Buzzworm news briefs

State expert weighs in on Greenlife, Staples, Prudential … and the UDO

Residents unhappy with Asheville’s housing-code enforcement claimed victory last week, after release of a study by the N.C. Institute of Government. “This report validates what we’ve been saying all along. Decisions we questioned, which were made administratively, should really have been made by City Council or the Board of Adjustment with due public notice,” declared Joe Minicozzi, a certified urban planner and board member of the Coalition of Asheville Neighborhoods.

Earlier this year, Mayor Terry Bellamy had asked for the third-party opinion, after months of complaints by citizens accusing the city of lax enforcement of its Unified Development Ordinance. Bellamy requested a review of three development decisions: Staples, Prudential Lifestyle Realty and Greenlife grocery.

Professor Dave Owens of the Institute addressed his 18-page opinion, dated June 23, to City Manager Gary Jackson. In it, he concluded that the city’s “staff has made a good faith attempt to apply the [UDO] as written. That said, there are certainly some key provisions of the ordinance that would benefit from amendments to provide greater clarity as to the council’s intent.”

In his detailed analysis, Owens urges City Council 14 times to clarify or rewrite provisions of the ordinance, at one point going so far as to term a provision “inartfully drawn.”

Some of Owens’ key findings are:

• One Prudential Lifestyle Realty sign exceeds UDO size limits.

• The UDO is insufficiently clear to determine with certainty whether the Staples sign is too large.

• The Staples building fails to meet multiple pedestrian-friendly requirements, but poor UDO language makes the correct setback difficult to establish with certainty.

• Staples’ visibility triangles, which allow motorists sufficient sight lines to enter and leave the property safely, are insufficient because city staff misinterpreted the ordinance.

• Greenlife’s loading dock, driveway and commercial use of Maxwell street fail to meet UDO specs because of multiple staff misinterpretations of the ordinance; the buffer area also probably fails to comply with the UDO; Owens also traces the development’s problems and controversy back to multiple conflicting and unclear sections within the UDO.

• The UDO’s “alternative compliance” section would likely not hold up in court because it involves “application of standards involving judgment and discretion … [which are] quasi-judicial rather than an administrative decision.”

The Institute, located at UNC-Chapel Hill, provides expertise on governmental issues within the state, and is the body to which cities and counties often turn for advice.

— Jeff Fobes

City, heal thyself

Asheville has just begun to implement an ambitious 10-year plan to end homelessness, but initiatives to attack panhandling, graffiti and public drunkenness have been stymied by lack of action from a City Council that has other issues begging for its attention.

To help renew interest in solving these problems and getting proposed solutions from two years ago back on the front burner, the city’s Social Issues Task Force, in conjunction with the Asheville Downtown Association, Quality Forward and Public Interest Projects met at The Orange Peel with a few dozen city residents and property owners on June 29.

Council member Robin Cape urged the small crowd to remind Council to move things forward if necessary. “We have a gazillion things on our plate,” explained Cape. Despite lack of Council action, laying blame is counterproductive, noted one task force member. “I don’t want to sit up here and start bashing the city because they haven’t followed through on some things,” Downtown Association President Dwight Butner said.

Those “things” include such suggestions as curbing graffiti by requiring vandalized businesses to clean the graffiti within 48 hours, said task force member Kitty Love. Quick cleanup, she said, is a deterrent, based on findings from other cities. Audience member Tim Peck argued the onus should be on the perps and not the victims. But Love said that property owners would only be required to meet that time frame if they declined to have a volunteer crew do the cleanup.

As for public drunkenness, Asheville Police Community Resource Officer Steve Riddle noted that suggestions include creating a detox center where drunks can safely sleep it off or receive treatment. Other ideas include prohibiting any alcohol in city parks without permission, as well as creating “inebriate safety zones” in areas of high pedestrian and vehicular traffic. These zones would be off limits for one year to anyone with 10 or more alcohol or drug offenses within a 12-month period.

As for panhandling, the task force plans to distribute pamphlets to area businesses that can be given to panhandlers advising them where they can go for other help in lieu of a handout. The task force also recommends scattering lock boxes around town for people to donate money that can be used to support area relief agencies rather than going directly to the panhandlers. At the least, people can suggest how any money they give be spent.

“We don’t think panhandling can be eradicated,” Butner said, “but it can be managed.”

