- Pack Square Park on track
- Horizons urban-village project delayed
As protesters massed outside City Hall on July 15, developer Stewart Coleman told Asheville City Council members about his plans for the controversial Parkside condominium project. It was the first time Coleman had appeared before Council to discuss the project. Slated for the south side of City/County Plaza, Parkside would include a small but hotly contested piece of parkland that the developer bought from Buncombe County.
Although a complex series of maneuvers has spared Coleman the need for Council approval of his project, he still needs both City Council and the county Board of Commissioners to sign off on an easement to allow for a road that would run in front of the building.
Because the July 15 meeting was a work session, Council took no action. A hearing on the proposed road easement—which Coleman said is needed to provide adequate space for fire staging and protect the view of the landmark City Hall—will probably be held next month, according to planning staff. Afterward, Council went into closed session for about 45 minutes to discuss a potential deal involving a city-owned parcel on Eagle Street (just south of the Parkside site), as well as a lawsuit against the county by the heirs of benefactor George Pack, who oppose the county’s sale to Coleman of land they claim Pack donated on condition that it be held as parkland or a public commons in perpetuity.
Outside City Hall, anticipation rose when protester Steve Rasmussen, a former Xpress reporter, told the crowd that the closed session might mean the city intended to join the lawsuit (see sidebar). When Council members emerged to a packed chamber and applause, however, Mayor Terry Bellamy made no mention of the two items discussed, indicating that there would be neither decision nor vote that day. “Council really wants to reaffirm that the county should try to reacquire the land,” said Bellamy, adding that if there was a workable land swap “that the city could get behind,” Council would consider it. “But we feel the county should be a significant driver,” she said. That brought more applause from the chamber, though it did little to resolve the issue.
Many of those protesting Parkside want the city to condemn the property under eminent domain, which would require Coleman be reimbursed for the fair market value of the land. But that option could prove costly and get tied up in lengthy litigation.
Coleman, who has said he’d like to break ground on Parkside later this year, doesn’t need Council approval of his project because it involves less than 100,000 square feet. The road is a different matter, however, and Coleman said at the meeting that if he can’t build it in front of his building, construction and fire staging would have to be done behind it on Marjorie Street, which is only 14 feet wide. His proposed Court Plaza frontage road would be at least 20 feet wide.
In making his case, Coleman claimed that if he didn’t get the road he would be forced to move the building footprint 15 feet north. Using illustrations, he showed Council how this would obstruct the view of the 1928 Art Deco City Hall from the adjacent Vance Monument. “That has a tremendous effect on the view corridor,” noted Coleman. The entire area is in the midst of an extensive renovation and redesign that’s partly funded by the city and county (see below).
The construction phase of the long-delayed Pack Square Park got under way this month, and the park is slated for completion by September 2009, Pack Square Conservancy board chair Carol King told Council.
That was welcome news to Council members, who also learned that the conservancy is closing in on raising the balance of the $20.5 million it will cost to complete the project. King and accountant Charles Russell said an aggressive fundraising campaign is under way to raise the nearly $5 million that’s needed. This year, the focus is on big donors; a public fundraising phase will begin early next year. Despite the shortfall, caused as costs rose over the past couple of years due to unexpected construction difficulties and price increases for fuel and materials, Russell said, “We’re financially sound and believe we can financially complete this project.”
The conservancy has taken hits for the delays in the project—the result of rising costs, redesigns to cut costs, and protracted contract negotiations with the N.C. Department of Transportation, among other things.
Voicing support for the conservancy, Council member Carl Mumpower said that theirs has “sometimes [been] a thankless job.” He also asked what could be done to help meet the current deadline?
Besides money, said King, “We need support and trust from the public.” The volunteer board, she noted, “has worked long hours and years and often feels kicked in the gut.”
As for Coleman’s development, which would be right next to the new park, King urged: “Do your best with the Parkside project. I really hope we can come up with a way to make everybody feel at peace.”
In a special request, Council suspended its usual work-session rules and voted 5-0 to postpone consideration of a rezoning request for the Horizons urban-village project until Oct. 28. (Council member Brownie Newman was absent, and Robin Cape arrived after the vote.)
Planned for the former Deal MotorCars site on Merrimon Avenue, the project is encountering financial difficulties, according to the developers.
“This request has become necessary due to the recent economic conditions,” Marty Kocot, an official with a design firm working for the developers, explained in a letter to Council. “The ownership group is currently exhausting opportunities and trying to secure financing and/or additional partners to help with the project economics.”
The proposed infill project would feature twin 10-story towers housing a mix of commercial and residential development. Meant to reduce sprawl, the project has encountered opposition by some who claim the towers are out of scale with the area and would block sunlight from surrounding homes and businesses.