Poisoned fruit

Developer Stewart Coleman apparently thinks to use a legal loophole to do an end run around public and City Council opposition to his proposed Parkside condos adjacent to City Hall.

Here’s what’s wrong with this picture: Aside from the litany of serious problems with his plans, citizen scrutiny of Parkside this past year has exposed questionable business dealings that smack of systemic corruption in county and city government.

The sale of public parkland was the poisoned fruit of chummy relationships between officials and developers. Ex-city Planning Director Scott Shuford and County Manager Wanda Greene helped Coleman “game” the system: Coleman paid a meager $322,000 for our priceless public parkland. (He’d previously paid $1.5 million for the adjacent Hayes & Hopson Building, according to Commissioner David Gantt.)

The property Coleman really wanted was the city-owned parking lots on Marjorie Street (currently under consideration as the site for a new performing-arts center). But when he spurned Asheville’s open-bidding process, Council members rightly denied his attempt to blackmail them into a land swap.

Undaunted, Coleman brazenly demanded $4.5 million to sell both his properties to Buncombe County—some $2.7 million above what he paid—to recoup the design costs and other “expenses.” State law prohibits counties from paying more than a property’s appraised value.

Yet bizarrely, on March 11, 2008, County Manager Wanda Greene granted Coleman “staging rights” for Parkside construction.

The Pack Square Conservancy objected that this violated their pre-existing contract to revamp City/County Plaza as part of the new Pack Square Park.

Scandalous internal e-mails ensued, revealing Greene and county staffers Keith Snyder and Michael Frue’s vindictive, retaliatory attack on the conservancy (read all at www.scrutinyhooligans.us).

Five descendants of George W. Pack (the philanthropist who deeded the property to Buncombe County in 1901) are suing Coleman; the deed specifies that the parkland be returned to them if the county should ever sell it.

Meanwhile, the Pack Square Conservancy has publicly warned that Asheville could be sued if a Coleman construction crane injured someone coming to or from the courthouse or City Hall.

Asheville’s Planning and Zoning Commission agreed that the 11-story building the developer originally planned violated three out of seven criteria needed to satisfy the Unified Development Ordinance—specifically, Nos. 2, 3 and 4 found in section 7-16-2(c).

The nine-story structure Coleman now proposes to build would still violate these criteria: incompatibility with significant natural features (it would destroy the historic magnolia tree), injury to the value of adjoining property (it would overshadow and dominate the park, the courthouse and City Hall), and lack of harmony with the surrounding area (no other nearby structure contains private residences).

Parkside’s 35 units would house only a few rich people. The rest of us would be forced to suffer a wealthy elite frowning down on us from above our stolen parkland.

Meanwhile, businesses hoping to benefit from the patronage of Parkside’s rich tenants would be disappointed, since many buy such condos not to occupy them but solely as speculative investments.

Nor will the absentee speculators win in the long run: Condos abound in Asheville, and in a difficult real-estate market, the initial buyers won’t be able to flip their units, leading to the property’s neglect and inevitable dilapidation.

In addition, Parkside would literally turn its back on the Eagle Street community (who’ll be greeted each morning by witnessing wealthy folks’ trash getting picked up).

Few support Coleman’s plan to eliminate even more of our park by cutting a new street through it to front his condos.

Lastly, many citizens (as well as the Asheville Tree Commission) want to save the magnolia tree in front of our iconic City Hall. Coleman plans to essentially torture this beautiful tree—taking 200 clippings from it before cutting it down. He wants to replace it and other trees on the land with cheap, sickly stick-trees that yield minimal shade and snap in the wind.

Coleman has dismissed the unprecedented opposition to Parkside, mounting a PR campaign that preys on people’s fears to divert them from the numerous problems with his plans.

Coleman has claimed that crime exists where it doesn’t, while denying that his plans could cause crime. Example one: He claims there’s a crying need to have eyes on the park to prevent crime (never mind that police headquarters is right next door), but denies that nearby jail inmates could pose any peril to his future wealthy tenants. Example two: Parkside would have a light-colored stone façade; how swank will the condos look if graffiti artists find this a nice blank space to paint on adjacent to City Hall?

After months of skeptical official review and devastating revelations by concerned citizens about a deal he apparently assumed was unassailable, Coleman has now revised his plan so that it just sneaks under the 100,000 square foot threshold requiring City Council approval—effectively eliminating all further citizen input.

The county commissioners should fire Wanda Greene for her consistent corrupt screwups (previous wrongs include her orchestrating a secretive sale of property on the French Broad River to Progress Energy for a coal-burning power plant).

Coleman’s Black Dog Realty should not be rewarded for its back-alley efforts to develop public parkland and finagle a lucrative land swap: Parkside was a speculative venture, so Coleman should not expect to reap profits on expenditures he chose to make. He should sell the parkland back to Buncombe County for the $322,000 that he paid for it, and even sell the H & H Building for its appraised value—thereby enabling citizens to preserve its historic façade.

