In a press conference across the street from the so-called “Pit of Despair,” Asheville City Councilman and Buncombe County Board of Commissioners candidate Cecil Bothwell said this morning that a poll conducted by his campaign shows that 86 percent of likely Asheville voters favor a park on the city-owned parcel opposite the Basilica of St. Lawrence and the U.S. Cellular Center.
Bothwell said his campaign dialed 6,888 phone numbers a minimum of two times (morning and evening) and spoke with 1,360 registered Asheville voters on Tuesday, Sept. 22. According to Bothwell, similar polls over the past three years — including an online poll conducted by the Asheville Citizen-Times — have yielded similar results. More than 4,000 people have signed an online petition, and more than 1,000 homes and businesses are displaying signs supporting the park.
Of the 14 percent polled who favored selling the land, Bothwell said, “That’s not unreasonable, and those 14 percent have representatives on Council who are arguing that position. Marc Hunt and Gordon Smith have taken the lead for selling this property, and they have majority support on Council.”
But Bothwell believes the wishes of the majority of Asheville voters and residents should guide the city’s actions with regards to this parcel.
Residents of the Vanderbilt Apartments and the Battery Park Apartments attended the press conference and expressed support for the idea of a park. Clare Hanrahan, resident of the Vanderbilt apartments and a leader of Elder & Sage: Uptown Asheville Senior Gardeners, pointed out that the area surrounding the city-owned lot is actually a neighborhood with over 300 senior and disabled residents. Resident Rachel Bliss agreed, saying, “We really do need green space in this neighborhood.”
Hanrahan gestured toward two raised garden beds next to the fence surrounding the property. She said the beds had been donated by the team which is constructing the Cambria Suites hotel across from the Grove Arcade. The developer of that project has leased the lot from the city as a staging and storage area for construction equipment and supplies for one year.
“They’re nice,” said Hanrahan of the beds, “but they don’t mitigate the harm done by the increased traffic, noise, disruption and safety issues of having construction vehicles moving through a neighborhood made up of seniors and folks with disabilities for a year.”
The full text of Bothwell’s remarks is reprinted below:
Asheville City Council has a long record of voting against the wishes of the people who actually live here.
Back in the 1980s, Council voted to demolish several square blocks of downtown buildings for a mall, a plan that would have gutted our wonderful downtown. Only widespread public opposition stopped it.
Then in 2003, Council voted to sell a portion of Pack Square Park, the area that’s now the visitor’s center and restrooms, to the Sammons Corporation of Dallas, Texas, which owned the Grove Park Inn.
They planned to build a fifteen story condo there.
I wrote the petition to stop that plan, and the people working on the petition were the founders of Asheville PARC – People Advocating Real Change.
Soon, yard signs reading “Boycott the Grove Park Inn” lined Macon Avenue. After a big community meeting where hundreds of citizens spoke out against selling part of their park, the Grove Park Inn dropped their plan.
In 2004, City Council voted for a high rise in front of the Basilica and a 5 story parking deck that would have wrapped around the Battery Park apartments. We collected thousands of petition signatures opposing this project.
Then, in the 2005 election, Robin Cape, Bryan Freeborn and Holly Jones came out against the deck and they were all elected. The plan died — although not before it cost the city millions, including over one million for a management company to run the non-existent deck for the non-existent first year.
More recently, City Council decided to sell these four parcels of land in front of the Basilica to McKibbon, for a high-rise hotel.
Asheville PARC ran a phone poll in August 2012, dialing every registered voter who had voted in the past two City elections. Only a tiny percentage of voters wanted the hotel.
Council went ahead and voted to sell the property to McKibbon anyway, but other hotels threatened a law suit, outraged at the shady deal, with its expired promise to build, and its below market price. McKibbon withdrew.
Over and over again, we see City Council ignoring the wishes of the people, wishes they’ve expressed quite clearly.
It seems that folks are all about the voters when they run for office, but suddenly they know better, once they’re in office.
I looked into holding a referendum on sale of this property, but under North Carolina law, it’s illegal for a municipal government to hold a referendum on the sale of property.
I tried to convince my fellow Council members to hire a polling firm to determine what the residents want. They declined.
So last week, my campaign conducted a poll of 1360 likely Asheville voters about the future of the City-owned property opposite the Basilica of St. Lawrence and the US Cellular Center.
The result was overwhelmingly FOR preservation of the property for a public green space — 86 percent in favor.
We dialed every phone number available from the Board of Elections for people who voted in the last two City elections and the last two District One County elections, and people who had registered to vote since the 2014 election.
After eliminating cell phones and those on the “do not call” list, we dialed 6,888 numbers, calling every number at least twice, calling in both the morning and evening, on September twenty-second. Thirteen hundred, sixty people answered the poll.
I’ve already heard from people who wanted a different polling company, or different questions asked, or a different methodology than calling everybody whose number we’d obtained.
To those people, let me encourage you to commission any poll you want.
But if you’re looking for a different result, you won’t find it with any fair poll.
The results of our polls have been quite consistent over a three year span. In our current petition drive, almost 4,000 people signed, and well over a thousand homes and businesses are displaying our signs.
86% of us think that green space on that land is the right thing to do.
What can you do with a pit of despair, except plant trees on it?
14 percent of Asheville voters believe we should sell the property for development so we can collect tax revenue.
That’s not unreasonable, and those 14 percent have representatives on Council who are arguing that position. Marc Hunt and Gordon Smith have taken the lead for selling this property, and they have majority support on Council.
That position may make sense for if you’re looking for developer dollars to fund your campaign, but it doesn’t work if you think Council should represent the residents who elected you.
Opponents are spinning out imaginary numbers. The City staff has already offered an estimate of the cost to build a so-called “park” – at $960,000. It’s anybody’s guess where that number came from.
Marc Hunt has offered his own estimate of $4 million. Again – pulling a number out of thin air. Will it be a sculpture park? A performance space? A demonstration garden? A full-blown park? A plaza with greenery and a kiosk for food and beverages?
It’s just a complete fabrication to offer a cost for something that hasn’t been designed yet.
The cost of NOT selling the land is zero.
The cost of a demonstration garden in raised beds on the existing surface could be zero, if we accept donated materials and labor.
The cost of permitting a tailgate market in the gravel lot could also be near zero, since it only involves removing the chain link fence.
People who spin imaginary numbers have an agenda, and their goal is selling that land.
I think the 86 percent who want the area to be green space need a little more representation on Council.
That’s why I endorse Brian Haynes, Rich Lee and Keith Young in the current City Council race.
They were early supporters of St. Lawrence Green. They are the only candidates to unequivocally support preservation of the property for public use.
They will listen to the people of this City on the many other issues that come before City Council.
Keith Young says, “Developers or neighborhood voices? I can hear the citizens loud and clear!”
Brian Haynes says, “I endorse creating green space on the city-owned land in front of the Basilica and believe that we should fight to preserve the little remaining green space in our downtown.”
Rich Lee says, “ … the land should be a true city park, now and forever.” I agree. Thank you.