Asheville’s Downtown Commission approved the demolition of the Hayes & Hopson Building by developer Stewart Coleman in a 7-2 vote on Dec. 12. The commission also recommended that any work at the site be postponed until an appeal resolves the legal status of an adjacent piece of parkland, which Coleman agreed to.
Coleman’s controversial Parkside condo project has been in legal limbo since a Superior Court ruling in September that the county’s sale to Coleman of public parkland adjacent to the Hayes & Hopson Building was illegal. Coleman has appealed the ruling. “It wouldn’t make economic sense to go through with the demolition until there was something to build,” Coleman told the commission. He sought the approval so that he could begin work immediately if his appeal proved successful, he told Xpress later. Asked if he had any plans to work on the site before that, Coleman replied, “Not today there isn’t.”
Not everyone was buying it, however. After the meeting, commission member Kitty Love, who voted against the demolition request, said, “There goes the tree,” referring to the magnolia tree that’s become a rallying point for Parkside opponents. “I foresee that we’re going to have a hole on the park that will interfere with the plans for it—and I think we’re going to lose the tree,” said Love.
Asked if she believes Coleman’s assertion about delaying the demolition, Love was direct. “Hell, no—I think as soon as he can arrange it, he’s going to take that tree down,” she told Xpress.
Vice Mayor Jan Davis, who made the motion to approve the demolition, said: “I don’t feel like I can make a good case that this is a historic structure that has to be preserved. We have an applicant that’s bought property; that’s his property, and that’s not part of this appeal. I’m not sure, from our standpoint, we have the ability to demand to see what he’ll put on top of it.”
Dwight Butner, who voted with Love against the demolition, noted that he didn’t object to demolishing the structure but to the lack of information. “We’re trying to approve a demolition when we have no plan for what’s going to go back on top of that piece of property,” he observed.
Commission member Brad Galbraith, on the other hand, said, “We should stop wasting Mr. Coleman’s time like this [i.e. by even revisiting the issue]—we’ve already approved [the original Parkside plans].”
Anti-Parkside activists have blasted the demolition plans, asserting that as one of the older buildings downtown, Hayes & Hopson could be put to better use. Sporting a derby hat to evoke the structure’s original era, activist Steve Rasmussen asserted: “It’s green and sustainable to recycle these old buildings. The Hayes & Hopson is in an ideal location to be a center for heritage tourism. It could be the local-history museum we so desperately need.”
But Stacy Merten, director of the Historic Resources Commission, disagreed. “It is very doubtful that it would stand on its own as a local landmark,” she said. “It’s one of the oldest buildings in downtown, but that alone wouldn’t qualify it. The [HRC] could decide it possessed some sort of special significance. That’s not beyond the realm of possibility, but it’s very unlikely.”
After the meeting, Rasmussen said he wasn’t surprised by the outcome, adding, “I think the county [commissioners] need to move forward on eminent domain as quickly as possible.”
The commission’s vote is nonbinding, and the demolition will still have to pass muster with the city’s Engineering and Fire departments. Meanwhile, for Coleman to continue getting his “ducks in a row” for the Parkside project, as he previously told Xpress he wants to do, he’ll also have to get City Council approval to build a small access road on the property.
For documents related to the Parkside controversy, go to www.mountainx.com/xpressfiles.