If he refuses, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners has the ability and duty to invoke eminent domain and reincorporate the erstwhile public parkland into Pack Square Park.

To prevent such debacles in the future and encourage donations of land, the city and county should adopt a new zoning designation—PP for “Permanent Parkland”—never to be sold or developed.

[Lady Passion is high priestess of Coven Oldenwilde in Asheville and co-author of The Goodly Spellbook: Olde Spells For Modern Problems.]

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26 thoughts on “Poisoned fruit

  1. Asheville desperately needs the housing and it’s a shame I must support such deviousness in order to get it. But oppressive zoning absolutely does justify stealth.
    Passion is hypocritical when she claims that Parkside will become delapidated but denies that it can ever be affordable. That is just not possible.
    Coleman let tenants down when he compromised on height.

  2. Lady Passion

    Alan 7 —

    Nothing excuses “stealth”, and to suggest means that you support unethical behavior. Ergo, you’re in no position to lecture ME on “hypocrisy” or any other trait.

    Dilapidation does not automatically make “housing” affordable. As many have seen, today’s condos oft become tomorry’s crask houses…

    Coleman has refused to make even ONE of his units affordable for a single ordinary person in Asheville’s workforce.

    Check your fact before you spew…

  3. Alan 7 —

    Nothing justifies “stealth';-)

    Dilapidation does not equate with affordability: Indeed, many have seen that today’s condos become tomorry’s crackhouses, oft leading to eventual razing of the property entire.

    Finally, Coleman has not designated a single unit to be affordable for an Asheville citizen in the workforce.

  4. travelah

    Dilapidation does not equate with affordability: Indeed, many have seen that today’s condos become tomorry’s crackhouses, oft leading to eventual razing of the property entire.

    It is highly unlikeley that such a desirable location would fall into a dilapidated statr (unless it was turned into a housing project). I am sure there are many Asheville citizens who could afford to live in those condos. It is unlikely most service industry workers could afford to. The reality is if you cannot afford to live here, you might have to move.

  5. You think people will pay half a million for a dilapidated condo? That’s batcrap insane!

  6. Travelah —

    “Many Asheville citizens” could NOT afford a Coleman condo, as he himself has admitted. This is why he has offered to “offset” his lack of planned affordable housing by donating money to a local org who aids such (not the same as providing it himself).

    Asheville’s main industries are tourism, service, and medical. Most of these could not afford a Coleman condo.

    At only 35 units as last count, condos would go to the elite wealthy only.

    Condos are well-known to be poorly constructed, which itself leads to quickl dilapidation, lawsuits by tenants and such…

  7. travelah

    Of course many Asheville citizens cannot afford these condos but many can. Many people cannot afford to live in Biltmore Forest yet the neighborhood is full of people living there and has been since the neighborhood was built.
    If poor construction is a problem for condo owners, then the lawsuits are their business. Surely you are not being an advocate for poor condo owners who might have disputes with the condo association?
    Don’t take this to mean I favor the construction at that site as I do not. I just find your objections to be specious. You simply have to come up with a better reason for your objections.

  8. Here’s this complete oxymoron again, unaffordable but dilapidated. Theres ABSOLUTELY NO WAY anything delapidated can possibly remain unaffordable.
    Personally I don’t think parkside will become dilapidated for quite some time, but in 30 years it could, and as soon as it does it WILL become affordable.
    Also Passion admits that medical is a big industry and doctors can likely afford parkside, even new, including the doctors that the NC mental health system is scrambling to find and hire.
    But that is not the main reason Lady Passion is killing people. The main reasons are because Parkside can set a precedent for other affordable highrises to follow and because by taking up the luxury market, Parkside can prevent affordable to luxury conversions like the Windsor and Interstate hotels.
    The zoners demonstrate a shockingly total ignorance of supply and demand and it’s effects on housing affordability, effects repeatedly acknowledged by AHC, AHOPE and MHO leadership.

  9. Travelah —

    No, I don’t “simply have to come up with a better reason for [my] objections [to Parkside]”, as I’ve written many above that are a matter of public record, have been previously printed in other newspapers, and vetted by the paper who printed it — concerns shared by hundreds in this town, mind you.

    Alan 7 —

    I agree with your assessment re: osymoron. Yes, lack of affordability on the one hand followed by dilapidation on the other IS the catch-22 whammy condos impose on those around them.

    Doctors are not average workers; they make more money than most, and hence do not represent a typical middle-class person in Asheville’s workforce.

    < >

    I am “killing” no one. Cease your hyperbole.

    Again, Parkside is not billed by its developer, not intended in any way to be, an “affordable” highrise. No matter how oft you try to label it so, you are erroneous.

