St. Lawrence Green supporters plan Council appearance

Petitions in support of a park at "St. Lawrence Green." Image provided by Citizens for St. Lawrence Green

Supporters of a public park on the site of a city-owned lot across the street from the Basilica of St. Lawrence and the U.S. Cellular Center are gearing up to present 4,389 signed petitions in favor of a park at the Dec. 8 meeting of City Council.

“I think the overwhelming enthusiasm of all the residents finally having their voice heard
will bring folks out to Council tomorrow,” said Kathleen Lyons on behalf of the Citizens for St. Lawrence Green. “This issue of residents wanting a green space on that property has been ongoing for years now.”

Park supporters have been buoyed by the results of the recent City Council elections, which saw two candidates who supported the park from the beginnings of their campaigns — Brian Haynes and Keith Young — voted into office. Also elected was Julie Mayfield, who initially favored private development with a plaza for the site, but who expanded her position to support a public park if a significant amount of the funding necessary for the creation of the park can be raised. Incumbent Vice Mayor Marc Hunt, who favored a use for the site which would generate property tax revenue for the city, was defeated in his bid for re-election.

Along with longtime park supporter Councilman Cecil Bothwell, the park advocates appear to have a good shot at convincing Council to hold off on developing the property, at least for now.

In an email, Lyons wrote that 765 signatures in favor of the park were submitted via the park supporters’ website, 1,354 were signed on Change.org and 2,270 were collected via door-to-door canvassing. Neighborhoods in which signatures were collected included West Asheville, North Asheville, Downtown, Kenilworth, Five Points and Haw Creek.

“There is another book of signed petitions from a few years ago with an additional 1,746 signatures,” continued Lyons, who said someone would be making a statement on behalf of the group during the public comment period at the end of the Council meeting.

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

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36 thoughts on “St. Lawrence Green supporters plan Council appearance

  1. North Asheville

    Could someone start a petition in favor of a mixed use, tax=–revenue producing use for the city owned property in question, one that combined an architecturally distinctive building to complement St. Lawrence, along with appropriate public plaza and green space?

  2. The increase in tax valuation of nearby properties will easily exceed any gain that might be made from direct development of this site. (Reference: other cities with pocket parks and associated tax gains.)

    • Gary W

      Willing to provide a few example of those cities? I would to research them. Also will there be a park warden at this park as well? How this “park” will be used should be interesting. You raised taxes in order to maintain existing services, but apparently the city has more than enough money for another park. This is shameful. We need affordable housing, repaved streets, sidewalks etc but instead, we focus on another park several blocks from an existing one. If I remember correctly, it’s because of the increased property tax valuations is the reason why people are complaining that Asheville is becoming too expensive to live in. Downtown real estate is some of the most expensive in the area right now. It does not need another park to exasperate this trend.

      • Lulz

        LOL, and don’t forget the fountain going in at the Grove Park area at a cost of over 300,000 along with a wall built a couple of years ago who’s bloated 300, 000 plus cost wasn’t for structural purposes but aesthetic lulz. Or the millions literally being poured into the area around New Belgium on top of all the other money being given to them lulz. LOL, and remember that Raleigh changing the the tax code was Bothwell’s reason to support and get another back to back tax increase lulz.

        LOL, seems to me that we’re paying wealthy and brewers to come here yet no one is expecting them to pay anything in return.

    • Peter Robbins

      Also, could you flesh out that assertion with specific estimates of tax-revenue gains and park-creation costs? Thanks.

      • Lulz

        LOL, that’s the issue. Whatever tax gains are seen and collected are squandered on pet projects and insider cronyism instead of giving tax relief to residents lulz. Isn’t it funny that on one end they tout how much revenue is collected and on the other how bad a shape the city is in and property taxes are needed to make up for it LOL?

    • hauntedheadnc

      There are two low-income apartment buildings within spitting distance of any new park. If such a new park is going to raise property values that much, what incentives will there to to *not* turn those low-income housing towers into pricey condos?

    • Yared Sharot

      I think that’s the FIRST time someone has actually come forward with a money argument for the park.

      That’s all great and ideal; if you’ve got a cute, well-maintained, rich park. It’s another thing if it’s a drug-ridden, vandalized dopeland like Pritchard park.

      • Peter Robbins

        I wouldn’t concur in the argument for the nice park until we’ve seen a realistic accounting of the direct costs (both past or future), the opportunity costs, the comparative benefits of both options, and the public trade-offs (including government spending that may have to be curtailed elsewhere). We can discount for less desirable outcomes after we’ve seen the rosiest scenario.

