‘Pit of Despair’ plans could move forward at Jan. 22 Council meeting

Asheville city seal

After kicking the proverbial can down the road in April, Asheville City Council will again reckon with one of the city’s most intractable tracts of land. On Tuesday, Jan. 22, Council members will consider whether to authorize City Manager Debra Campbell to pursue funding for a final site plan at 68-76 Haywood St. and 33-39 Page Ave. — the property popularly known as the Pit of Despair.

In a staff report submitted before the meeting, Planning and Urban Design Director Todd Okolichany noted that Council’s Finance and Human Resources Committee had decided not to foot the approximately $324,000 bill for design services after Charlottesville, Va.-based Nelson Byrd Wolz Landscape Architects offered its proposal last year. Instead, Council asked staff for “recommendations on alternative funding strategies that would keep the project a priority.”

Staff’s recommendation is to find roughly $340,000 in as-yet unidentified funding (including $16,000 in survey fees), split over the current and following fiscal years. “This option would provide City Council with the most data in order to make an informed decision about the long-term, sustained use and programming” of the property, Okolichany wrote.

However, Council would have to reconsider existing priorities to free up money for the project. Less expensive options presented in the report include releasing a request for site development based on the Haywood Street Visioning Project Advisory Team Final Report, completed in March 2017, or reviewing proposals on a case-by-case basis.

While the location remains in limbo, Okolichany added, staff have heard concerns about “sleeping and camping, as well as general conditions” at the site. “Staff is also seeking direction on the short-term use of these properties,” he wrote.

In other business

With proposed changes to historical overlay district and landmark zoning tabled indefinitely, the only public hearing on the agenda concerns a conditional rezoning of property at the corner of Patton and Clingman avenues for a Duke Energy substation. Formerly a Volvo dealership, the site could host a 5,200 square foot, two-story building that staff says will provide “a critical service in an area targeted for significant growth.”

Council will also consider a number of revisions to Asheville’s noise ordinance, first proposed by Senior Assistant City Attorney John Maddux at a December Public Safety Committee meeting. As previously reported by Xpress, the changes would eliminate the Noise Ordinance Appeals Board, make animal noise the purview of animal control officers and regulate construction noise through the city’s Development Services Department.

Maddux noted in his staff report, however, that the changes do not address commercial noise. Several commenters at December’s Public Safety Committee meeting said the city had reneged on its obligations to ensure reasonable sound levels from businesses such as downtown bars and the Salvage Station concert venue.

“The city manager has expressed an interest in undertaking a more comprehensive review of the city’s noise regulations with the intention of making more substantive changes if necessary,” Maddux wrote. “These revisions, therefore, should be considered a first step in a longer-term effort aimed at identifying how noise will be regulated in Asheville.”

Consent agenda

Only four items, including approval of last meeting’s minutes, are on the shorter-than-usual consent agenda for Tuesday evening. The three substantive items are as follow:

  • A resolution approving a $1,113,000 agreement with Greenville, S.C.-based The Harper Corporation to replace the sodium bicarbonate silo at the city’s North Fork Water Treatment plant. Money for the project is already budgeted through the Capital Improvement Program Fund.
  • A resolution approving an additional $300,000 for legal services from local firm McGuire, Wood & Bissette and other external firms. Assistant City Manager Cathy Ball said delays in hiring a new city attorney and unanticipated needs have forced Asheville to spend more on outside legal counsel.
  • A resolution authorizing an additional $3,000 for McLean, Va.-based Fields Consulting Group, which has been reviewing the Asheville Police Department’s promotion processes. The new funds will bring total spending on the review to $92,000.

Asheville City Council meets at 5 p.m. in council chambers on the second floor of City Hall at 70 Court Plaza, Asheville. The full meeting agenda and supporting documents can be found here.

Editor’s note: This article was updated on Jan. 25 to accurately reflect the amount of the legal services budget amendment. 

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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the Green Scene editor and city government beat reporter for Mountain Xpress. His work has previously appeared in Capital at Play, Edible Asheville, and the Citizen-Times, among other area publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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5 thoughts on “‘Pit of Despair’ plans could move forward at Jan. 22 Council meeting

  1. Enlightened Enigma

    how much revenue has the city received from the $74M bond issue 2 years ago ? anyone?

    • SpareChange

      More directly, I’m interested in the opportunity costs from letting this valuable property continue to lie largely vacant. Millions to acquire it. More to tear down some of the buildings. Bothwell’s phony and incredibly costly and impractical park initiative. Maintaining it for years without it generating ANY revenue or serving any purpose. Indefinitely postponing the common sense (and thus anti-climatic) recommendations of the visioning process because now there is no money to follow through with a real plan. Coming up with some pretend passive uses in the meantime to make it “look” like the city is not just letting it lie fallow: yoga classes (fail), food trucks (fail), tables and umbrellas for folks to congregate (fail), local art (fail). The BIG success?? A “community garden” which is only functional during the warm weather months, which provides a nice repast for a handful of folks who live in the Battery Park Apartments, and which provides a handful of people with multi-million dollar tomato plants and daisies. Keep the garden if you really feel the need, but it’s past time for the City to act on this. Cut your losses, put a for sale sign on it, and move on.

      • luther blissett

        Yeah, it’s become a literal sunk-cost fallacy. I think there was some value in having it off the market during the craziest Hotel! Hotel! Hotel! years, but not now. (You know what downtown needs? Affordable office space for small businesses.)

  2. Robin

    Another $100,000 for attorney fees? Didn’t the City just give MWB a big legal contract? I’d be curious how much the City has spent on legal fees, and what’s the issue with why can’t they hires their own attorneys?

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