    As for “luxury” markets, plenty of those abound in and near Asheville (i.e., gated communities, etc.).

    Folks who are pro-zoning are often so because they seek to reduce urban sprawl and unregulated, rapacious developers such as Coleman.

    So of course their focus in not on supply and demand, but rather slow, careful “growth”.

  10. travelah

    No, I don’t “simply have to come up with a better reason for [my] objections [to Parkside]”, as I’ve written many above that are a matter of public record, have been previously printed in other newspapers, and vetted by the paper who printed it — concerns shared by hundreds in this town, mind you.

    Newspapers don’t vet the veracity of opinions. They are simply noted as such. Of course, you do not have to come up with good, rational arguments for your objections although having opinions shared by hundreds sounds similar to the share of the demographic pie that Elaine Lite garnered in coming in last place in the recent elections.

    Where is it written that private housing investments are to be priced to allow the purchase by those in the 4th and 3rd economic quartile?

  11. Travelah —

    Actually, YES, newspaper editors vet Commentary’s for factual accuracy often — as in my case — to avoid legal lawsuit as a matter of course.

    Perhaps you realize that as clergy I was rightly forbidden by law to have nothing to do with Elaine’s campaign, so I clearly have no experience in this area with which to address whatever you;re trying to insinuate on that score?

    <

    In the human heart under the rubrik decency, equanimity, care, and fairness.

  12. travelah

    In the human heart under the rubrik decency, equanimity, care, and fairness.

    vs. the truth of the matter … Jer 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?

    Unfortunately, witchcraft’s ruminations about the heart do not go to the heart of the matter so to speak. Why would you desire to discriminate against those who are successful and prevent them from living in the heart of town? Whether it is this particular project (which really should be built elsewhere) or another project, the same tired objections keep surfacing.

    Since the lack of affordable housing is your objection to this project, could it be stated that you favor the construction of a public housing project there instead?

  13. Travelah —

    “Where is it written that private housing investments are to be priced to allow the purchase by those in the 4th and 3rd economic quartile?”

    It’s written in Asheville’s UDO, as has already been explained to you, and as appears in my Commentary above.

    Coleman’s the only one who’s discriminating against anyone (i.e., average workers). People’s “objections” to such may seem “tiresome” to you, but they are so because people’s desires are normally dismissed in similar patronizing fashion as you are doing in this forum.

    <

    Don’t reduce my objections to one, as I clearly have many (re-read Commentary).

    And no, the area is not residential, but public, and hence should not become residential. That said, Asheville does have a sore need for more afordable and public housing.

    Beyond building new things, it’d be nice if people could afford to retain their homes, and make habitable older homes as well in need of repair…

  14. travelah

    “Where is it written that private housing investments are to be priced to allow the purchase by those in the 4th and 3rd economic quartile?”

    It’s written in Asheville’s UDO, as has already been explained to you, and as appears in my Commentary above.

    From your letter above, the suggested out of compliance sections of the UDO are:

    Asheville’s Planning and Zoning Commission agreed that the 11-story building the developer originally planned violated three out of seven criteria needed to satisfy the Unified Development Ordinance—specifically, Nos. 2, 3 and 4 found in section 7-16-2(c).

    The passages you claim require selling to the 4th and 3rd economic quartile state nothing concerning this as follows:

    (2) That the proposed use or development of the land is reasonably compatible with significant natural and topographic features on the site and within the immediate vicinity of the site given the proposed site design and any mitigation techniques or measures proposed by the applicant;
    (3) That the proposed use or development of the land will not substantially injure the value of adjoining or abutting property;
    (4) That the proposed use or development of the land will be in harmony with the scale, bulk, coverage, density, and character of the area or neighborhood in which it is located

    It appears you were blowing smoke.

  15. Passion is killing people as directly as most mob hit orders. That is FACT!
    Zoning CAUSES sprawl and Parkside will prevent it. If there were “Plenty of those” luxury markets around, the Windsor would never have been converted to serve them, and its tenants would STILL BE ALIVE! That death is ON YOUR HEAD!

  16. I made the mistake of opposing the proposed Grove Park highrise on the NW corner of the plaza on the basis on no bids, but the lot was never re bid so no mixed income or affordable housing was ever built there. So NEVER AGAIN!

    If newly hired state psychiatrists live at Parkside, they can observe their own outpatients out the windows right from their living rooms!

  17. William P Miller

    Parkside is an illegal travesty that should be quashed by any means necessary. I am loathe to support eminent domain, except under special circumstances. This is a special circumstance. That land was illegally sold by toady developer useful idiots on the Buncombe Board of Supervisors. (Can you say democrats Peterson and Stanley?) That land is part of the parcel FOREVER given to the people of Buncombe County and Asheville by the Pack family long ago. I say, seize the land back. Dont pay the Florida developer Coleman jack, and make it part of the park renovation project.

