Buzzworm news briefs

In a carefully staged demonstration Nov. 21 outside Staples on Merrimon Avenue in Asheville, an unidentified chicken, a woman calling herself Tammy Banks (“President of the Poultry Defense League and Miss Asheville Speedway 1989″) and a flock of poultry partisans gathered to peck at the city’s lack of action on the office-supply store’s noncompliant red sign.

Staples Chicken Protest

photo by Kent Priestley

The chicken stood in solidarity with its neighbor from up the street: The Picnics restaurant chicken, who was recently shooed indoors by city officials. Banks (who bore a striking resemblance to neighborhood activist Heather Rayburn) read a statement pregnant with poultry puns: “Is there one small bouillon cube of justice in this whole stinkin’ world?” “Who is the rotten egg who said this was legal?”

Ms. Banks and the bird (in its own, silent way) took the city to task for its hands-off policy towards Staples and demanded compliance with development rules, suggesting that if the city doesn’t apply a little pressure on the company, the protesters would “be back with every chicken we can round up.” Presumably, that’s a lot of birds.

Why deck the halls when you could deck the park?

Bill Whipple

Strange fruit: Bill Whipple hangs a pine cone at the edible park in hopes of attracting hungry birds and original artwork. photo by Jonathan Welch

Local artist Bill Whipple specializes in making furniture and backpacker’s violins. While the chairs and tables tend to stay put, the stringed instruments seem infused with a kind of wanderlust, judging by the snapshots of faraway places that occasionally land in Whipple’s mailbox. A recent bundle, sent by a traveler who’d purchased a violin before embarking on a journey overseas, depicted scenes from Spain, Italy and Singapore.

Cosmopolitan as his work may be, Whipple’s latest creative vision — an open, nondenominational ornament exchange — is decidedly local. “The idea,” he says, “is to take orphaned, unwanted Christmas ornaments and hang them on the trees” at Asheville’s edible park — a grove of fruit trees behind the Stephens-Lee Recreation Center maintained by the Bountiful Cities Project.

“Instead of the city doing it, this will be more of a public initiative in a public space,” Whipple adds. “I’m hoping it will be like an art installation.”

All ragged, hokey, kitschy and sentimentally valuable Christmas-tree ornaments are welcome. Also acceptable are bird feeders fashioned out of pinecones, glittered popsicle-stick figurines or any other sort of whimsical work.

To kick off the project, a work party will be held at the edible park on Saturday, Dec. 2, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. After that date, an open invitation stands for anyone who wants to come down and string up decorations. When the holiday season wraps up, each contributor can pluck an ornament from the branches and take it home.

Whipple says there are some 30 different types of trees in the edible park, including “everything from apples, blueberries and cherries to ziziphus” (the scientific name for the jujube tree). While most of this season’s fruit — with the exception of a few straggling persimmons — has long passed, the space remains fertile ground for community-based creativity.

To get to the edible park, go to the Stephens-Lee Recreation Center, just off South Charlotte Street and Max Street. Follow the trail that begins behind the parking lot and goes downhill into the park.

– Rebecca Bowe

Pro-gay people of faith

National human-rights advocate Harry Knox will speak in Asheville on Sunday, Dec. 3, on behalf of the local interfaith group People of Faith for Just Relationships.

Coming in the wake of Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s recent decision to cut ties with gay-affirming congregations, Knox’s arrival highlights the local group’s advocacy for same-sex marriage equality.

“I’m very disappointed in that statement,” says Rev. Joe Hoffman concerning the convention’s anti-gay position. “They’ve picked a group of people to say they’re outside of God’s love. Unfortunately, that’s against the understanding of the Gospel that I have.”

Hoffman is spokesperson for the People of Faith group and pastor of First Congregational Church of Christ in Asheville. He is one of three local pastors who won civil-liberties awards earlier this year for announcing that they would no longer perform civil-marriage ceremonies until homosexuals receive civil-marriage rights in North Carolina.

Hoffman’s church describes itself as “open and affirming,” which, he says, means “you receive and celebrate a great variety of people — and not only welcome [them] but create a way of being together where everyone has the same opportunity.”

Knox is director of the Religion and Faith Program for the Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest lesbian/gay/bisexual/transsexual advocacy organization. A former licensed pastor in the United Methodist Church in Georgia, he previously worked as director of Georgia Equality, where he helped achieve new domestic-benefits policies with such major state employers as Coca-Cola, BellSouth, Delta Airlines and Cingular Wireless.

Knox’s Asheville visit, Hoffman says, will bring perspective about what is happening at the national level and the “mood of the country” following the recent election. The title of his presentation is “Faith and Fairness: Finding Strength and Tools for LGBT Advocacy in Your Faith Tradition.”

The talk takes place from 2 to 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 3, at the First Congregational United Church of Christ (20 Oak St., Asheville). Admission is free and the public is welcome. For more on the event, call 252-8729, or contact People of Faith for Just Relationships at justrelationships@yahoo.com.

– Nelda Holder

Planning Board OKs Cliffs at High Carolina

Despite reservations voiced by Assistant County Attorney Michael Frue, the Buncombe County Planning Board approved revised plans for The Cliffs at High Carolina, the largest of the 23 proposed subdivisions submitted just before stricter rules governing construction on steep slopes took effect July 1. Frue’s concerns involve the legal issue of “vested rights,” he said at the board’s Nov. 20 meeting.

In order for a project to be considered under the old ordinance, the developer must demonstrate that substantial money and time had already been invested before the rule change. Frue argued that such an investment had to have been made before the Board of Commissioners approved the new rules in mid-March.

During a public-comment session at the outset of the board meeting, two Swannanoa residents questioned whether The Cliffs could legitimately claim such a vested interest. “We don’t believe that the developers had a vested interest in this project at the time that the project was brought to this board,” said J. Clarkson. “We would like the board to address that specifically in consultation with legal counsel,” he added.

Rebecca Williams read an excerpt from a newspaper article published just after the project submission, in which Cliffs President Jim Anthony was quoted as saying that the project was in a very preliminary stage and might not go forward. That, argued Williams, is further evidence that the company has no vested interest.

“Ms. Williams hit the issue on the head,” said Frue. “This board will have to make a determination whether a substantial investment of time and money was made on each of the 20-some projects that were submitted. You need to determine what this board or any other county body had granted to the developer by or before this [mid-March] date.” Frue also offered to prepare a written analysis of the legal issues involved.

At the Planning Board’s request, the developer submitted revised plans at the meeting to bring road grades into compliance with the old rules. But the new plans also made another significant change: relying on individual septic systems instead of a common sewage system. Although Zoning Enforcement Administrator Jim Coman told Xpress later that such a change could have negated the Planning Board’s initial approval of the site plan, the board didn’t question the change.
Chairman Bill Newman later told Xpress that he believes the plan, originally approved with sewage lines, still falls within the density level permitted for septic systems under the old rules.

– Cecil Bothwell

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