The controversy surrounding the Parkside proposal and the land involved has been brewing for years. Here’s a look at some of the key dates in the project’s history, culled from numerous news stories and hundreds of pages of documents obtained under state open-records law by Mountain Xpress and People Advocating Real Conservancy, a local watchdog group.
Nov. 21, 2006: The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners sells an alley and a slice of land adjacent to the Hayes & Hopson Building to developer Stewart Coleman‘s Black Dog Realty for $322,000. The action is taken as part of the consent agenda. No public comment is taken at the time of the sale. The usual public notice is given of the sale, and there are no upset bids. Coleman had already bought the Hayes & Hopson Building from Wallace Hyde, who notified the commissioners of the sale in March of 2006. (The county had previously held discussions with Hyde about buying the building.) Coleman plans to build a mixed-use, 11-story structure with retail space downstairs and residential condos above.
June 2007: Buncombe County appraises the land bought by Coleman at $600,000. Black Dog Realty appeals the valuation, and the tax office resets it at $306,000 as of Jan. 1, 2006 (the effective date of the last revaluation). The change saves Black Dog Realty about $3,200 a year in taxes, according to the tax office.
July 2007: As public concern about the sale of the land sale to Coleman grows, Mountain Xpress quotes an e-mail from Buncombe County Board of Commissioners Vice Chair David Gantt to a concerned resident. “I had no idea that the land mentioned was in the park when the [Board of Commissioners] voted to sell it. It was billed as the old jail site when presented to us,” wrote Gantt, adding, “We screwed up when that land was sold.”
July 31, 2007: Handwritten notes from Buncombe County Manager Wanda Greene detail a March 6, 2007, meeting she had with Coleman and his attorney, former Asheville Mayor Lou Bissette. Also present were members of the Downtown Commission and the Pack Square Conservancy, a local nonprofit charged with overseeing the creation of Pack Square Park. The meeting notes show that the group discussed a road requested by fire officials that would run in front of the proposed Parkside building, as well as other details about the building. The group also included conservancy board members Carol King and Karen Tessier and Executive Director Marilyn Geiselman. The meeting notes also include this statement: “In May, the conservation [sic] seemed publicly surprised SC was planning this building.”
Aug. 3, 2007: A large magnolia tree on the parcel sold to Coleman is the focus of a ceremony by a group of about 30 chanting Wiccans, who encircle the tree. Coven Oldenwilde’s members say the event is aimed at strengthening the tree against removal.
September 2007: Heirs of George W. Pack file a lawsuit against Coleman and Buncombe County for having violated the terms of Pack’s 1901 gift. Pack conveyed land to the county in two deeds executed in 1901. One of them stipulates that if the land were ever sold for private use, it would revert to Pack family ownership. The county maintains that its right to sell the land was based on the second deed, which may have removed the covenants included in the first one.
Sept. 20, 2007: In an e-mail to the county manager, Assistant County Attorney Michael C. Frue confirms Greene’s memory of the county board’s position on the Parkside proposal. Frue writes, “I think it is common knowledge that the County would like to see Coleman’s project in principal [sic] move forward (we sold him the land and had the PSC concept plan in mind when doing so), and, yes, the final decision rests with the City as to exact location/orientation, height, access, etc.” Frue goes on to tell Greene that in talking with Pack Square Conservancy attorney Rick Daniels, “Maybe the way to approach it is to tell Daniels that the County supports Coleman’s project (nice new building, replacing H&H, and tax revenue, etc.) but given the current public sentiment and media focus, the ball is in PSC’s court. And, their decision might have a bearing on future funding.”
Oct. 18, 2007: Downtown Commission Chair Pat Whalen sends an e-mail to commission members proposing that the city swap land with Coleman to relocate his building. “It is the Commission’s recommendation that given the potential unfortunate long-term effect on the aesthetics and usability of the Pack Square Park, it would be advisable to either close and convey a portion of Marjorie Street or air rights over Marjorie Street, if necessary, to avoid inappropriate construction on the Parkside site.”
Oct. 22, 2007: In a presentation to the Pack Square Conservancy, Coleman says he proposed a land exchange in July and that the Asheville City Council, meeting in closed session, turned down the idea.
Nov. 7, 2007: The conservancy’s Design Review Committee finds that the Parkside project fails to meet Pack Square design guidelines because of its proposed height (11 stories) and the fact that it would obstruct the view corridor running from the Vance Monument to City Hall.
Nov. 9, 2007: The Downtown Commission approves a resolution asking City Council “to act expeditiously” to pursue a land swap with Coleman.
Feb. 8, 2008: The Downtown Commission endorses plans for the Parkside project.
March 17, 2008: Asheville’s Technical Review Committee, which considers a proposed project’s compliance with the city’s rules, approves Parkside plans.
March 18, 2008: In a letter to City Council, the Asheville Tree Commission “recommends that City Council take another look at means to protect the magnolia tree in Pack Square due to the importance of the tree as an historical symbol to Asheville and because it is intended to be removed for private purposes versus public use.”
April 2, 2008: The Asheville Planning and Zoning Commission fails to endorse the 11-story building on a 3-3 vote following a four-hour meeting.
May 27, 2008: Coleman informs city planning staff that he plans to change his building’s design. The new structure will be nine stories tall, dropping the total square footage to 99,380—below the threshold that would trigger City Council review.
To view more public documents detailing the Parkside project, go to www.mountainxpress.com/xpressfiles.