeds are our cultural heritage, and when we lose them we lose them forever," he said. "The whole idea is to get people excited about saving seeds."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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C barbecue battle fires up talk about Asheville traditions

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3/2/2011 - NC barbecue battle fires up talk about Asheville traditions
by Carol Motsinger

"Asheville is a foodie destination, but don't think it is all fine dining and gourmet on this vacation. We are still sticking strong to our culinary roots here in North Carolina. It may be called the "Paris of the South", but the country cookin' will earn a second home in your heart." - Ben Falcon

Michelle Obama's barbecue comment fires up talk about WNC traditions

 

Nate Whiting the kitchen manager at Luella's Bar-B-Que prepares lunch orders Friday afternoon. Luella's is one local restaurant serving up good BBQ like St. Louis style smoked ribs, chile rubbed beef brisket and chopped pork. 2/11/11 - Erin Brethauer (ebrethau@citizen-times.com) 

Nate Whiting the kitchen manager at Luella's Bar-B-Que prepares lunch orders Friday afternoon. Luella's is one local restaurant serving up good BBQ like St. Louis style smoked ribs, chile rubbed beef brisket and chopped pork. 2/11/11 - Erin Brethauer (ebrethau@citizen-times.com) / Erin Brethauer/Erin Brethauer

Barbecue break down

Every region has its own take on what the best barbecue is. Here's a quick look at the most popular incarnations:
The Carolinas: In our neck of the woods, "barbecue" almost always involved a pig, served either pulled, shredded, chopped or sliced. Eastern North Carolina is know for its whole hog approach, where the entire pig is barbecued and the meat is chopped, mixed and usually served with a thin sauce of vinegar and spices. Barbecue from the Piedmont, particularly from Lexington, is known for its mainly dark meat portions from the pork shoulder and is presented with thick, sweet tomato-based sauce.
In South Carolina, sauces range from the peppery, ketchup-based approach of the western part of the state to the Midlands' Carolina Gold sauce, made with yellow mustard, vinegar, brown sugar and spices. Like their neighbor to the north, folks in the coastal region use the whole hog and a vinegar sauce.
o Memphis: Here, barbecue means ribs, and ribs can either be "wet," which means brushed with sauce prior to cooking, or "dry," meaning they are seasoned with a dry rub. And if you do order pulled pork in Memphis, it's going to come with a hot, sweet tomato-based sauce.
Kansas City: It doesn't matter what you put Kansas City-style sauce on for it to be called barbecue in this part of the country. All that matters is the sauce: It's thick, sweet and made with tomatoes and molasses.
Texas: This is a big state, with a wide variety of approaches to barbecue. You could easily confuse East Texas barbecue with southern-style, and in Central Texas, you're getting your meat sliced. In West Texas, goat and mutton, as well as beef, is often the preference. And South Texans have been known to cook the head of the cow for dinner.

ASHEVILLE -- First lady Michelle Obama broke many pig-picking hearts in Western North Carolina when she listed "great barbecue" as one of the tasty benefits for choosing Charlotte as the host city for the 2012 Democratic Convention.

 

While many N.C. folks outside of Charlotte found that declaration hard to swallow, the first lady's comment also inspired debate over what exactly "barbecue" means in Western North Carolina.

 

As the Obamas should know -- having headed to 12 Bones as soon as they got off the plane for their 2010 Asheville vacation -- barbecue is a political hot potato, with lines distinctly drawn between the different parties, or more accura tely, different cookout pits.

 

As with its melding of red and blue counties, Western North Carolina is a melting pot of opposing Carolina barbecue styles, local experts contend, along with regional takes flavored with some local ingenuity.

 

But don't be duped into debating just the sauces, warns Jim "Trim" Tabb, longtime judge at Tryon's annual Blue Ridge BBQ and Music Festival.

 

"What people confuse is the sauce," said Tabb, a Mills Spring resident who has judged contests all over the world since the early 1960s. "Sauce complements barbecue. Barbecue is not sauce."

 

It's also not necessarily pork. "You can barbecue an old shoe," he said.

 

Out west in Memphis, Tenn., barbecue means ribs. In South Carolina, pork may come with a peppery mustard sauce.

 

Then there are the barbecue borders slicing up North Carolina: In the eastern part of the state, it's only barbecue if it's a chopped whole hog served with a thin, spiced vinegar sauce. But once you get to Lexington, barbecue's got to come with a sweet tomato sauce -- what's called western Carolina barbecue, meaning the Piedmont west of Raleigh.

