Buzzworm news briefs

Plan Colombia comes to Asheville

Luis Gilberto Murillo is the former governor of Choco, Colombia’s poorest state. His election as the youngest governor in that country’s history followed years spent organizing on behalf of environmental and ancestral-lands issues. During his tenure, Murillo became one of the most recognizable Afro-Colombian figures in the country, renowned for his creative proposals to protect the environment and fight poverty. His outspoken advocacy led to his kidnapping, repeated death threats, and his eventual exile to the U.S.

Although people of African descent account for one-third to one-half of the population, Colombia’s blacks are mostly poor, lack access to education and health care, and are underrepresented in the nation’s socioeconomic and political life. Seen in this context, Murillo’s youthful rise to prominence becomes all the more exceptional.

The humanitarian crisis created by Colombia’s 35-year civil war is nothing short of nightmarish. An average of 12 political killings occur each day, and 35,000 people have died since 1990. More than 1.8 million Colombians have been displaced from their homes. The Colombian military is closely linked to the right-wing paramilitary groups that human-rights groups say are responsible for 80 percent of the country’s political killings. And Murillo and other observers maintain that by increasing military aid to Colombia, the U.S. is escalating an already devastating conflict.

On Thursday, Dec. 4, Murillo will present a wide-ranging discussion of the political situation in Colombia at the Asheville Community Resource Center (63 N. Lexington Ave. in downtown Asheville).

For more information, call 253-7432.

— Cecil Bothwell

Thumbs down at high-rise forum

The Thursday-night crowd spilled out of a packed ballroom at the Renaissance Asheville Hotel into rows of chairs in the hallway. There, they were surrounded by still more people standing and craning their necks to see and hear the proceedings at the League of Women Voters forum on the proposed sale of city parkland to the Grove Park Inn. More than 350 people showed up for the panel discussion, and other than the Asheville City Council members and GPI employees in the crowd (the latter ranged around their employer’s display), opinion ran almost unanimously against the sale and construction of a high-rise in City/County Plaza. Most audience members wore large yellow stickers proclaiming, “Save Our Square.”

The panelists at the Nov. 20 event voiced views ranging from outright opposition (Barry Summers, representing People Advocating Real Conservancy) to strong support (GPI President/CEO Craig Madison). The inclusion of City Attorney Bob Oast and Planning and Development Director Scott Shuford seemed to affect the overall balance of the panel, with a majority of panelists more or less favoring the project.

The evening began on a symbolic note, as attendees viewed conflicting artist’s renderings of the proposed project. PARC’s display contained a 3-D model of the park, with a black box sized to the building dimensions permitted by city and Pack Square Conservancy guidelines. The Grove Park Inn exhibit, meanwhile, relied on plot plans and drawings. The model showed an overwhelming presence in the downtown skyline; the plans and drawings, on the other hand, did very little to suggest what the new building’s visual and spatial impact might be.

After the panelists had made opening remarks revealing their particular interest or involvement in the project, the floor was opened to questions. For an hour-and-a-half, twin lines of participants advanced to the microphones, raising a variety of points. Some questioned the process by which the inn had been granted an option to buy the land, the limited amount of public input, and the shifting depictions of the project at public information sessions and on the Pack Square Conservancy Web site. Others wondered what other suitable sites might be available and whether they’d been considered. Still others charged that key facts have been misrepresented during the public process and asked why the public is not being listened to on this issue. When time ran out, lines of would-be questioners still ranged all along both walls of the ballroom.

At times, the crowd became noisy, especially when they thought panelists were willfully misinterpreting a question or when a questioner seemed to score a telling point. Moderator Maxine Dalton acquitted herself well, maintaining order and keeping both panelists and questioners on track. The evening’s most awkward moment may have been when someone asked Oast for legal advice and he said he couldn’t answer because he is the attorney for the city. “That’s us!” came a cry from the crowd, answered by a thundering chorus of “We are the city!” Oast, however, sat down without further comment.

PARC member Julie Brandt seemed to speak for most attendees when she observed that during the Council meeting at which the option was approved, “Nineteen of 22 people spoke in opposition to the plan.” Then, gesturing to the crowd and citing the overwhelming opposition, Brandt asked, “What will it take to convince the city and Craig Madison that the people of Asheville don’t want this building?”

