The battle over a controversial proposed condo building on formerly public parkland has officially ended, as a representative of developer Stewart Coleman informed city staff on Oct. 8 that he is withdrawing the proposed Parkside project so that he can open a tavern in the Hayes & Hopson Building.
"We would like to withdraw the permit for the Level II project so that we may proceed with construction under the permit … for the restaurant uplift," reads a letter from Ross Franklin of S.B. Coleman Construction to Assistant Planning Director Shannon Tuch. To build Parkside, Coleman would have torn down the Hayes & Hopson Building and combined its site with the piece of disputed parkland.
The letter puts a quiet end to the fight over the controversial condominium project that involved a (still ongoing) lawsuit, protests, petition drives and calls for both city and county governments to stop the project.
Coleman announced in early August that he would renovate the 1890s-era Hayes & Hopson Building as a tavern and restaurant. He also declared that "Parkside is on hold for the time being, but that doesn't mean it's dead."
But on Aug. 12, the city informed Coleman that he could keep a permit for Parkside or for the tavern, but not both. City rules allow only one open permit per property. The letter makes it clear that Coleman's company has chosen to pursue the tavern over the planned nine-story condominium.
"I have nothing to say," Coleman told Xpress about the withdrawal of his Parkside plans. "What we're thinking about now is retail, food and beverage instead of wholesale condominiums."
The controversy began in 2006, when the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners quietly sold an alleyway and a piece of public parkland to Coleman without a public hearing. It turned out, however, that the public had plenty to say about the move, with critics of the project accusing the commissioners of making a back-room deal for the developer's benefit. Then-Commissioner (now Chair) David Gantt announced that "we screwed up" by making the sale.
Protests formed around a magnolia tree that Coleman would have cut down. The heirs of George Pack, the philanthropist who donated the land to the county in the early 20th century, hit Coleman and the county with a lawsuit asserting that the sale was illegal. Activists petitioned both the commissioners and Asheville City Council to seize the property through eminent domain. Buying the land back from Coleman — or a land swap — was also considered.
Some of those activists are celebrating the news.
"We're thrilled," exclaimed Dixie Deerman, one of the protesters who participated in a vigil under the threatened magnolia tree. "We're glad he's done the right thing."
Preservation of the Hayes & Hopson building was likewise a happy outcome, she said, but the fact that the Parkside project got so far along indicated that the city's development rules need an overhaul.
Local preservationist Bill Wescott was similarly pleased.
"This is really good news," he said, both of halting Parkside and preserving Hayes & Hopson. "Back in May, we [Wescott and two other preservationists] took Coleman on a tour of the building and tried to convince him it was worth saving. This [the tavern] is a good use of that space. The building is a solid example of a certain type of before-the-turn-of-the-century architecture."
In September 2008, the Parkside project ran into its first major roadblock when Superior Court Judge Marlene Hyatt ruled in favor of the Pack heirs. While the ruling left the land in Coleman's hands, it declared that the parkland must remain in public use — meaning no condos. Coleman, though not the county, appealed the decision.
Now, however, Coleman has decided to go in a different direction — at least for the time being. Ironically, considering that the lawsuit filed by Pack's heirs played a key role in halting Parkside, he's calling his new bar Pack's Tavern.