Buzzworm news briefs

Civic Center task force wraps up mandate

The Asheville Civic Center Task Force will gather for its potentially final meeting on Wednesday, March 15, to try to place the last large piece into the puzzle on their table.

Following a mandate from City Council to produce two recommendations for the Civic Center’s future, the task force picked two options on Feb. 1 and will consider additional information about those options March 15. In particular, they will discuss possible locations for a new, separate arena, as called for in the option based on the nonprofit Asheville Area Center for the Performing Arts’ proposal. That plan calls for construction of a new performing-arts center inside the footprint of the existing arena.

The second option chosen by the task force followed the outline of the 2001 Heery Report, which was commissioned by the city and called for renovation of the existing arena and construction of a new performing arts hall at the rear of the current building.

Since Feb. 1, a city-staff committee has been exploring location possibilities for a new arena — a project which, according to staff liaison Sasha Vrtunski, would require approximately 23 acres in order to include the cheaper option of surface parking (as opposed to building a parking deck). Twenty-one potential sites were identified, and those that do not offer favorable topography, traffic access and other critical factors are now being cut. The remaining options will be the primary topic of discussion March 15.

“There’s still a big selling job to do,” Jan Davis, City Council member and task-force chair, told Xpress regarding the momentum needed to move one of the two chosen options forward on Council’s agenda. “One thing that makes that a little more doable: I think the public is really expecting something to come from this process.”

Either option, Davis noted, would require the support of both Buncombe County and the area’s legislators. “I don’t think the city taxpayers, on their own shoulders, can afford this,” he said.

Bill Stanley, task-force member and Buncombe County commissioner, thinks the county will step up to the plate. “I believe the county will support the option [that was] the task force’s first choice,” Stanley told the Xpress, referring to the separate-arena proposal. He had voiced the same opinion at the Feb. 1 meeting: “I can only speak for Bill, but I can whip two of ’em,” he said then, referring to gaining majority support of the five-member county commission.

“We have received an enormous outpouring of community support for our proposal,” says Sidney Powell, chair of AACPC and member of the task force. “Hopefully our City Council will see all of the benefits … [and] vote to proceed with the public-private partnership to get this done.”

But Davis suggests that Council itself may step outside the two recommended options. “It seems they want a third position,” Davis said. “I’m hearing there’s a willingness [and] desire to do something, [but] they’re having real trouble getting their hands around a $105-million project.”

For now, however, the task force will finalize their recommendations and end their current schedule of sessions March 15. What happens after that, said Davis, will be up to Council. “They may end the task force’s life at that point, but then they also could say, ‘OK, you’ve done this, [now] develop this coalition of stakeholders.’

“We’ve kind of narrowed the demands of the community — how people use the building; what their desires are,” Davis said of the task force’s work. “Do we have anything more than we did three months ago? I don’t know. Not from lack of desire.”

The public is welcome to attend the task force meeting, which convenes at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 15, in the Civic Center Banquet Hall.

— Nelda Holder

The Mickey movie

Since his failed campaign for mayor of Asheville in 2001, Mickey Mahaffey has wandered a good bit beyond the city’s limits to Mexico’s Copper Canyon. There he has established a strong relationship with the Tarahumara people, who live at the bottom of the canyon, helping with community projects and participating in religious and cultural rituals.

In April, an Asheville-based film crew will record his participation in the Tarahumara’s Semana Santa (Easter) celebration — a 24-hour dance ritual in which Mahaffey and men from the tribe will paint their bodies black and play the role of diablos (devils). The dance culminates with the diablos storming the church door, only to be rejected. They then burn an effigy of Judas. (For the past four years, Mahaffey reports, the Tarahumara have adorned the effigy with a hat bearing the name George W. Bush.)

The planned movie will be made by filmmaker Rod Murphy, who’s best known locally for Rank Strangers, a documentary about Nelia Hyatt‘s weekly bluegrass jams — a Brevard Road tradition since 1956 (see “Strangers No More,” Oct. 19 Xpress). That film was first screened at the 2005 Asheville Film Festival.

