Bothwell: Poll says 86 percent of Asheville voters support park

City Councilman Cecil Bothwell presents results of a poll showing majority support a park on land across from U.S. Cellular Center and Basilica of St. Lawrence. Photo by Virginia Daffron.

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.”

Garden created by Elder & Sage: Uptown Asheville Senior Gardeners at the fence line of the "Pit of Despair." Photo by Virginia Daffron.
Garden created by Elder & Sage: Uptown Asheville Senior Gardeners at the fence line of the “Pit of Despair.” Photo by Virginia Daffron.

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.”

Raised beds donated by Kirkland/Weavercooke Cambria Suites team. Photo by Virginia Daffron.
Raised beds donated by Kirkland/Weavercooke Cambria Suites team. Photo by Virginia Daffron.

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.

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About Virginia Daffron
Managing editor, lover of mountains, native of WNC. Follow me @virginiadaffron

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23 thoughts on “Bothwell: Poll says 86 percent of Asheville voters support park

  1. NFB

    “Then, in the 2005 election, Robin Cape, Bryan Freeborn and Holly Jones came out against the deck and they were all elected.”

    Bryan Freeborn was not elected. He lost, but was appointed by Council to fill the seat vacated by Terry Bellamy when she was elected in the middle of her Council term to Mayor. There is a difference between being elected and being appointed.

    “Asheville PARC ran a phone poll in August 2012, dialing every registered voter who had voted in the past two City elections.”

    Misleading. I received a phone call taking that poll and participated. The other registered voters in my household, all of who had also voted in the past two City elections were not called or polled.

    “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.”

    Again, misleading. Once again I got this call and was polled but others in my household who fit the above criteria were not polled.

    “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.”

    This does not sound like a very scientific poll. It also sounds like the screening was not very accurate. I am on the “do not call” list and still got the poll.

    “The cost of a demonstration garden in raised beds on the existing surface could be zero, if we accept donated materials and labor.”

    What about the ongoing cost of maintaining it?

  2. Grant Milin

    It was more than general public opposition in the early 80s that stopped the Downtown Mall. Entrepreneurs like my Dad who purchased T.S. Morrison & Co. in 1980 created an economic position against the mall developers.

    There are 88,000 Asheville citizens now all needing a high value yet sustainability oriented solution on both the COA and Catholic Diocese properties in this section of Haywood Street. The voting age segment are not just the folks on Bothwell’s Rolodex.

    A strategy that prevents a luxury hotel/condo development from going in is more than a protest movement and a poll.

    One vision for the City of Asheville 68-76 Haywood Street property and 88,000 citizens

    http://www.grantmillin.com/one-vision-for-68-76-haywood-and-88000-citizens/

  3. NFB, you can quibble about the methodology, but the poll reached a lot of voters. (Every phone poll only reflects the views of people who answer their phones. ) If there were multiple voters at one phone, it is obviously difficult to poll every individual. The company contracted for the poll purportedly screens based on the “do not call” list. A whole lot of people think they are on that list, who are not. (My information is that the list somehow requires re-registry … I don’t know the rules, but I do know that I was assured that our poll would not call anyone on the “official” list.”

    • NFB

      Councilman Bothwell,

      Thank you for your reply. According to the FTCs web site registering is no necessary. Cut and paste from their website:

      “How long does my phone number stay registered?

      “Telephone numbers on the Registry don’t expire. We only remove your number when it’s disconnected and reassigned, unless you ask us to remove it.”

      Anyway, I recognize the difficulty of polling ever individual but trying to present a poll as scientific when there appears to be more than few holes in it. As I have stated on other threads here at MX I am not adamantly opposed to a park in this space just very skeptical and I certainly admire its proponents passion (if often finding it a bit exasperating.)

      • The polling company I employed represented that they screened out all “do not call” numbers. I don’t have a ready answer.

        • NFB

          Fair enough.

          Polling companies are exempt from the Do Not Call Registry (as are political calls) so they did not violate any law. But they either goofed or were not forthright when they made their commitment to you.

          None of that really matters much. My overall point, perhaps poorly made, is that there seem to be a little too many qualifiers about this poll that would brings its scientific accuracy into question.

  4. OneWhoKnows

    Please do NOT vote for ANY of the silly ‘progressives’ running for City Council…AVL has had decades of pitiful wannabe ‘progressive’ non leadership and it SHOWS!!! Let’s elect some BALANCE and DIVERSITY on Council by voting for Dee Williams, John Miall, and Carl Mumpower so AVL can be led much better!

    (funny how NO progressive can tell you WHY ‘progressivism’ has FAILED for the past hundred years in every country tried!)

    • hauntedheadnc

      Funny how no conservative is ever willing to explain why progressive states like Massachusetts lead the nation in quality of life indicators, while conservative states like Mississippi boast indicators more in line with the developing world.

