On Tuesday afternoon, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners heard the tip of the iceberg of the controversy surrounding the proposed nine-story Parkside condominium project. The board will discuss the issue at length during its June 24 meeting.
The specific matter before the board on Tuesday was the approval of an affidavit, necessary for any development bordering county property to go forward to the city’s Technical Review Committee. Normally, this would be a brief, technical step. But Parkside has drawn criticism from many citizens who see the project as simply a back-room deal to give valuable property to a private developer.
Recently, developer Stewart Coleman scaled back the height of the project and consequently avoided having to present the proposal to Asheville City Council. Now the project must simply go before TRC.
What the affidavit didn’t address was the use of county property in Pack Square Park for staging construction equipment or easements surrounding the project needed emergency services. The board may have to tackle those issues at a later date.
At its regular meeting yesterday, the board wasn’t voting on anything yet, but commissioners heard voices from both sides of the debate.
“I would implore you to very carefully consider the errors that happened a few months ago,” Asheville resident and activist Elaine Lite cautioned. “If there’s any way for the county commissioners to redeem themselves and reclaim our public space, even if it requires denial of certain necessary papers, if it is within your legal bounds I would request that you do whatever is necessary to put this to an end.”
“Our park is being held hostage for a speculative land deal,” local resident Barry Summers told the board. “This is not how a world-class city does anything. This should be stopped. Do we really want to have our city and county governments going to war over a building the public doesn’t want, that violates the conservancy guidelines and that was initiated in a back room deal to grab valuable public land? If you’re not stopping it, you’re helping it and we are watching how you vote.”
Chairman Nathan Ramsey took issue with Summers’ statements.
“We didn’t sell this behind the scenes, we sold it in a public meeting just like we’re doing today,” he said. “We might not have notified enough people, but there’s notices out, that’s a legal process. To say the county was doing anything behind the scenes is just incorrect.”
Coleman himself also offered a brief statement, asserting that the project hasn’t gotten a fair shake in the public eye.
“It’s been a misfortune that there’s been so many misunderstandings, so many misstated information and so many misstated truths,” he said. “We’ve jumped through all the hoops with this building that it’s possible to jump through, including removing floors, including setting the building back off the park. We’ve been challenged every time we’ve made a concession. We’d like to move forward with this project.”
Vice Chair David Gantt said the board will consider information on all available options involving the site at the June 24 hearing.
— David Forbes, staff writer