- Parkside easement request postponed
- 20 homeless people catch a break
While the future of Stewart Coleman‘s controversial Parkside condominium project remains in some doubt, the Asheville City Council took action Aug. 26 on an adjacent piece of property that could one day become the site of a new performing-arts center.
On a 5-1 vote, Council agreed to a request by the Asheville Area Center for the Performing Arts that the city set aside a 2.3-acre parcel it owns on Eagle Street as the project’s future home—with the expectation that construction will take place within the next five years. Council member Carl Mumpower lauded the idea but voted against it out of fear that it could become a drain on taxpayers. Council member Robin Cape was absent, representing Asheville on a Sister Cities trip to Osogbo, Nigeria.
“Our vision is to create an amazing landmark,” James Baudoin, the center’s executive director, told Council. At this stage, there are no renderings of what the long-sought arts center might look like, but Baudoin said it could be a mixed-use development with a state-of-the-art performance venue as its centerpiece. Showing slides of similar facilities in other cities, he said the center would be both a daytime and nighttime destination featuring music, plays, ballets and other productions as well as instructional and enrichment programs for schoolchildren.
Council’s action reserves property south of Coleman’s Parkside parcel, bordered by Spruce Street to the west, Eagle Street to the south, and South Charlotte Street to the east. All pertinent details will be included in a forthcoming joint-development agreement between the city and the nonprofit.
The group has raised $5 million in private donations, but it needed to secure a site in order to sustain fund-raising efforts commensurate with the scale of the project, Baudoin explained. After considering 15 potential properties, he said, “At the end of the day, the standout location was … the Parkside site. We believe now is the time to approve this site in order to keep the momentum going.”
At this point, the group has no cost estimate for the center, which is still more of a vision than a tangible construction project. Past estimates, however, have pegged the cost as high as $85 million.
To be or not to be
While the nonprofit moved a step closer to its ultimate goal, Coleman was not so lucky. Council members unanimously agreed to postpone consideration of the developer’s request for an easement until Sept. 9, pending the outcome of a lawsuit disputing Coleman’s purchase of the Parkside property. The easement is needed so he can build a road in front of his project. But Council members felt it would be premature to consider the request, given the uncertainty of the suit’s outcome. “It makes perfect sense to delay this,” said Vice Mayor Jan Davis. “It’s a project that may or may not happen.” Coleman’s easement request would also need to be approved by the county, which co-owns the park property with Asheville.
The lawsuit, filed by benefactor George Pack‘s heirs, asserts that his original donation of land to Buncombe County around the turn of the last century was made on condition that the property remain public in perpetuity, and that it would revert to his heirs if it were ever sold for private purposes. The county sold a piece of land near City Hall, including a portion of the new Pack Square Park, to Coleman in 2006, and the developer plans to build the nine-story Parkside project on the site. Both parties in the lawsuit agreed to have Judge Marlene Hyatt hand down a summary judgment instead of going through a jury trial.
On Aug. 28, Judge Hyatt found in favor of the Pack heirs, though the full impact of the ruling remains unclear (see “Judge Rules Against Parkside Sale” on page 10 of this issue).
Weaverville or bus
On a 4-2 vote, City Council earmarked $500 to pay for city bus passes for 20 homeless people who were recently hired by Arvato (formerly Sonopress), a Weaverville-based manufacturer of CDs and DVDs. The money, to be drawn from the city’s Homeless Initiative, will cover the new workers’ transportation cost for a month, until they receive their first paychecks.
Mayor Terry Bellamy said the nonprofit Western Carolina Rescue Ministries, which arranged the jobs with Arvato and its temporary-employment agency, must sign a contract with the city to document the results of the work program and prove that the passes are used.
The jobs became available after 75 Arvato workers walked out of the plant upon learning that immigration officials had raided the Woodfin-based Mills Manufacturing on Aug. 12, arresting 57.
Mumpower and Council member Bill Russell voted against the measure, which Bellamy had added to the agenda at the last minute. Although both men applauded what the nonprofit was doing, they argued that the request was not in line with Council’s established procedure for awarding discretionary funds. Mumpower, however, offered to pony up at least $200 of his own money to help pay for the bus passes. Others, he suggested, would gladly do the same, thus avoiding the use of taxpayer dollars.
But Council member Brownie Newman disputed the point, arguing that the city was, in effect, merely paying itself, since it would be getting the money back in the form of bus-pass revenue.
“It’s a no-brainer,” Newman proclaimed. “I think this might be the best use of $500 I’ve ever seen.”
On a 2-4 vote, Council killed a motion by Mumpower to postpone installing additional traffic-calming devices in the Grove Park area, pending further study. Davis voted with Mumpower in support of the failed measure. The devices, said Mumpower—including median islands, speed humps and curb extensions—pose an impediment to emergency vehicles and other large vehicles and threaten to clog traffic on heavily traveled roads such as Kimberly Avenue, a major secondary route.
But the majority felt that since contracts have been let and work is already under way, it would be wrong to stop it now. In addition, they noted, city Traffic Engineer Ken Putnam has been working diligently to meet with the affected parties to address concerns about safety and access. Several modifications have already been made to the plans to address those concerns, and Council noted that the contract allows Putnam to make further changes as the work progresses.