The battle over a controversial proposed condo building on formerly public parkland has officially ended, as a representative of developer Stewart Coleman informed city staff on Oct. 8 that he is withdrawing the proposed Parkside project to focus on a tavern he’s building nearby.
“We would like to withdraw the permit for the Level II project so that we may proceed with construction under the permit … for the restaurant uplift,” a letter from Ross Franklin of S.B. Coleman Construction to city Planning Director Shannon Tuch reads.
The letter ends, quietly, the fight over the controversial condominium project that involved a (still ongoing) lawsuit, protests, petition drives and calls for both city and county governments to stop the project.
Coleman announced in August that he would renovate the 1890s-era Hayes & Hopson Building — which he’d originally planned to tear down for Parkside — as a tavern and restaurant. At the time, Coleman had declared that “Parkside is on hold for the time being, but that doesn’t mean it’s dead.”
But on Aug. 12, the city informed Coleman that he could keep a permit for Parkside or for the tavern, but not for both. City rules allow allow one open permit per property. The letter makes it clear that Coleman’s company has chosen to pursue the tavern over the planned nine-story condominium.
The controversy began in 2006, when the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners quietly sold an alleyway and a piece of public parkland to Coleman. It didn’t stay quiet for long, however. Soon, public outcry arose, with critics of the project accusing the commissioners of making a back-room deal for the developer’s benefit. Then-Commissioner (now Chair) David Gantt publicly announced that “we screwed up” with the sale.
Protests formed around a magnolia tree that Coleman would have cut down. The heirs of George Pack, the famed philanthropist who donated the land to the county in the early 20th century, hit Coleman and the county with a lawsuit asserting that the sale was illegal. Activists petitioned both the commissioners and Asheville City Council to take action by seizing the property through eminent domain. Buying the land back from Coleman — or a land swap — were also considered.
In September 2008, the project ran into its first major road block when Superior Court Judge Marlene Hyatt ruled in favor of the Pack heirs. While the ruling left the land in Coleman’s hands, it declared that the parkland must remain in public use, meaning no condos. Coleman has appealed the decision, though the county took the opportunity to back out of the legal battle. The case is ongoing.
Now, however, Coleman has decided to go a different direction. Ironically, considering the lawsuit that played a key role in halting Parkside, he’s calling his new bar Pack’s Tavern.
— David Forbes, staff writer