Early on in my life, someone told me that there was no problem that couldn’t be solved if you asked the right questions. That advice has come to mind when evaluating what to do about the Parkside condominium project.
Anytime a subject so controversial and divisive faces the community, I think we are all torn as to what is best for everyone. We ask ourselves what is the “right” thing to do, the “wrong” thing to do, the “fair” thing and even the “principled” thing to do. The question that is not being asked is, “What is the good thing to do?” Currently, our Buncombe County commissioners have aske our Asheville City Council to explore trading land with Mr. Coleman to resolve the situation. What’s good about that idea?
Many people in our community want to see a 150-year-old magnolia tree protected, conserved and preserved. I agree. Doing that is a “good” thing, and the land swap would accomplish that.
Arguably, this property exchange is very good business. It would necessitate the closing or re-routing of Marjorie Street, but even that is a good thing. Doing so would increase the city’s buildable frontage on the park from 35 feet to 135 feet—vastly improving the value and utility of the land we, as citizens, own behind and adjacent to City Hall.
Furthermore, the Asheville Area Center for the Performing Arts has tentative plans to locate a new performing-arts center on that property. If realized, our new performing-arts center would immediately front on one of the best outdoor-music venues in Western North Carolina: the new Pack Square Park. This would greatly increase the center’s usefulness and desirability.
Keeping our word is a very good thing. Currently, both the city and county have a contractual obligation with the Pack Square Conservancy that commits us, in part, to enforcing the design guidelines established for the park and to acquiring property deemed necessary for the park. The land swap would accomplish both.
Those same design-review guidelines show all of the magnolia-tree property and a portion of the Hayes & Hopson Building parcel as part of the park. The property exchange secures both parcels, while minimizing the financial impact on our taxpayers and allowing a building to be built that fully conforms to the guidelines. (By the way, the design guidelines also show Marjorie Street as being either closed or re-routed.) Finally, the design-review guidelines have publicly stated since 2003 that the city, the county and the Pack Square Conservancy were willing to have a building built in the vicinity of the park.
Avoiding and resolving lawsuits is also a good thing. The heirs of George Pack are currently in litigation over the sale of the magnolia-tree property. Exchanging this parcel should resolve and reconcile any issues concerning the “spirit” of Pack’s original gift to the public. Furthermore, if the current owner isn’t willing to sell these parcels, the community is faced with the costly and untimely remedy of an eminent-domain action—which is undesirable and unnecessary.
Since the founding of our Constitution, the twin principles of good government have been advancing and promoting the general welfare of our community while protecting and preserving individual citizens’ rights, liberties and property. Exchanging these parcels conforms to those principles: Community goals and benefits are advanced while Mr. Coleman’s rights as a citizen of this community are protected. That is the essence of good government.
Finally, this is pretty good politics. Clearly, our City Council is not the “bad guy” in this situation. Our county commissioners made the error of selling the magnolia-tree property in the first place, but an error does not become a mistake until you do nothing to correct it. Our county commissioners have swallowed their pride and asked the city to help them. Given the recent history of controversy between the city and county, that could not have been easy to do. Now our City Council is in the position to be the “good guys” in this controversy. This presents an incredible opportunity to see our two local governments acting as one to resolve a community problem.
More than 150 years ago, the French political thinker and historian Alexis de Tocqueville wrote a book titled Democracy in America. In it, de Tocqueville observed, “The genius of Americans is their ability to compromise.”
True compromise is born of strength, not weakness. We have always had the capacity and disposition to rise above our differences and craft solutions to our problems based on mutual respect, mutual benefit and a spirit of good will. When we do so, it binds our community together instead of tearing it apart. That is a very good thing, and we all need to be working together to achieve this now.
[Dwight Butner owns Vincenzo’s Ristorante and serves on the boards of the Asheville Downtown Association, the Asheville Lyric Opera and the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce, as well as on the Asheville Downtown Commission. The opinions expressed here are his own and do not represent those groups.]