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Haw Creek Sidewalk: Concrete Ditch vs Earthen Swale

10/13/2023 7:30 AM | Christina Maggi (Administrator)

The Haw Creek Community Association has many responsibilities, the most important of which might be serving as the voice of Haw Creek residents in conversations with the City of Asheville. A good example of this involves the sidewalk that’s scheduled to be built along New Haw Creek Road as part of the 2016 capital improvements bond referendum. 

As much as many residents are looking forward to the increased safety and walkability the sidewalk will bring, others have been concerned about the project’s design. Beyond a six-foot sidewalk, the project, as it was originally designed, included in some spots a retaining wall, a chain-link fence, and a four-foot-wide concrete “cut ditch.” The inclusion of the concrete ditch seemed excessive to many Haw Creek residents. It’s also been the most contentious aspect of the project.

At a December 16, 2021 meeting, representatives from the COA’s Capital Projects Construction Program, Dustin Clemens and Lora Sepion, assured Lee and Hunter Carson, homeowners who live on New Haw Creek Road, that “an earthen ditch with natural low maintenance vegetation” would be used to control the drainage behind the retaining wall and not a concrete ditch.

During the COA’s Online Community Engagement meeting on March 28, 2022, which was the City’s final public outreach prior to easement acquisition, Sepion and an engineer from Mattern & Craig stated once again that an earthen swale would be part of the project. Many homeowners who live on New Haw Creek Road subsequently signed easement agreements with the City.

On July 11, 2023, a member of the Haw Creek Community Association’s board of directors, Storms Reback, had a phone conversation with Dustin Clemens, in which Clemens stated that the earthen swale had been replaced by a concrete ditch in the project’s design because NCDOT, which maintains New Haw Creek Road, required it. No one had informed residents of Haw Creek about this change, so once they discovered it, many were upset. According to them, the concrete ditch has very few positive qualities and numerous negative ones. 

First, such a ditch would create an industrial look and feel to what is a rural residential road. Concrete ditches of this size are typically observed adjacent to major highways, interstates, and airports. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to find such a ditch in any other residential neighborhood in Asheville.

There was also reason to believe that the concrete ditch was unnecessary. New Haw Creek Road currently has minimal existing stormwater infrastructure, and very little, if any, water collects on the west side of the road during rainstorms. Stormwater is currently allowed to infiltrate the ground, improving water quality and reducing flood impacts to Haw Creek. The proposed concrete ditch would create an impervious surface that would funnel water into Haw Creek (and subsequently the Swannanoa River), potentially increasing flooding, erosion, property damage, and the spread of pollutants in our watershed. 

On July 26, 2023, HCCA’s president Chris Pelly sent a letter to the COA’s Director of Transportation Department Ken Putnam, the COA’s Capital Projects Director Jade Dundas, and Billy Clarke and Tim Anderson of NCDOT’s Highway Division 13 relaying these concerns. On September 19, Putnam responded to Pelly with a text that said, “Public Works prefers the concrete ditch for long term maintenance.” The HCCA was in the process of drafting a letter to the mayor and city council members expressing our dismay about this decision when, on October 11, Putnam reversed his decision, stating, “PW [Public Works] has reconsidered and we will be moving forward with a grass ditch. Not concrete.”

Ever since its formation in 1983, the HCCA has earned a reputation for its activist spirit, working on behalf of the community to protect the natural beauty of the valley. This victory is another example of such activism and the positive results it can produce.

Example of sidewalk with retaining wall and chain link fence: 

Diagram of proposed sidewalk, retaining wall, concrete ditch and chain link fence: 

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