To review the various task force recommendations in detail, visit www.ci.asheville.nc.us/planning/taskforce.htm.

— Hal Millard

Simple art is as simple art does

Space Kid
“Space Kid,” by Noah Bell

Inside Noah Bell’s head, there is a world inhabited by spaceships with frantically insane grins, dancing fast food, quizzical flowers and nearly featureless figures in perpetual states of pure surprise, joy or confusion.

And yet, as simple as his art may seem, its understated message speaks to a surprisingly large audience. In fact, when the Rotary Club in Oregon City, Ore., was looking for art to capture the minds and dollars of patrons for their citywide rooftop-art project, it was Bell’s images they put on their fund-raising calendars.

But the Asheville-based artist is still keeping it local for the time being, and his art will be showing at Izzy’s Coffee Den (74 N. Lexington Ave.) in downtown until the end of August. To learn more about Bell’s work, and to find out how you can buy it before it’s all snatched up by art-investing Rotarians, visit www.noahbell.com.

— Steve Shanafelt

Thinking big

Buckminster Fuller used to say that the most beautiful part of solving a problem was that it inevitably led to the next (and, predictably, more difficult) one. If you think like Bucky or like the way he thought, you may want to check out the upcoming Design Science Lab, which will pitch its geodesic tent in Asheville July 19-28.

A project of the New York-based Buckminster Fuller Institute in conjunction with the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, the National Environmental Modeling and Analysis Center and UNCA’s environmental studies department, the camp aims to tackle some of the biggest challenges facing humanity. It will focus on developing strategies to address the Southern Appalachian region’s energy, environmental, health and educational issues in a global context. Participants from as far away as Tajikistan, Tonga, Kenya and Latvia will work alongside area residents, learning how to apply Fuller’s design-science methodology to solve both local and global problems.

“The Design Science Lab is a space in which individuals can transform from passive consumers of information to engaged citizens, empowered to engage the most critical issues facing their communities,” says Elizabeth Thompson, the institute’s executive director.

The program’s Asheville premiere — and first venture outside New York City — is being organized by local media wunderkind David McConville (see “Astral Projector,” April 26 Xpress).

“This is the first such regional event anywhere,” he notes, “and people will be coming from all over the world to see what solutions we discover in WNC.” Using a comprehensive approach and a shared language, says McConville, “The collaborative design-science process produces simple strategies to help individuals understand what can be done about seemingly impossible problems.”

Applications are still being accepted for the Design Science Lab, and anyone interested in regional and global issues is encouraged to apply. Scholarships are available for qualified applicants. Most seminars are limited to registered participants, but the public is invited to attend one daytime and four evening events:

Saturday, July 8 “Real-World Solutions to Inconvenient Truths: What YOU Can Do About Climate Change” (Fine Arts Theatre, 10 a.m. to noon)

Thursday, July 20 “The World of Buckminster Fuller” (UNCA, 7 p.m.)

Friday, July 21 “Southern Appalachia in the Global Context: Energy and the Economy” (UNCA, 7 p.m.)

Saturday, July 22 “Southern Appalachia in the Global Context: Environment” (UNCA, 7 p.m.)

Tuesday, July 25 “Visualizing and Communicating BIG Ideas” (UNCA, 7 p.m.)

For more information or to apply, visit www.designsciencelab.org.

— Cecil Bothwell

The leader of the pack

This week and next, Warren Wilson College rings in the fourth decade of its Master’s of Fine Arts program in creative writing with a series of public readings and lectures, beginning July 5.

Thirty years ago, “low-residency” master’s degree programs like Warren Wilson’s were unheard of. The academic landscape has changed in the intervening years, with new programs sprouting like mushrooms after a rain. (Pardon the simile, y’all.) The concept is simple: Each year, writers spend a week or two on a college or university campus, rubbing elbows with celebrated writers and seeing their beloved prose set upon by peers — all in the interest of “craft” — and then pursue the rest of their studies via correspondence.

The low-residency model was given shape by poet Ellen Bryant Voigt at Goddard College in 1976. In 1981, Voigt’s brainchild moved south to the Swannanoa Valley. Today, under the direction of Peter Turchi, it remains one of the most highly rated MFA writer’s programs in the country.

The readings and lectures run concurrently with the program’s July residency. For a full schedule of the events, visit www.warren-wilson.edu/~mfa/. Or call the MFA office at 771-3715.

— Kent Priestley

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