Workers armed with cordless drills and a boom last week took down the massive white letters and the deep-red background of the Merrimon Avenue Staples store sign to replace it with a version about half the size of the original. The changes are the latest chapter in a years-long battle between city residents and Asheville City Council over the city’s enforcement and interpretation of its Unified Development Ordinance.
The city, which initially approved the sign three years ago, based its decision on the idea that the ordinance’s size limitations only applied to the letters—not to the background of the sign, as opponents contended. After much debate, Mayor Terry Bellamy traveled to Staples’ headquarters in Framingham, Mass., last September and brokered what she hailed as a compromise. Staples offered up its proposed design changes during a Jan. 28 press conference.
“I think we got to a place where community members were pretty happy,” Bellamy said last week.
The city and the office supply company announced that the signs on the Merrimon Avenue and Interstate 240 sides of the building would be reduced by about 45 percent, and that column rockwork on the building’s corners would be added to soften its appearance. The company also said the lower portion of the building would be outfitted with a metal lattice, or “green screen,” to allow vegetation to grow up the sides.
The changes will cost between $75,000 and $100,000, according to Staples spokeswoman Amy Shanler, who said all the work, including the landscaping, will be complete in about two more weeks.
“We really feel proud of the solution,” Shanler said. “We feel good about it because we’re able to show cooperation, compromise, while maintaining visibility from street-level, which is important to us.”
Neighbors and residents upset about the situation have had mixed reactions. Some have been pleased, while others have been more skeptical. Joe Minicozzi, immediate past president of the Coalition of Asheville Neighborhoods, the residents group that’s tussled with the city over enforcement of its zoning laws, said “it’s sad to see that following the law has become newsworthy.” Minicozzi said he wants an update on the other unresolved compliance issue right across the street from Staples on Merrimon. “Why hasn’t Greenlife done anything to come into compliance, and where is their submission” to the city?”
Visit www.mountainx.com/gallery to see a photo gallery of the sign changes.