Pack Square board gets presentation on controversial project

Developer Stewart Coleman, together with five of his business associates, presented plans for his proposed ParkSide building to the Pack Square Conservancy Board at its regular meeting on Oct. 3. Charlotte architect Mark Fishero, lead designer of the high-rise, narrated a PowerPoint presentation of the design. The Conservancy must approve all new construction or renovation of properties that front on Roger McGuire Green (formerly known as City/County Plaza) or Pack Square.

Here’s the plan: An illustration of the proposed ParkSide building, which would reside next to City/County Plaza.

The 11-story building would be constructed on property that is the subject of a lawsuit filed Sept. 30 by heirs of George Willis Pack, who conveyed land to the county in two deeds executed in 1901 (See “A Friend in Deed,” Sept. 5 Xpress). One of those deeds stipulated that if the land was ever sold for private use it would revert to Pack family ownership. The county sold land to Coleman last year and maintains its right to do so was based on the second deed, which may have removed the covenants included in the first. Pack’s heirs are seeking enforcement of the first deed and have stated their intent to preserve the land for public use.

At the outset of the meeting, Conservancy Executive Director Marilyn Geiselman reported that the board had issued a statement to all parties which read, in part, “By initiating design review we are not granting any approval of the project.” She indicated that this was just one step in the formal process that is going forward without regard to other issues surrounding the site.

Fishero’s presentation included a proposed land swap in which Coleman would give up 3,256 square feet of property in front of its proposed building in exchange for an additional 171 square feet of property close to Asheville City Hall. The parcel Coleman purchased from the county is oddly shaped, and the small triangle he is now seeking would permit construction of a rectangular structure closer to the city building. The proposed building would include three floors of parking (all of which would be below the park grade), retail space fronting on the park, and nine floors of residential units. There is some confusion about the number of floors because the penthouse units are referred to as the tenth floor of the building, but both units are two-story condominiums, making 11 floors in all.

Fishero emphasized the proposed structure’s conformity to Conservancy design guidelines, including features that tend to break the building into distinct visual blocks at street level and mid- and upper-level sections, with strong vertical shifts and windows and balconies that also move the building away from a monolithic appearance.

Following the presentation, Xpress addressed a question to Coleman concerning the proposed design. “Your high-rise at 21 Battery Park doesn’t bear close resemblance to the original artist’s drawing of that building. How can you assure the community that the finished structure at ParkSide will look like the drawings presented today?”

Coleman replied, “I can’t comment on that.”

The Conservancy Board will hold one or more informal work sessions in coming weeks to evaluate the ParkSide proposal. Such meetings will be open to the public. Following evaluation, Geiselman said the board may approve, disapprove or request changes to the plan. Dates and times of those sessions are have not yet been announced.

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About Cecil Bothwell
A writer for Mountain Xpress since three years before there WAS an MX--back in the days of GreenLine. Former managing editor of the paper, founding editor of the Warren Wilson College environmental journal, Heartstone, member of the national editorial board of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, publisher of Brave Ulysses Books, radio host of "Blows Against the Empire" on WPVM-LP 103.5 FM, co-author of the best selling guide Finding your way in Asheville. Lives with three cats, macs and cacti. His other car is a canoe. Paints, plays music and for the past five years has been researching and soon to publish a critical biography--Billy Graham: Prince of War:

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5 thoughts on “Pack Square board gets presentation on controversial project

  1. Barry Summers

    Thank you Cecil, but there’s at least one thing that you didn’t mention here. The architect can
    emphasize all he wants, but there are at least two Guidelines that this building would violate. The proposed building is a solid three stories taller than the Guidelines allow, nor are there the massing setbacks that are specifically called for.