Murphy’s company, 6;14 Films, will hold a screening and fund-raiser for the Tarahumara film at the West End Bakery on Thursday, March 9, from 7:30 to 9 p.m. While the company plans to show trailers for three films, the main purpose of the event is to introduce “the Mickey project,” which is tentatively titled Wander Down.

For more information, contact Mahaffey at 551-4436, or 6;14 Films at 225-5942.

— Cecil Bothwell

This land is your land (for now)

Since the Bush Administration unveiled its plan to auction off a total of more than a quarter million acres of national forestland, including almost 10,000 acres in North Carolina, the telephone at Asheville’s USDA Forest Service office has been “ringing off the hook,” according to spokesperson Terry Seyden.

“Half the people are mad at us, saying they just can’t believe that National Forest lands would be sold,” Seyden says. “Meanwhile, the other half — realtors, adjacent landowners and such — are saying, ‘Hey listen, when are they going to become available?’ People were evidently under the impression that the lands had already gone up for sale, but we’re a long way from that point.”

Before going to Congress for approval, the plan must first undergo a 30-day public-comment period, which began Feb. 28 and runs until March 30. Designed to provide funding for rural schools and road repair, the proposal designates 300,000 acres for potential sale in parcels ranging from half an acre to more than 1,000 acres. In North Carolina, this includes parcels located in the Pisgah, Nantahala, Uhwarrie and Croatan National Forests.

Maps of the parcels can be accessed online (at www.fs.fed.us) or viewed in person at the Forest Service office located at 160A Zillicoa Street in Asheville, just off the UNCA exit on Interstate 240.

According to Seyden, the selected lands are isolated from large contiguous forest patches, difficult to manage and maintain, and of no outstanding resource value.

The Forest Service is not the only office in town experiencing heavier phone traffic since the land-sale proposal was announced. The Asheville-based Southern Appalachian Forest Coalition, for example, has heard from many alarmed individuals. Hugh Irwin, conservation planner for the nonprofit, argues that some of the lands do have important conservation value. “Along the Little Tennessee River, a huge effort — through the Clean Water Trust Fund and the Land Trust for Little Tennessee — was put into acquiring lands for conservation purposes, and selling nearby tracts as proposed would run counter to conservation efforts,” he says. Irwin also points out that selling tracts located in what he calls the “wild land/urban interface” would essentially open up more opportunities for development and sprawl.

Likewise, Chris Joyell of the Southern Appalachian Biodiversity Project notes that the proposal has received criticism as a short-sighted measure that would provide a temporary funding source to rural schools in exchange for permanent loss of natural heritage. Beyond that, Joyell fears that the proposal constitutes a “long-sighted” plan. “The revenue from the land sales will only fund the rural schools program for five years,” he explains. “What they’re proposing after the five years is a return to a previous policy where rural counties would receive 25 percent of timber receipts. In order to meet current funding levels, they would have to ramp up timber sales, which means a return to a level of logging not seen since the clear-cutting era of the 1980s.

“When you look at everything else that’s happening in Congress, it makes sense,” says Joyell, citing proposed amendments to the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act that would lay the groundwork for escalating timber extraction from public lands. “You can see all the pieces fitting together.”

To submit a public comment, send an e-mail to SRS_Land_Sales@fs.fed.us; send a fax to (202) 205-1604; or mail a letter to USDA Forest Service, SRS Comments, Lands 4S, 1400 Independence Ave., SW Mailstop 1124, Washington, DC 20250-0003. All comments must be submitted by March 30.

— Rebecca Bowe and Jon Elliston

Terror’s toll on rights

The post-9/11 environment has made the world less safe, and the war on terror hasn’t done a lot for human rights, either, argues UNCA Professor Mark Gibney. That’s a key theme for his upcoming lecture, “Human Rights in a Time of Terrorism,” scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 14, the UNCA Reuter Center.

