Monday, August 27, 2018

New Survey Provides Insight Into African-American History
Carter Giegerich 

A comprehensive study of historical cultural resources in Waynesville's African-American community will help guide the town's planning department, as town staff continue to work on a comprehensive development plan and several new projects around the Pigeon Community Multicultural Development Center.

During an Aug. 16, meeting at the center, residents heard the report from a recently completed study conducted by Asheville-based consultant Sybil Argintar. The study was put together in order to document existing and historical cultural resources relating to the African-American community in Waynesville. Argintar conducted numerous interviews and performed a survey of the remaining historical places related to the study during her time here.

“Part of the process was interviewing many people, and gathering oral histories,” she said. “From that, and from driving around with some of the older folks in the community, we were able to identify places where families lived in the community, as well as the cemetery, the two remaining churches, the Pigeon Street school – all of those kinds of resources.”

Argintar shared photos of existing structures throughout town, including a number of residences near the community center where black families have lived over the years and businesses owned by African-American families. She also talked about some of the challenges black families faced in Waynesville's earlier years – there were many obstacles to securing quality housing, for instance, and until the construction in 1948 of a black high school in Canton, African-American students were forced to travel to Asheville if they wanted to attend high school.

Community feedback

The historical survey will likely prove valuable to the town's planning department as they seek to create and improve public spaces in the vicinity of the community center.

“We're hoping information from that study can be incorporated into some signage or something similar to go into a pocket park we're working on,” said Waynesville development services director Elizabeth Teague. “We want to put a historic marker into the park, and we hope to work with the community and possibly the arts community to help develop that.”

The group assembled at the Pigeon community center also provided input to the Waynesville Parks and Recreation Department and the Planning Department during the meeting, helping guide the development of an updated comprehensive plan for the town and a possible new park in the neighborhood. Teague said there was a wealth of input from the community about what they would like to see included in a new comprehensive plan.

“Some of the key themes that came up were affordable housing, and also looking at conservation of green space,” she said. “What are some creative ways we can work with property owners to incentivize preservation of green space, while still protecting property rights? That's a balancing act that is part local government, part private property owner.”

Plans for a park

A good deal of the feedback town staff received on Aug. 16 centered on plans for a park at the intersection of Craven Road and Calvary Street, just down the road from the Pigeon Community Multicultural Development Center. There was some discussion of trying to fit a basketball court into the relatively small footprint of the proposed park, but Teague said she hoped to explore alternative uses for the park while still meeting those demands from the community.

“It's not a very large area, and there is a group of young people who really want to see a basketball court incorporated,” she said. “But there's been some discussion of public use of an existing court behind the Pigeon Community Center, which is private property. We hope we can use some of the feedback we got to work out some kind of shared use agreement, so maybe they could allow the public to use the court during some hours.”

Any agreement of that sort, along with development of the proposed park, is still fairly far off, Teague said.

“We have to go out and price a larger pavilion, and then we're looking at whether the town can even enter into an agreement with the community center to allow public use of their basketball court,” she said. “That's sort of a legal question, with liability and everything. Then, also, if we can enter into an agreement then can we invest public funds into the center to provide some sort of covering on the court. Those are two big questions.”

Teague said the information they gathered from residents during the meeting is invaluable in making sure the entire town is served by the updated plan.

“There are some exciting things happening here,” Teague said. “The Pigeon center is such a great resource for the entire town and, as we start moving forward in our planning, we want to make sure we're including everybody.”

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