 

But no matter how you take your barbecue, there is one quality all fans recognize.

 

"Barbecue has a down-home, family feel," said Martha Kooles, whose family has owned and operated Barbecue Inn on Patton Avenue for almost 50 years. "It makes people feel comfortable. It's like a good pair of tennis shoes." 

A good mixture

Visiting at 12 Bones was probably the most bipartisan barbecue option the Obamas could have made during their visit. It was Barack Obama's second visit to the rib and barbecue joint, having stopped by for a take-out order in 2008 when he came to Asheville to campaign and prepare for a presidential election debate.

When Tom Montgomery and Sabra Kelley opened 12 Bones five years ago, they didn't have a particular allegiance to any regional style, Kelley said.

They just experimented with flavors and techniques they liked, she said.

"We didn't really have any family recipes," she said. "It's not really eastern or western style ... there are definitely some rules that you have to follow for some people. We would rather be true to ourselves."

And this means such untraditional options as blueberry chipotle ribs.

Tabb doesn't think there is really a clear style or theme for the barbecue you find in Western North Carolina, noting that even parts of the state east of us are getting "homogenous."

"The barbecue borders are getting porous," he said.

So maybe Kelley's approach -- being true to your own tastes -- is really the key ingredient to WNC barbecue.

It certainly works for Dustin Vanderbunt, owner of Ed Boudreaux's Bayou Bar-B-Q on Biltmore Avenue.

His barbecue "is dry-rubbed with Creole seasonings and smoked with apple wood," he said. "I wanted to bring my New Orleans cooking background and combine with (Southern barbecue traditions)."

This unusual marriage is a good fit for Asheville's adventurous dining community, he noted.

"People are going to do what they want to do," he said of barbecue choices. "People like different stuff up here; they don't want the norm," noting that Boudreaux's Caribbean jerk sauce was one of the crowd's most popular choices at festivals.

"They want to try something that no one else has had," he said.

It also makes sense that Asheville and the surrounding areas would be welcome to a range of traditions. The mountains host thousands of tourists -- and have attracted many to permanently relocate here.

The menu at Luella's Bar-B-Que on Merrimon Avenue is all over the map: The folks there serve up beef brisket like in Texas, have a St. Louis-style dry rub on the ribs and both eastern and Piedmont Carolina sauces on the table. They also don't exclude Asheville's vegetarian set: They offer a barbecue tempeh sandwich.

This approach is partly inspired by the diverse background of the community, said Lindsay Andrasik, Luella's dining room manager. What's most important, she said, is the "smokiness of the meat and a good texture and flavor."

Their customers feel so strongly about their favorite sauces and styles that they often bring in their favorite sauce to share with owner Jeff Miller.

"People will bring sauces and ask him to sample it on the pork or the chicken," Andrasik said. &ldqu o;They want to share their story."

Strong roots

The nontraditional approaches that abound in Western North Carolina don't mean that some barbecue places aren't seeped in tradition.

Barbecue Inn restaurant will celebrate its 50th year of serving eastern Carolina pit cooked barbecue in May.

"My father-in-law (Gus Kooles), before he opened the restaurant, went over to one of the restaurants in eastern Carolina and spent six months there" learning the technique, Martha Kooles said. And the menu has never changed.

This consistency is what has kept people coming back again and again, she said. "We have people who come in and say, 'When I was a little boy, people brought me here,'" Kooles said. "And now they bring their own children with them."

Little Pigs BBQ on McDowell Street opened two years after Barbecue Inn, in 1963. Manager Bob Conner considers the casual eatery's barbecue western-style.

"We don't put anything on your barbecue until you order," he said. "We have a vinegar-based and tomato-based sauce. Our house sauce is vinegar-based."

At Little Pigs, Conner said the most important part of their barbecue definition is thoroughly cooked pork.

Most pitmasters in Western North Carolina agree barbecue is ultimately about good meat prepared well -- over a long period of time using wood or charcoal.

"Pork specifically is a very user-friendly meat," Kelley said. "It goes well with so many different flavors."

Even Tabb, who has crowned barbecue champions for decades, makes a plea for the most passionate pig lover to enjoy barbecue for what it is, whether it's served on picnic tables or crisp white tablecloths.