Gibney, the Belk Distinguished Professor of Humanities and Political Science and director of the UNCA Human Rights Center, says he will look at the post 9/11 world and how it has impacted human-rights protections.

Gibney says that most people attending the lecture will already know the things he will discuss. But by presenting a comprehensive look at the issue that follows a linear track from Sept. 11 to today, the talk should foster discussion and keep people engaged. This is vital, he says, in light of the slew of rights abuses that are reported in the media but are routinely deflected by the Bush Administration or quickly supplanted by other news stories.

Gibney, a respected international human-rights expert and the author, most recently, of Five Uneasy Pieces: American Ethics in a Globalized World (Rowman & Littlefield, 2004), will focus his talk on four key areas: The immediate reaction after 9/11, including the roundup of Middle Eastern men and the passage of the USA Patriot Act; torture, including the prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay and the “extraordinary renditions” of terror suspects to countries that practice torture; the National Security Agency’s eavesdropping program; and remedies, or lack thereof, to human-rights abuses.

“What does international law say, if anything, about preventing these kinds of actions? I would admit international law is pretty weak in terms of enforcement,” Gibney says. At the same time, he will be discussing the cases of two innocent Egyptian men who were detained and recently received monetary settlements from the United States, and other recent developments and court battles that indicate there are ways to protect human rights in a topsy-turvy time.

Gibney’s talk is part of the 2006 Great Decisions Lecture series and is sponsored by the World Affairs Council of WNC in association with the WNC chapter of the United Nations Association, the N.C. Center for Creative Retirement and UNCA. Previous lectures have covered Turkey, Iran, India and alternative sources of energy.

Can’t make the lecture? No worry: Gibney will repeat his presentation at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, March 15, at the First Congregational Church of Hendersonville; at 3 p.m. the same day at Brevard College’s McLarty-Goodson Building; and at 2 p.m. on Thursday, March 16, at Isothermal Community College in Columbus. The cost is $5 per lecture, and tickets will be available at the door.

For more information about the lecture series or the World Affairs Council of WNC, call 254-2027 or visit www.main.nc.us/wac.

— Hal Millard

Interpreting the rules

Breaking new ground on two fronts, Asheville’s Planning and Zoning Commission addressed the proposal for a West Asheville Wal-Mart Supercenter at its regular meeting on March 1.

The proposed mega-store would displace some 200 adults and children in the Monticello mobile home community on Cooper Boulevard, the majority of whom are Hispanic. For the benefit of more than a dozen Spanish-speaking residents in the standing-room-only crowd, the hearing was conducted with simultaneous translation, a first for the body. Two translators tag-teamed through the four-hour public hearing and ensuing discussion by the board, both to inform the Spanish speakers in the audience and to translate citizen comments into English for commission members.

An equally novel aspect of the hearing was that this was the first use of conditional zoning for a Level III project in Asheville. Until the state-approved and city-adopted conditional zoning last year, such projects were evaluated for conditional use. The difference is important because, under “use” rules, P&Z and City Council were required to approve or reject projects and plans based on seven strictly defined parameters dictated by the Unified Development Ordinance. Under conditional zoning, the government has latitude to make other demands on developers as a quid pro quo for approval.

Speaking for Wal-Mart, Public Affairs Manager Tara Stewart told commission members that the store would employ 450 to 500 workers and that the average pay rate for Wal-Mart’s hourly jobs in North Carolina is $10.25 per hour.

Speaking for a group of anti-Wal-Mart activists, E.J. Schofield suggested that a more appropriate picture of the proffered jobs would be the median income.

Stewart told Xpress that she could not provide median-income information, nor information about the wage range for hourly workers, because such numbers are considered proprietary. She did insist that the average she had given did not include salaried employees.

