Buzzworm news briefs

Man with a plan

Asheville is riding high these days, with development, redevelopment, in-fill projects and sprawl all figuring into the mix. Neighborhood activists are advocating smarter growth, new urbanism, walkable shopping and human-scale design. These are heady days for the Paris of the South, and a time when it might be useful to consider where we’re headed.

This week, Frank Duke, director of Durham’s City-County Planning Department, will visit Asheville to discuss urban-design standards and planning issues.

Duke has overseen the development of a new comprehensive plan for the city of Durham and Durham County, as well as an overhaul of their development ordinances into a Unified Development Ordinance. The hallmark of Duke’s work is the use of differing standards for development in various regions of the community. The Durham ordinances expand on that region’s past regulation of design through the explicit recognition of “design districts,” within which design is the most critical component of the regulatory process. By comparison, Asheville’s current UDO emphasizes use.

Prior to his work in Durham, Duke was a planning director in Bay County and Palm Beach County, Fla., and he served under three successive governors as a member of the Everglades Ecosystem Restoration Working Group. His projects have been widely acclaimed by trade groups within his profession, and he was named the “Outstanding Public Sector Planner in Florida.”

According to Duke, “In most codes, design is given limited attention, but it is as critical as the other components to achieving a balanced development that achieves the goals of the community.”

The event, which is free and open to the public, will take place at the Orange Peel (101 Biltmore Ave.) on Thursday, March 16, at 5:30 p.m.

— Cecil Bothwell

Trans education

Perhaps you’ve wondered about the difference between a cross-dresser and a transsexual. Maybe you don’t know what a male-to-female is or the distinctions between gay, transgender and crossing gender.

If you want to make the transition from confused to educated on such matters, a panel discussion at the Fine Arts Theatre on Saturday, March 18, might help. The downtown theater, along with local transgender-support groups and health-care providers, will sponsor a question-and-answer session after a 1 p.m. screening of Transamerica, a new film about a male-to-female transsexual played by “Desperate Housewives” star Felicity Huffman.

The panel aims to raise awareness of transgender issues in a community with a relatively large and active transgender population. Providers of health care and mental health and other services, in addition to the general public, are encouraged to attend the free discussion.

“We by and large have to educate our care providers” about transgender issues, says Carla Pridgen, 54, a male-to-female transsexual who lives in Asheville. “You sort of play guinea pig.”

“People are really curious” about transgender issues, she says. At the panel event, “Whatever you want to ask, ask,” adds Pridgen, a former Presbyterian minister.

The panel will include Pridgen and her grown son, the daughter of a transgender person, a cross-dresser and a female-to-male transsexual. Two health-care professionals in Asheville who serve transgender people — psychologist Diana Stone and Dr. Alan Baumgarten, who practices family medicine — will join them.

Pridgen organized the panel after seeing the new film Breakfast on Pluto, which also has a transgender theme. That film and Transamerica and portray transgendered life realistically, she says.

In Transamerica, Huffman, who was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar, plays a preoperative transsexual, Bree Osbourne, who learns of a son she didn’t know she had. Her performance is so realistic that “You forget that this is a genetic woman playing this role,” Pridgen comments.

Other films about transgender have been disappointing because they omit aspects that might offend viewers, she notes. “The significance of [Transamerica] is that they’re starting to get it right. Some progress has been made with this film in terms of the director and producer and actor doing their homework.”

Fine Arts Theatre manager Neal Reed said increasing knowledge about transgender is important, though the topic “is something that may intimidate people” who don’t know about it.

For more information, call the Fine Arts at 232-0257.

— Jess Clarke

In out of the rain

“They love it,” reports building manager Allison Smith on the reaction by residents of Pisgah View Apartments to the new bus shelter outside their building. “We have a heavy traffic of bus users … and it’s an added dimension. It welcomes you. It’s warm. And it upgrades our property.”

The bus shelter at Pisgah View is one of three completed so far by Top-A-Stop, a volunteer effort spearheaded by City Council member Carl Mumpower that aims to build shelters at bus stops throughout the Asheville area. The other two are located in front of Fuddruckers on Charlotte Street and the Asheville Terrace Apartments on Tunnel Road.

The idea for the program was conceived well over a year ago when Mumpower visited Pisgah View, the city’s largest public-housing development, to scope out possible drug activity. While he did observe two men dealing drugs, Mumpower says, he also noticed three people waiting at the bus stop in the rain.

“I stopped to talk to them and one of them worked at Burger King, another one washed dishes at a cafeteria,” he recalls. “It really kind of struck me, the contrast between … the three people trying hard to do it the right way and then [the] two people preying on their community and doing it the wrong way. And I thought at the time, ‘Why don’t we try and get these folks out of the rain?'”

Though the program has been endorsed by both City Council and the Asheville Transit System, “this is not a government program,” Mumpower stresses. “This is about us helping us.”

The $3,000 seed money for the program was donated by Mumpower from funds he had left over from his most recent City Council campaign, and last week another $25,000 was donated by the Chicago-based Chaddick Foundation. With each shelter costing approximately $500 for materials there are now enough funds to build 50 additional shelters — at the rate of one each week, Mumpower hopes.

“What we need right now are helping hands more than money,” he says. “We need volunteer groups — church groups, neighborhood groups — who would be willing to give us a chunk of their Saturday.”

The first three shelters were built by volunteers from Western Carolina Rescue Ministries, Asheville Parks and Recreation, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and Seabees from the Asheville Naval Reserve Center. Jennings Builders Supply donated materials, and design help was provided by landscape architect Seth Hendler and design engineers Mark Bray and Chuck Gilmore.

For more information about how to get involved with the Top-A-Stop project, call Mumpower’s office at 252-8390.