"We've got into such a hurry-up society," he said. "It keeps going faster and faster, and barbecue is the opposite." It's weekends in the backyard, Tabb said. It's Saturday spent lying in a hammock, only having to keep an eye on a temperature gauge as meat smokes for hours.

"There is no such thing as bad barbecue," he said. "There are just various degrees of good."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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urning wrong into right in Montford, central Asheville

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3/1/2011 - Turning wrong into right in Montford, central Asheville
by Paul Clark

 

"The city of Asheville's historic downtown neighborhoods were established at the turn of the twentieth century. Many of the homes in these historic districts have been remodeled and renovated into modern reflections of their original splendor. It can be quite an undertaking to restore an old home, but sweat equity can be the most fulfilling kind of appreciation." - Ben Falcon

Turning wrong into right in Montford, central Asheville   

 

 

 

Home of the Week: The Emisons in Montford

Home of the Week: The Emisons in Montford: Joe and Abbie Emison reworked an altered old house in Montford to fit their young family.

The Montford home of Joe and Abbie Emison and their children, Seamus and Grace, in Asheville. See a new Home of the Week every Saturday in the Asheville Citizen-Times. (John Fletcher 1-18-2011) 

The Montford home of Joe and Abbie Emison and their children, Seamus and Grace, in Asheville. See a new Home of the Week every Saturday in the Asheville Citizen-Times. (John Fletcher 1-18-2011) / John Fletcher/jfletcher@citizen-times.com

Nuts and bolts

The home: A two-story, 2,020-square-foot Dutch Colonial built in 1915 in central Asheville's historic district of Montford. It has four bedrooms and two bathrooms.
The homeowners: Abbie Emison, a city planning consultant, and Joe Emison, vice president of research and development of BuildFax, a knowledge company based in Asheville. Their 15-month-old twins are Seamus and Grace.
Defining aspect: Many of historic Montford homes have been renovated and "opened" up to accommodate modern families, as the Emisons' house demonstrates.

 

 

 Abbie Emison and Joe Masters' loft in New Haven, Conn. was so open that they created rooms by strategically placing furniture.

 

 OK, but not ideal, the Asheville couple agreed.

 

"I'm not good enough at interior design to make something out of nothing," Abbie, then an administrator working for an economic development organization, said recently. "I need walls to push things against."

 

"It might have been too hip for us," Joe said, joking. He was studying law at the time.

 

But the couple liked the openness of the loft, and Abbie liked being able to walk to work. So when it came time for them to look for a home in Asheville (Joe grew up here), they want a big, broad space close to downtown.

 

But with walls. In a house that didn't need major renovations.

 

"Famous last words," Abbie said, a rueful look competing with the smile on her face.

 

The old house they found in Montford, in October 2007, was right. But the rooms were wrong.

 

So began a lot of work.

 

Pulling the switch

The Emisons' house (Joe adopted his wife's name) was built in 1915 by W.H. Schoffner, an Asheville jeweler, for one of his children. Since World War II, no one has lived in it for more than 10 years, according to the Emisons' reckoning. Lots of changes had been made, many that didn't make sense. The front of the house was a huge living room that they made into a kitchen. They turned the old dining room into the living room. The tiny kitchen tucked away almost as an afterthought became their guest room.

 

Unboxing the kitchen

Cracked plaster in the new living room came out, replaced by drywall installed by Joe and three of his friends. The floors, already refinished, needed patching in places where they moved walls. They submitted their design for the kitchen to ikeafamily.com and loved the reworking that designers there did (for free). IKEA cabinets outfitted the kitchen, upgraded with wood doors sold and sized by Scherr's Cabinet and Doors, a company in North Dakota. Jason Rector, Scott Bender and a crew installed the decorative panels at the end of the island.

 

Window to Montford

Somewhere along the line of previous owners, the front porch was enclosed and now has large, sunny windows that provide the family with a view of people going by on the sidewalk. It's the movie they enjoy as they eat - the windows are part of the dining room. Feeding the twins (Seamus and Grace, who came along after the renovations were done, thank goodness), Joe sees people walking, jogging and waiting for the bus. "There is not another neighborhood in Asheville that is as diverse," he said.

 

Checking references, grammar

Much of the work was done by contractors that the couple found on Craigslist. When they had a job to do (patching plaster in the house, screwing drywall to the ceiling), they contacted people on the website who sounded qualified, then paid attention to their e-mailed responses (Joe looks for proper grammar - a sign of professionalism, he believes). Then they called a nd checked references before hiring them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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