Madison’s only response was to assert, “We have gone through all of the legal steps” and to note, “Restrictions are making it very difficult to make this a feasible project.” No one else made any attempt to address the question of public input.

It remains to be seen whether Council will revisit the issue — and if so, how — in the face of what appears to be strong and growing opposition to the sale and private development of downtown parkland.

— Cecil Bothwell, Brian Sarzynski

Behind closed doors

Lee Stinnett believes the annual Montford Tour of Homes spotlights the most interesting array of historic residences you’ll find in Asheville.

Of course, Stinnett could be biased — after all, he serves on the steering committee for the event, now in its 10th year. Still, he just might have a point. The featured homes range from an 1899 shingle-style Victorian home designed by Richard Sharp Smith (supervising architect for Biltmore Estate) to a 1920s Arts and Crafts bungalow, and from a 1906 shingle/Colonial Revival home (once the residence of Asheville’s first mayor, Alfred S. Bernard) to a 1926 storefront that was originally a Piggly Wiggly.

“I think it’s also worthwhile for people to visit the Montford area to get a sense of an eclectic, dynamic neighborhood that has greatly rebounded in the last 10, 15 years,” notes Stinnett. “It’s a racially mixed area [and] most of the homeowners are do-it-yourself people who are improving their property and improving the neighborhood.”

This year’s tour happens Saturday, Dec. 13 from 2-5 p.m. Tickets ($16 advance, $20 that day) can be purchased at assorted Montford and downtown Asheville locations, including Pyper’s Place, Viva Europa, The Readers Corner, the Chamber of Commerce Visitors Center, and Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe. Proceeds benefit the Montford Neighborhood Association, which sponsors the tour.

Tour participants will receive a flier describing the architecture and history of the featured houses. Docents will be on hand at each site to provide additional information, and light refreshments will be available at some homes. For those who’d rather ride than walk, trolley service will be available for a small additional fee.

There’ll also be a raffle to benefit both the association and the Montford Resource Center (235 Montford Ave.) The prizes, donated by local businesses and artists, include a diverse array of services and meals, arts-and-crafts items, plants, and overnight stays at neighborhood B&Bs. They’ll be on display at the Resource Center, where raffle tickets will be sold during tour hours.

To learn more, call Lisa Sizemore at 259-3939, ext. 1354, or visit the Montford Neighborhood Association Web site (www.montford.org).

— Lisa Watters

I’ll just tag along…

In 2001, environmental lawyer Clark Wright took some time off to hike much of the Appalachian Trail. The journey, he says, “reawakened in me my love of the Appalachian Trail, sections of which I had hiked on when I was a kid in the 1960s and 1970s.”

Wright took special pleasure in exploring those portions of the trail that run through North Carolina, his home state: the Southern Nantahala Wilderness, Fontana Lake and Dam, Clingman’s Dome and other treasures of the Great Smoky Mountains, as well as the Roan Highlands (including Hump and Little Hump mountains), which grace the North Carolina/Tennessee border.

Last year, inspired by some e-mail discussions on a national AT listserv, Wright came up with the idea of establishing a new N.C. specialty license tag that would provide permanent funding for those portions of the trail. So he drafted a bill and helped lobby for its passage.

Thanks to the efforts of many people — especially state Sen. Joe Sam Queen, who represents Avery, Haywood, Madison, McDowell, Mitchell and Yancey counties — the N.C. General Assembly passed a bill authorizing the creation of an Appalachian Trail specialty tag this summer, Wright reports.

The goal now, he explains, is to get at least 300 people to sign up for the new tag by Jan. 15, 2004 so that the tags can be approved and manufacturing and distribution can begin (and “We can start raising funds,” adds Wright).

Of the extra $30 per year it will cost to own one of these tags, $20 will go to the Appalachian Trail Conference. The funds can be used for trail viewshed or right of way acquisitions, trail maintenance, trail construction and related educational efforts.

Although the design for the tag is still being finalized, a number of potential designs and color schemes can be viewed on the National Scenic Trails Web site (http://gallery.backcountry.net). The public is invited to check out the options and register their preferences.

For information or an application form, call Clark Wright at (252) 633-1101 or visit the Appalachian Trail Web site (www.appalachiantrail.org/trailnews/nc_plate.html).

— Lisa Watters

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