A plan to convert a former Lexington Avenue clothing shop into a café caught some people's attention last week when the property's landlord had two 30-year-old trees cut down to open up an adjacent courtyard.
The courtyard may be best known as a shady hideaway that once served as the entrance to the popular Vincent's Ear coffee house and live music space. With its big iron gate and tall trees, it also served as a little park along one of Asheville's most indelible city streets.
On Oct. 8, two trees were cut down, the gate was dismantled and two local businessmen explained why. Anoop Krishnan, the owner of Mela, said he plans to put a café into the space next door to his Indian restaurant. The space, formerly occupied by a locally owned clothing store, will be remodeled into a café with outdoor seating, Krishnan says.
Asheville city building codes require the courtyard area next to the storefront to be lowered several inches to comply with federal handicapped access regulations, according to Krishnan. That meant taking out the trees and their roots, which have entangled underground utility lines and pose a hazard, he said.
"We don't have a choice" about taking the trees out, Krishnan said, noting that his plan is to "re-slope and replant" trees and plants in the courtyard. The tree removal also exposed an old, nearly faded Coca-Cola advertisement painted on the brick exterior of an adjacent building. That advertisement will be restored to look as it once did, Krishnan said.
Property owner John Lantzius, who visited the site after the trees had been removed, said he cherishes the trees, which he planted some three decades ago. But he said the time had come for them to come down.
"It looked a little shabby, actually," Lantzius said. "We're making it more open and an improved space for people to use. It's much more open and light."
Lantzius said he was surprised at some of the negative comments from passersby who watched a chain saw-wielding crewman chop down the 40-foot tall trees, adding: "But I also appreciate that people care that much about Asheville."
Kitty Love, a tattoo artist at the Liquid Dragon tattoo shop located at the back of the courtyard, said she was sad to see the trees go.
"I don't love it, but I'm not going to slit my wrists over it," Love said. "I just think it would be a shame to see all the shade go away. This courtyard has a lot of charm. I think it creates a really nice atmosphere when you come to our business."