While other spokespersons for Wal-Mart directed much of their testimony to the plan’s adherence to the seven UDO rules and its purported appropriateness for the site, most of the testimony during the lengthy public hearing concerned the plight of the mobile-home residents and the prospective loss of 50-plus units of affordable housing. The situation appeared to make an impression on several of the commission members, who lamented the prospect that those residents will probably be forced to move whether or not Wal-Mart’s plans proceed. Asheville Property Management, which owns Monticello, has announced plans to sell no matter what transpires with Wal-Mart.

In the end, Vice Chair Steve Sizemore suggested that a proposed requirement for funding of an off-premises sidewalk be dropped and the money be diverted to assistance for the trailer-park residents, upping the ante from Wal-Mart’s initial moving-allowance offer of $4000 per household to $7500. Sizemore noted that this approached the dollar value of many of the mobile homes, many of which are too old to be relocated under current law and therefore would face demolition. After tacking on a handful of edits and modifications to a list of conditions recommended by city staff, including Sizemore’s monetary suggestion, the commission passed the proposal 6-1, with Chairman Tom Byers casting the lone opposing vote.

“I think you have moved too quickly to the conclusion that this neighborhood is doomed,” Byers admonished the other commission members. “It is a fairly attractive property as is. I think we have a chance to save the neighborhood.”

— Cecil Bothwell

Where students are principals

What if students ran their school? Would adolescent chaos and Lord of the Flies-style pandemonium erupt?

Mimsy Sadofsky has had to answer those questions many a time. In 1968, she co-founded the Sudbury Valley School in Framingham, Mass., where she is still a staff member. The school is a “pure democracy,” as Sadofsky describes it, where everyone involved — from veteran faculty member to first-year student — has an equal vote in how the school operates. Every week, the school’s 170 students, who range in age from 4 to 19, gather for a general meeting to decide questions of curriculum, discipline, personnel and recreation.

This week, interested Asheville-area parents and kids will have three opportunities to pick Sadofsky’s brain.

“The philosophy is that children are people, children are born thinking and trying to make sense out of the world, and they keep doing it their whole lives,” Sadofsky says. “We figure they do it better if we don’t get in their way.”

According to Sadofsky, the results are hardly chaotic. The Sudbury model “allows children to develop a lot more competence and confidence than most models of schooling because they have to be so independent and because they’re allowed to follow their interests,” she contends. And students keep each other in check through the school’s unique judicial system: “The way we handle discipline, which is through a little court system, is very careful about due process and makes people feel extremely empowered, because they are.”

But what about the concern that students educated in a student-run environment might have a hard time adapting to college life? “It’s not a problem for anybody,” Sadofsky says. “In fact it’s less of a problem, because a lot of kids who go to college are not used to having any freedom yet, and they’re sort of overcome by it and tend to forget what they’re there for. And kids from a school like this are used to being self-disciplined; they’re used to working on their own and not being spoon-fed.” Sudbury Valley students, she notes, have a track record of success in higher education at some of the country’s leading universities.

There are roughly 20 Sudbury-model schools in the United States — and a new one in Fletcher, the Katuah Sudbury School, is sponsoring three upcoming local events where Sadofsky will make the case for letting students run the school. At present, Katuah has three full-time students, and Tom Wright, who co-founded the school last year, is hoping Sadofsky’s visit will spark interest among parents and children who are unsatisfied with conventional education.

“Choose your path, self-motivate and go deep in studying what you really love … the true skills that get you through life are practiced at Sudbury,” he says. “These are things you can only learn in an environment of freedom.”

Mimsy Sadofsky will speak and sign books about Sudbury schooling at three events this weekend: From 3 to 5 p.m. on Friday, March 10, at Malaprop’s Bookstore; from 7 to 9 p.m. on Saturday, March 11, at the Unitarian Church in Asheville; and at a Katuah Sudbury School open house from 2 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, March 12. Call Tom Wright at 225-0784 for details and directions.

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