At a meeting with newspaper representatives this morning, Downtown Commission members and city of Asheville planners presented ideas for restrictions on newspaper boxes, including limiting locations, height, and how many could be grouped together. The commission hopes to test the voluntary rules over the next 45 days.
Under the rules, boxes could be in clusters of no more than five, at least 30 feet apart. The rules would also prohibit “floating boxes” (newspaper boxes not next to a wall, like the large cluster in Pack Square) and set height limits for the boxes.
“We’re trying to find ways to place all these elements and ensure the safe and efficient flow of people,” Commission Chair Bruce Hazzard said. “We’re looking at what happens on sidewalks. You’ll see criteria applied to anything permanent or temporary on public sidewalks and things will start.”
Hazzard later said he wanted to ensure safety while retaining the “messy vitality” of downtown.
The rules will be presented to the full Downtown Commission this Friday.
After several newspaper representatives pointed out that most boxes, including those of Xpress and the Asheville Citizen-Times, were higher than the proposed 42” height limit, Vice Chair Michael McDonough noted that the limit would be set in a way to allow the current boxes of existing publications.
Asked by Xpress how, if a cluster exceeded five boxes, the city would determine which publications they would haul away, the assembled planners didn’t know.
“That’s a great question,” Neighborhood Coordinator Marsha Stickford replied. Planner Alan Glines noted that the city wants to avoid a formal permitting process.
Xpress Distribution Manager Jeff Tallman had concerns about the new limits and what they might mean for Asheville’s local news scene.
“There’s close to 30 publications on the street, how will you tell certain publications ‘you get this spot or no spot at all?’” he asked. “I know these publishers. There are some publications that are struggling, there are publications whose margins are tighter than tight. This, to me, is a radical exclusion of the opportunity to distribute downtown for a lot of these publications.”
Right now the limits are voluntary — city staff emphasized that they wanted to try them out to gather more information. and any change making them mandatory would have to go before Asheville City Council.
Restrictions on newspaper boxes remained controversial since the idea was introduced in February at a meeting between city staff and local publishers. At that meeting, Stickford claimed that she had received email complaints about the state of boxes downtown, but deleted them. An open records request by Xpress found that the only email she had received in the past year about newspaper boxes came from a police officer praising the cooperation with Xpress in dealing with graffiti.