ASHEBORO – Residents of Lexington Road were unanimous — and adamant — in their opposition to a plan to create an access street to McCrary Park that was outlined during a special meeting held on July 26.
The street, called “Power Alley” on concept maps, would lead from Lexington Road to Southway Road, bypassing Mountain Road. Southway Road fronts the ballpark.
The new road would bypass the Mountain Road to Pine Street to Southway Road path often used by visitors.
City Manager John Ogburn gave a presentation on reasons for the access road. He said there were traffic issues with streets leading to McCrary Park and city staff had looked for alternative sites to build a new baseball field, all of which were rejected.
Ogburn said they first looked at Asheboro Municipal Golf Course, a city-owned property. But it was eliminated because of the historic nature of the golf course and the hilly terrain.
Next, the staff considered a site at Henley Country Road and Presnell Street. But it was determined to be “rugged and rocky,” better suited for business development. Another location at Presnell Street and Old Cedar Falls Road was also considered unsuitable for a ballpark.
Finally, the staff looked at property at the corner of McCrary Street and Sunset Avenue. But that would have meant acquisition from 18 owners, which would have been “very expensive.”
The conclusion of city staff, Ogburn said, was to stick with current “McCrary Park … based on cost and ease of construction.” From that conclusion, he said, it was determined that there needed to be “improvements to McCrary Park access.”
Ogburn said the staff then turned toward improving North McCrary Street, which approaches McCrary Park on the east side from Presnell Street/Park Drive near an entrance ramp from I-73/74. He said most of McCrary Street is outside the city limits and would have to be annexed.
Such annexation would require action by the N.C. General Assembly. Once annexed, the N.C. Department of Transportation would have to agree to improvements to the street. Ogburn said initial costs for such a plan would require about $650,000 up front.
So, using maps projected on a screen, Ogburn provided four alternatives for an access street from Lexington Road to Southway Road:
— One alternative would require removing the garage of a private home.
— A second alternative would move the right-of-way to the east, adjacent to Lexington Commons, a prominent townhome community.
— A third alternative would necessitate the removal of a house.
— A fourth option would require the city to create a non-conforming use in the city’s zoning.
Such an access street, Ogburn said, would be wider than existing streets in the neighborhood with curb and gutters. He estimated the cost to start the project at $395,000.
Ogburn said the city had contacted the Armfield family, which had built the home that might be removed, “out of respect to the family.”
Mayor David Smith then opened the meeting for public comments.
First up was Ward Russell, who began by asking, “Where’s the respect for the rest of the community?”
Speaking in opposition to the plan, Russell said, “None of this makes sense to the neighborhood.”
He pointed out that other cities have their ballparks away from residential neighborhoods. For that reason, Russell said he opposed any improvements to McCrary Park, since it’s surrounded by residential neighborhoods.
Russell listed other reasons for not building an access road, including the unsafe left-side entrance ramp from Lexington Road onto I-73/74.
Vickie Lorimer, an officer with Lexington Commons, said she was speaking for the residents of her community. “We are in opposition to (more traffic) on Lexington Road.” She said such an access road would lead to a reduction of home prices. “We are rightly upset about Power Alley.”
Lorimer also called the city council to question for a lack of transparency. She said she learned of the proposal just two weeks ago and called city hall, but got no response. She said it felt like “hush-hush by the city.”
Boppie McCrary Toledano — whose father, D.B. McCrary, was involved in developing McCrary Park in 1948 — said she was “here to speak against the new access road.”
Toledano called Lexington Road “an old and beautiful neighborhood. … Lexington Road is a highway and there’s always traffic on the road. An entrance (to the ballpark) will increase danger.”
Toledano suggested that improving North McCrary Street would be more logical. “It’s common sense to use what you have,” she said. “Please don’t do this.”
Carey Durham reiterated Toledano’s fear for safety on Lexington Road. He said the Asheboro Police Department studied traffic speed on the road for two weeks and found that the average speed on the 35-mile-per-hour stretch was 39 miles per hour. However, the 85-percentile speed was 46 miles per hour.
“If you were in our position, how would you feel?” Durham asked the council members.
Sam Cranford said there was “irritation because people haven’t known what was happening. We were told there was nothing to (plans for an access road), then we found out you were given maps.
“I haven’t seen a big traffic problem at ballgames,” said Cranford, who lives on Lexington Road across from Mountain Road. “Why do you need this road? You don’t need to be spending that kind of money.”
Mayor Smith responded to what he called the “On-again, off-again” nature of the issue. “It’s my fault. It was a concept (last week) with no plans to show. … But council thought that if we’re spending money on the ballpark (for improvements), we need to improve access. I will take the blame for telling neighbors that it’s not going to happen.”
Michael Miller said it’s his experience that “rarely is McCrary Park more than half full.” Then he questioned expanding seating from 1,400 to 2,500. “It’s a nice park hemmed in by a residential community. It’s not suitable for expansion. You’re trying to shoehorn it into the neighborhood. It would change the character of the street. … You have the opportunity now to rethink (the plan). You see where the community is on this issue.”
Donna Miller said, “Since I found out (about the proposed access street), I haven’t been able to sleep. I feel like I’ve been bullied. No one has considered how this affects the neighborhood. You haven’t considered the impact on the neighborhood.”
Linda Cranford suggested, rather than building an access street, that the city could market the unique nature of McCrary Park, “nestled in a neighborhood. It’s a gem and that sets it apart. It could be used to our advantage.”
One speaker, Darrell Johnson, didn’t think widening North McCrary Street was feasible. He said he owns property on that street and believed that to widen it would mean the city “would have to buy every house on the west side.”
To sum up the overall opinion, Mary Hunter said, “We have given you 50 reasons (not to build the access street). The majority here oppose your concept.”
When asked, Smith said it’s possible there could be another public meeting on the issue. He said such a meeting would be announced and advertised.
Before the end of the week, however, the city had announced it had abandoned the idea even before having another chance to address the situation at the regular Asheboro City Council meeting scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 4.
The city posted the following statement on its website: “Mayor Smith and the Liles family have announced that neither a contract was offered nor accepted for the purchase of the Liles property. Mayor Smith further reported that since the Liles family has decided not to sell their home, this effectively ends discussion of this option to improve public access to McCrary Ballpark.”