  18. Travelah —

    I was referring to the fact that contrary to the UDO’s encouragement of all develolpers to include some affordable housing in their projects, Coleman has refused to make even a token gesture of reserving even a single unit to house an ordinary citizen in the workforce.

    Alan 7 —

    Continue your hyperbole and your risk being expunged from this list.

    William Miller —

    Agree!

  19. travelah

    I was referring to the fact that contrary to the UDO’s encouragement of all develolpers to include some affordable housing in their projects, Coleman has refused to make even a token gesture of reserving even a single unit to house an ordinary citizen in the workforce.

    The UDO does not require developers to provide housing for the 4th and 3rd economic quartiles. If you disagree, then post the provision as nothing of the sort was presented in the provisions of the UDO that you referenced. Not adhering to an encouragement is not an out-of-compliance issue. Aside from that, perhaps you can post the encouragement itself from the UDO?

    Additionally, lets look at each of the cited provisions again.

    (2) That the proposed use or development of the land is reasonably compatible with significant natural and topographic features on the site and within the immediate vicinity of the site given the proposed site design and any mitigation techniques or measures proposed by the applicant;

    From the architech drawings and surrounding building uses, it appears that Coleman’s project is well within the scope of this provision.

    3) That the proposed use or development of the land will not substantially injure the value of adjoining or abutting property;

    Since this is an upper end project, economically, it can only improve adjoining property values.

    (4) That the proposed use or development of the land will be in harmony with the scale, bulk, coverage, density, and character of the area or neighborhood in which it is located

    Given it is in an area of urban density and proximate to existing condominium projects in an area not predominantly populated with single family homes, it appears it complies with this as well. I think it is fair to state that the Asheville Planning & Zoning Commission caved to political interests rather than zoning regulations and the UDO. Now all that is not to say I favor the project as I do not but if it is to be stopped at all, the people in a position to do so better start coming up with better reasons than they are submitting so far.

    I think the easiest solution here is eminent domain serving a greater public interest. This is one of those rare reasaons when it makes some sense outside of highway and utility projects.

  20. William P Miller

    Thank you for the article Lady Passion. Why there is even disagreement on this is beyond me. It is so cut and dried. Send Coleman back to Florida without a penny in his pocket, and take that land back!

  21. Travelah —

    < >

    I never wrote that it did; re-read my comment; it CLEARLY says “encourages”, dude, not “requires”.

    < >

    No, I personally consider Coleman’s refusal to abide by UDO encouragement to provide workforce housing as a human failure, a lack of compassion, and an orvert sign of his arrogance toward anyone but himself and his wealthy ilk.

    <

    It’s posted online. Read it for yourself.

    re: UDO specifics debate. #2). No. Coleman proposes a residential building, and no other buildings nearby are residential, but governmental.

    3). No. Council and citizens contest Coleman because he’s trying to put personal gain above the common good (valuable public parkland in front of public governmetnal buildings).

    Coleman’s construction injures PSC plans to fix City/County Plaza; Parkside blocks mountain views and butts into the Vance view corridor, harming City Hall. A proposed (now dropped but likely to be pushed again) street fronting Parkside would harm existing parkland.

    < >

    No, Planning & Zoning noted Coleman’s violations of 2,3, and 4 UDO Level III rules (I and my mate gave them) as its reasons why it failed to pass Coleman’s proposal.

    It’s always wrong to characterize citizen involvement as “political interest”, for A). it is, and citizen involvement is a cornerstone of any supposed democracy, and B). Developers have long pushed their agenda on an unwilling public, so turn-about’s simply fair play here.

    < >

    I and others have done a great job explaining to the Powers That Be the myriad things wrong with Parkside.

    You think you can do better? Get off yer bum and prove it instead of kvetching at the rest of us who’ve dared and succeeded thus far ;-)

    < >

    Eminent domain is one way to go, but so is putting a conservation easement on the property, annexing it, buying it back, etc., etc.

    You’d know this if you ever went to any of the meetings involving Parkside ;-)

    William Miller —

    < >

    Agreed, but for every such issue, there’s always at least one CONTRARIAN who just likes to listen to his own words rather than cooler, saner heads, eh?

  22. William P Miller

    Lady Passion, some things are just plain flatout clear.Florida developers sucking up prime real estate because of politician graft and corruption is just so clear. Power to the people!

  23. William P Miller

    JMAC, you’d know. Probably a friend of yours. If what you say is true, he is worse than an out of state Florida developer, because he would be ruining his own hometown for a greasy made dollar.

  24. William —

    Sadly, Coleman IS an Asheville native.

    He’s the son of “Pokey” Coleman who built the Asheville Mall and put downtown out of business for decades. :-(

    Like father, like son?

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