— Lisa Watters

Equality, sorority, diversity

Helen Carroll, who’s well known in the sports world as a National Championship basketball coach from the University of North Carolina-Asheville, is headed back to her home court to address issues of gender discrimination in sports.

Carroll has been a National Collegiate Athletic Association Athletic Director for 12 years, and now devotes most of her efforts to fighting homophobia in sports. She works closely with national sports organizations including the Women’s Sports Foundation and the NCAA. She has been featured on panels with the NCAA, Nike, the U.S. Tennis Association and The New York Times, and was featured in Dee Mosbacher’s award-winning film, Out For A Change: Addressing Homophobia in Women’s Sports, as well as Pat Griffin’s book, Strong Women, Deep Closets: Lesbians and Homophobia in Sport (Human Kinetics, 1998).

The Asheville chapter of the National Organization for Women will host Carroll for a presentation about her work in the advancement of equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. The purpose of the meeting and talk is to advance NOW’s goal of adoption of a human rights ordinance by the city of Asheville.

The event will take place at Montford Community Center (32 Pearson Dr.) on Tuesday, March 21, at 7 p.m.

— Cecil Bothwell

T.S. Morrison and Co.: 1891-2006

There was a time when farmers from all over Western North Carolina came to T.S. Morrison and Co. to find any manner of otherwise hard-to-get items.

“There wasn’t anything that wasn’t sold here that related to agriculture,” says store owner Rob Geitner. And though the store replaced plows and livestock feed with knickknacks, toys and Tiffany lamps around 1980, it remained an Asheville fixture that many hate to see go.

But go it will. On March 7, Geitner announced that the store, which has existed in Asheville for 112 years, will close. Geitner says it’s time for him to retire, an idea he has kicked around for the last year. Upcoming building renovations and the need to renegotiate his lease sealed the deal, and another familiar Lexington Avenue face will now disappear.

After three days of marking down items behind closed doors, the store opened Thursday, March 9, for a closing/clearance sale, which continues. Up and down the street, customers could be seen in clusters toting T.S. Morrison’s bags and comparing purchases.

As she had on many previous afternoons, Connie Olson was browsing the store on her lunch break. “I’ve shopped here, I can’t tell you how many times,” she said, sifting through the racks of greeting cards she says are the best in town. “I’m really, really going to miss it.”

“It’s sad to see a part of Asheville go,” agreed Keith Swangim, who brought a group of lunch-breaking co-workers.

But the mood was more festive than solemn on Thursday, with perpetual lines of customers clutching armloads of items and the cash register running nonstop.

If Geitner is feeling nostalgic, he’s too busy to show it. He has 10 weeks to clear the store, and everything — everything — must go. Looking around at the pink sales tags festooning every nook and cranny, Geitner noted that he hadn’t priced the light fixtures hanging from the ceiling. “How much do you think those are worth?” he wondered out loud.

— Brian Postelle

Ticker shock

If you recently received your new Buncombe County property revaluation in the mail, you were likely shocked at the rise in your house or land’s appraised tax value. And if you’re a property owner who’s living on the financial edge, you may be fearful of whether you’ll even have a home for much longer.

The new valuations pose a “serious threat to sustainable homeownership in Asheville,” according to a recent analysis by the nonprofit Neighborhood Housing Services of Asheville, an organization that provides homeownership opportunities to low- and moderate- income people through its loan and building programs. NHS’ primary mission is to help locals combat the dilemma of stagnant wages versus the escalating cost of homeownership. The significant increase in property valuations, in some cases upwards of 86 percent appreciation, undermines the efforts of these organizations and jeopardizes affordable sustainability for the homeowner, the organization says.

Kelly Pendleton Nossiter, NHS’ loan-program manager, forecasts a sharp rise in foreclosures and home sales from people’s inability to pay property-tax bills in January 2007, when the new tax valuations will be used to calculate due taxes.

“With an increase in utility and fuel prices, clients are already strapped to make ends meet; if the tax rate remains at 1.32 percent and is applied to the new property valuations, then our clients will see tax-bill increases ranging from $30 to $110 per month,” says Nossiter. “This increased tax burden could force them out of their homes.”

Although tax rates are not expected to be set until June, lawmakers have indicated they anticipate decreasing tax rates to account for part of the rise in property values. But property owners are likely to see at least some increases in their overall taxes for 2006. (Homeowners may appeal their new valuation to the county now if they believe it is too high.)

Nossiter says new tax valuations inherently undermine affordable sustainability in the area — if the trend continues, then every four years NHS and other agencies’ clients may be forced to sell their homes, she says. And that poses another potential problem if taxes do rise: Every financial-assistance program carries with it a period of affordability — a set length of time during which the home must be the primary residence of the buyer, and cannot be refinanced or sold without pay-back penalties to offset the original financial assistance. Thus a homeowner who is financially forced to sell before the affordability period ends is not only out of a home but faces additional financial penalties.

“One part of the government is not acknowledging the priorities that elected officials have set — to provide more affordable housing for the citizens of Asheville, says Chris Slusher, NHS’ executive director. Currently, low-income elderly homeowners can qualify for up to a 50 percent reduction in their property taxes. In Asheville’s rapidly escalating real estate market, a similar property-tax reduction is needed for all low-income people, he adds.

NHS urges its clients to notify their mortgage holders and NHS immediately if they are having difficulties paying their monthly mortgages, which includes escrow payments for property taxes and homeowner’s insurance. For more information on NHS’ programs or to seek assistance with current tax-valuation increases, contact NHS at 251-5054, ext. 24.

— Hal Millard

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One thought on “Buzzworm news briefs

  1. keith swangim

    my name is the same as the one in your story[keith swangim].who is he.

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