Magnolia on notice; activists gear up for civil disobedience

An Aug. 6 letter from developer Stewart Coleman to protesters beneath a magnolia tree at the heart of the Parkside controversy effectively gave notice that Coleman plans to cut the tree down sometime after 35 days from that date.

Made in the shade: Dixie Deerman, aka Lady Passion, speaks at a press conference held in response to developer Stewart Coleman’s letter saying he will remove the magnolia tree at some point after 35 days pass. Photo By Jonathan Welch

The notification, hand-delivered to demonstrator Steve Rasmussen by Coleman himself, has amplified calls for city and county leaders to use their powers of eminent domain to reclaim the parcel of parkland sold to Coleman in 2006.

“There is nothing left but eminent domain,” said Elaine Lite, one of several activists who spoke before a crowd of about 50 people at an Aug. 7 press conference held at the site.

Coleman’s letter states his intent to apply for a demolition permit to tear down the adjacent Hayes and Hopson building and to remove the tree. In response, Rasmussen and other demonstrators held a press conference declaring their intent to hold a “Direct Action Workshop” to train potential protesters for upcoming demonstrations. However, the group was vague on just what actions they had in mind.

“Coleman’s not revealing all of his strategies, so the less we say about that, the better,” said Dixie Deerman, who has been part of a round-the-clock sit-in beneath the magnolia tree.

Since the sale of the parkland by Buncombe County came to light, Asheville City Council and the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners have each repeatedly appealed to the other body to find a resolution to the issue.

Coleman told Xpress that he drafted the letter as part of a promise he made to demonstrators when he met with them in July. Responding to charges that he may cut the tree under darkness of night, Coleman told the group he would not do so without notice.

“I gave [Rasmussen] my word that I would give him no less than 35 days notice,” Coleman said. “I’m honoring my word.”

As for the hand delivery, Coleman said he had no address for the demonstrators, and “I couldn’t give it to the post office and address it to ‘The People Sitting Under the Tree.’”

Despite the political stigma associated with eminent domain, Deerman said that, in this case, invoking the measure to reclaim the land for the public is appropriate.

“The voters are far wiser than elected officials give them credit for,” Deerman said while reading from a prepared statement. “They can and do easily distinguish between ‘good’ eminent domain and ‘bad’ eminent domain.”

For updates on direct actions at the magnolia, go to www.stopparkside.org.

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