Technical knockout

Eliciting hisses of disapproval and cries of “Shame!” Asheville’s Technical Review Committee unanimously approved the retooled nine-story Parkside condominium development on July 7.

A show of protest: An overflow crowd stood outside the Technical Review Committee meeting on Parkside. Photos By Jonathan Welch

Since a height reduction in May avoided a level III conditional-use hearing by City Council and a modified construction plan in June eliminated the need for an affidavit from Buncombe County, the TRC was the last official body that had to approve the project. But developer Stewart Coleman must still secure easements from the city and county in order to proceed with the current design. If the easements aren’t granted, Coleman would have to redesign the project again and submit yet another application for approval, acting Planning and Development Director Shannon Tuch explained.

The review played to a packed room on the first floor of City Hall, with still more people filling the doorway. Even Coleman and his representatives had to wait in the hall until they were called to comment on the project.

Those opposed to the development were generally unhappy with the restrictions placed on public comment. Because the committee’s purview is limited to technical points concerning the building’s design and construction, it has no authority to consider larger issues such as Buncombe County’s sale of public parkland or the project’s cultural impact on Pack Square Park. Accordingly, speakers were asked to confine their comments to technical matters. But having had few chances to air their grievances so far, some speakers managed to get their say in anyway.

“You have a voice; you have a vote. You may be the only one,” declared activist and blogger Clare Hanrahan, who’s been leading a vigil beneath the magnolia tree that has been a focal point in the Parkside fight.

“What is the cost to our community?” asked Jen Bowen, one of about 15 who spoke in opposition to the project. The only person who spoke in favor was an architect for the developer: “What is the cost of people threatening to lie down in front of bulldozers? This project does not pay off in any way to our community.”

Others maintained that Parkside’s history reveals systemic problems with the city’s approval process.

“The UDO is so far out of balance—that’s why this got passed,” said Donna Bateman. “You are not going to take away our park.”

Some speakers did address technical matters such as traffic. Asheville resident Jake Quinn noted that the building would increase traffic in the area, particularly on a road that would run between the condominiums and the park—a factor not considered when the park was redesigned. “No one anticipated huge volumes of traffic running through it,” he said.

Pressing on: Parkside developer Stewart Coleman (right) consults with Lou Bissette, attorney for the project (and former mayor of Asheville).

But city Traffic Engineer Ken Putnam said the amount of traffic his department projects is not expected to have that much impact.

Former City Council candidate Lindsey Simerly asked that the agenda item be continued in the wake of a mix-up late the previous week. A report by WLOS that consideration of Parkside might be rescheduled had spread via word of mouth and local blogs, causing some to cry foul when the hearing was in fact held July 7 as originally scheduled.

The snafu occurred when city staff contacted Coleman July 3 to get revised storm-water plans for the development, Assistant to the City Manager Lauren Bradley told Xpress. If the plans weren’t ready, staff told the developer, the review would have to be postponed. In fact, the plans were submitted later that day, noted Bradley, but in the meantime, Coleman had told WLOS that the review might be continued. Nonetheless, the TRC agenda remained unchanged. During the meeting, Tuch admitted that it had made for a confusing turn of events, but said it’s not unusual for staff to consider postponing agenda items in such circumstances—or for them to change their minds.

This was the second time the Parkside development had come before the TRC—and the second time it was unanimously approved. A single “no” vote would have denied the project the needed approval. But though many in the room made no secret of their disappointment about the outcome, no one seemed surprised.

Asheville residents Steve Rasmussen and Dixie Deerman, two of the more public faces in the fight to stop Parkside, said the approval bears out their contention that the system is designed to rubber-stamp proposed developments.

“We’re finding out how much this system was made by developers 10 years ago,” Rasmussen told Xpress.

Meanwhile, activists are still hoping that city and county leaders will deny Coleman the construction easements needed to proceed. And City Council—which is also exploring other options, including a possible land swap—plans to discuss the issue at its July 15 meeting.

“The city and county still have all these opportunities to say, ‘No, we’re not going to grant that,’” noted Rasmussen.

 

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