      • Big Al

        Must not be too high quality or there would not be so many damn Yankees moving AWAY from the northeast to the south and telling us how things “ought to be”.

        • Hauntedheadnc

          Tell me, Big Al, which region of the nation leads the country in rates of poverty, illiteracy, obesity, heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, strokes, cancer, HIV infection, std transmission, infant mortality, teen pregnancy, and child hunger — among other things?

          Look it up. I’ll wait. Our weather is our only saving grace, and the people from less stupid states who move here to enjoy it are probably the only reason we compare to the developing world and not the third world.

      • OneWhoKnows

        so Haunted, why don’t you just carpetbag yo way on up to Taxachusetts and find you a rich Kennedy to court … you might
        be famous yet.

        • Hauntedheadnc

          Mr. Caudle, I was born here and i have no intention of being chased out of my home.

          • OneWhoKnows

            roflmao! still loving your anonymity I see, right? you sound like that silly smarmy gordo smithiness …
            except he’s NOT a native…

  5. Jaded Local

    86% favor a park. 14% favor selling the land.

    86% = 14% = 100%.

    So nobody was undecided? This seems unlikely. And does this poll take into account people who hung up on it because they loath robocalls? Or how about taking into account those of us who have voted in the past several City Council elections who did not get to take part because we were not available to take part when the call came through?

    I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. It should wold be nice if “progressives” in Asheville spent half the amount of time and energy they spend on trying to get another park downtown on trying to get some affordable housing in Asheville. But apparently affordable housing is worth having a yard sign campaign, or 10,000 letters to MX and the ACT, or annoying people with robocalls with but affordable housing is not.

    • Big Al

      “Progressives” ARE trying to get more “affordable housing” by building another park.

      When the weather is nice, lots of BUMS make their HOMES in our public park spaces.

      For FREE.

      How is that for “affordable”?

      • Lulz

        Why in Buncome County, those with health insurance are increasing because they can “afford” to purchase it. But 90% of them are SUBSIDIZED. LOL, they “purchased” it. Progress is delusion in bizarro-USA. 20 trillion in debt and they just don’t get it.

    • Amen Jaded Local! It is obvious that more parks will raise rents and that asheville homeowners have a huge vested interest in raising rents. I bet there were very few tenants in that poll.

  6. Asheville’s efforts to create affordable housing have been the best in North Carolina, but not nearly enough to solve the problem. A study from UNC Chapel Hill in Dec. 2014 revealed that Asheville has done more to create affordable housing than any other City in the state (since 2000).

    The lesson for me (and I’ve served on the Housing and Community Development Committee which oversees housing issues) is that it is beyond the capability of the City to “create” affordable housing. The reality is that the 21st century shift from white flight to the suburbs, to rich investment in downtown, has moved affordability to the margins. This is not something I want, it is something I see. So extension of Transit lines beyond City limits, with Park-n-Rides, etc. is the best way to aid affordability. If our commuters can rely on affordable transit, it will make their housing more affordable.

    • Asheville’s efforts have been among the worst at creating affordable housing, which is perfectly obvious because asheville has close to the highest rents in the state. The National Low Income Housing Coalition map makes it clear that red states are beating blue states on affordable housing, despite “efforts”; and section 8 vouchers are totally market dependent.

  7. OneWhoKnows

    this poll was designed by Bothwell to get the desired result…it’s TOTALLY BOGUS, because MOST people want the lot
    to be a mixed use with hotel and greenspace, which it CAN definitely BE…leave it to the progressives to try and CONTROL the citizens on this…why do progressive democrackkks ALWAYS have to be EVIL controllers ?

  8. I find it hard to believe that 86% of Ashvillians would vote for higher rents, unless perhaps there were hardly any tenants in the poll and the selected people were almost all homeowners with a vested interest in raising rents. If the pollsters avoided tenants, then that would explain the numbers.

  9. We obtained the available phone numbers for everyone who had voted in the past two City elections and the past two County elections (Dist. 1), plus those who had registered since the 2014 election. We deemed this people to be “likely voters.” After removing cell numbers (illegal to call in an automated poll) and those on the “do not call” list – we had 6,888 numbers. Each number was dialed at least twice, sometimes more (if there was a busy signal or a machine answered), and we called in the morning and evening of 9/22. This is hardly a perfect poll: it skews older due to land lines, for example, though voting also skews older. I’d urge anyone with more money than I have to conduct a poll including cell phones (which are very expensive since it requires human dialers), or hire a large polling firm (PPP, Gallup, etc.) to do the job. But the results still appear significant to me – particularly with the huge differential. My chief argument is that this suggests we should stop the City Staff from proceeding with sale (they’re slated to move ahead in January) and conduct community surveys to see what the people of Asheville really want to see happen.

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