    And the “land swap” that the developer is counting on to build this building? It essentially “gives” the responsibility for landscaping, road-building, and patio maintenance in front of this second-home for millionaires to the City, in return for the “right” to remove even more park land from public use. Look at the illustration: the extra green space acquired when the roads were removed is erased (and then some) to put a driveway in to this private development. And all of this smack dab inside the park that the Conservancy hails as “a beautiful and delightful space that speaks eloquently of the land and its people.” That space is being handed over to wealthy outsiders, and you can say goodbye to all that high-sounding talk about the park belonging to all Asheville. Look at that illustration again. Your park is being converted to a front lawn for a privileged few.

    How many people remember how the failed Grove Park Inn proposal went? The Conservancy and the City voiced all sorts of concern over hearing from the public, and developing guidelines that all buildings within the park had to conform, etc., but when a wealthy developer came along, all that went out the window. Practically every one of the Pack Square Design Guidelines would have been violated if the GPI building had been built as proposed, yet the Conservancy still became a cheerleader for the project.

    The only way this thing will be stopped is if every concerned citizen speaks up and demands that it be stopped. The Downtown Commission (meeting this Friday), the Conservancy, City Council (including all the candidates), and the County all need to hear from us. Don’t count on the Pack family lawsuit to save the day.

  2. hauntedheadnc

    While the project is a shady deal and should be investigated much more closely, I do not get what the fuss is about there being residents right on the square. What’s better — that, or the parking lot that takes up most of what’s on the land now? Take aim at this project, but not because of that. There’s nothing wrong with tall buildings, and nothing wrong with building residential buildings on the square. What is wrong with this particular project is that it breaks the rules and the land for it was acquired under by peculiar means. That, and it will require the demolition of the Hayes-Hopson Building, which is not a significant building by any means, but it’s too much when taken together with the other two buildings downtown slated to fall for either development or surface parking.

  3. Barry Summers

    Just a quick report on the Downtown Commission meeting today – First: the city staff liaison to the Commission, Alan Glines, said that the developer’s lawyers had just sent a letter requesting that the Commission NOT use the Pack Square Design Guidelines while considering their proposal. Not surprising, since…Second: they circulated the report from the Conservancy Design Review of the Parkside Condominiums. The official verdict:

    “The proposed building facade is approximately 45′ into the public space.”

    “The placement of the building creates a lack of balance to the public space. The building is pushed into the space and given its size dominates the plaza and visually overwhelms City Hall.”

    “The placement of the proposed building partially obstructs the view of City Hall and completely obstructs views of the mountains to the right of City Hall.”

    “The location of the building does not comply with the design guidelines.”

    “The building appears to be a bit taller than is permitted under the design guidelines.” (a bit? try three stories.)

    The consternation over this legal gambit by the developer to prevent the Commission from using this damning appraisal by the Conservancy led them to vote to delay reviewing the Parkside condos. This will come up again at a future meeting.

    A side note: City Council member Jan Davis recused himself from the Parkside discussion because this will come up before Council later. Commission member Dwight Butner however, after acknowledging that he is running for Council and has received a sizable ($1000) donation from the developer in question, asserted his intention to vote on the proposal nonetheless.

  4. Barry Summers

    Clarification:

    The issue of the Pack heirs lawsuit and the developer not yet owning all the land he intends to build on also played a role in the Commission voting to wait.

    Update:

    It appears that since the Conservancy review is not looking good for Mr. Coleman, the developer’s legal argument is now: “oh sure, MAYBE that property was once subject to review by the Pack Square Conservancy, but since the County sold it to me without telling the Conservancy or the Pack family heirs, it no longer IS park land, so let me build whatever I want there.”

  5. Barry Summers

    Just one more update: look at that illustration again; I went down to the site with the developers blueprint & a copy of this picture. They do not conform – see the middle vertical line of windows on City Hall on the left of this picture? That’s where the facade line of the Parkside building actually hits City Hall. The illustration makes it appear that the front of the condos are in line with the side of City Hall. Not so! This building is 45 feet farther forward than this illustration leads you to believe. Watch for more of this kind of thing. We saw it with the Grove Park Inn condominium fiasco a few years ago.

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