Asheville’s Downtown Commission approved the demolition of the Hayes & Hopson building by developer Stewart Coleman in a 7-2 vote this morning. The commission also recommended that any work at that site wait until an appeal resolves the legal status of an adjacent piece of parkland, which Coleman agreed to.
The commission had previously approved the demolition as part of Coleman’s proposed Parkside condominium project. However, a September Superior Court ruling found the county’s sale of public parkland adjacent to the Hayes & Hopson building was illegal. That ruling put the project in a legal limbo as Coleman appeals. He told the commission that he didn’t foresee any work on the site until the appeal is resolved and he has a building permit.
“It wouldn’t make economic sense to go through with the demolition until there was something to build,” Coleman said, later telling Xpress that he sought approval for the demolition so that, in the case of a successful appeal, he could begin work immediately. Asked if there are any plans to work on the site before the appeal was resolved, Coleman replied, “Not today there isn’t.”
However, not everyone believes Coleman. After the meeting, commission member Kitty Love, who voted against the demolition, said “There goes the tree,” in reference to the magnolia tree on the parkland that has become a rallying point for Parkside opponents.
Love also expressed frustration with what she feels is the commission’s unclear role. “We make these recommendations to City Council, and it feels like they rarely notice them, much less follow them, despite months of consideration on some of these issues,” Love said. “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.”
Asked if she believes Coleman’s assertion that he plans to delay 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.
City Council member Jan Davis who made the successful motion, said that while he had fond memories of the building when it was used as an auto-parts store, “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 brought 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 he didn’t object to demolishing Hayes & Hopson so much as the lack of a replacement.
“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,” Butner said.
But commission member Brad Galbraith said that since they had already given their blessing to the Parkside project as a whole, the demolition shouldn’t be back before them.
“We should stop wasting Mr. Coleman’s time like this — we’ve already approved it,” Galbraith said.
Anti-Parkside activists have also criticized the demolition plans, asserting that Hayes & Hopson, as one of the oldest buildings in Asheville, could be put to better use.
Sporting a derby hat and suit to evoke the building’s original era, activist Steve Rasmussen said the building had a long legacy as part of the area.
“It’s green and sustainable to recycle these old buildings,” Rasmussen said. “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 Stacey Merten, director of the Historical Resources Commission, said that while the building is regarded as a “contributing structure” to the historical nature of downtown, it’s not a landmark itself and probably couldn’t qualify as such.
“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 noted that the result “wasn’t really unexpected, but at least there were a lot of questions on why this should be signed off on and we do know that the community can apply for historic status for a building. 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. And to continue getting his “ducks in a row” for the project, as Coleman told press previously, he will also have to get City Council approval for a small road on the property.
— David Forbes, staff writer