    • Peter Robbins

      That parks have benefits does not establish that this particular one has benefits that outweigh the cost. That argument might take more than 45 seconds, though.

      • My point being that there are a multitude of studies demonstrating the economic benefit of small green public spaces in city after city.

        • Peter Robbins

          Okay, that’s a start. But how does that benefit (and cost) compare to the benefit (and cost) of a commercially successful building-plaza? I’m not fussing at you, but anyone can argue for the desirability of a free (perhaps vegan?) lunch. I looked at the site and I could envision aesthetically acceptable possibilities for a building, and the park option, quite frankly, looked dubious. And I don’t say that out of animus toward the homeless or anything else anti-progressive. I’d love for there to be another park. But convince people with something more than a disinterested assessment of the local electorate’s far-sighted wisdom.

        • Yep cecil your 45″is more research than usual. The “naturally fun magazine” is about what I expected from you. Solid evidence.

    • Gary W

      It took me about 45 secs as well to find the following since you want to use Arlington to demonstrate your point. How much of these other policies will the current council adopt? I’ve copied a few excerpts from their plan. Housing downtown…I know that’s crazy talk.

      http://www.arlington-tx.gov/cdp/wp-content/uploads/sites/11/2014/05/Downtown_Master_Plan_Screen.pdf

      Downtown in Context

      Despite this City’s many promising, successful features, it’s important to take steps today that will create an even more thriving downtown area. This plan aims to do just that. A mix of housing, jobs, services and attractions is necessary to shape a vibrant and pedestrian-friendly downtown. The downtown also must function well for the thousands of students and staff who live or work at the University and in the surrounding areas.

      Regulatory Review

      One of the primary objectives should be that desired uses would be permitted under regulations that are clear and objective and that allow issuance of permits with a predictable outcome. This means that the zoning uses, development standards and design standards could be administered at a ministerial level (e.g., by appointed officials without the need for public hearings). Also the zoning should be sensitive to market realities, permitting sufficient density to allow developments that will meet financial standards of development profitability, while also conforming to community goals. Market realities shift over time, so these standards may need to be adjusted from time to time as well.

      Current Conditions

      Nearly half of the downtown area is occupied by industrial, commercial, institutional and retail uses. About 24 percent corresponds to streets and public rights-of-way. With just 13 percent of downtown used for housing and one-third of all the physical land in the study area used as parking lots, the area has fallen out of balance, requiring that people travel within the downtown primarily by car. This has created a pattern of economic concentration heavily dictated by daytime business activities and a retail environment stunted due to lack of customer diversity and evening hour destinations and activities. Developing a variety of housing options within the downtown and adjacent areas means more diverse groups will be able to use and appreciate the area on a daily basis, setting the stage for additional services and attractions.

  3. It’s amazingly simple to offer all the possible negatives about a public space – but the voters of Asheville are more forward-looking than to assume the past is prologue.
    The DTMP arrived at a goal of placing parks throughout our Downtown Business District at 2-1/2 minute walk intervals. The argument that Pritchard is nearby does not offer a reason to reject this park, it is exactly a reason to endorse it.
    The two former hotels that are now low income housing are owned by a Catholic charity – they are tax exempt. But other properties and businesses around St. Lawrence Green will benefit. Increased business valuation comes from increased business.

    The affordable housing argument is an empty one, as I’ve observed in many posts on many threads for many months. It is impossible for the City to fight the real estate market. Downtown was cheap when wealthy (and middle class) people fled in the post WWII suburban migration. Downtown became expensive when wealth rediscovered the livability and convenience of urban centers circa AD 2000. In the former years cities built housing projects on “worthless” city property. The market has other plans now. Pretending that we can raise enough tax money to meaningfully address affordability downtown is a pleasant fiction.

    Affordability has migrated away from city centers – everywhere, not just in Asheville. We need to accept the reality of our modern urban housing market and do all we can to help people access affordable housing at the margins. Better transit. Better “last-mile” options. Late night collectors for last shift hospitality workers.

    • CWar

      “It’s amazingly simple to offer all the possible negatives about a public space –”

      No –actually, opposing this, or any kind of similar “motherhood” proposal is actually fairly difficult, and requires some thoughtful, critical analysis and reflection on policy costs, and some vision of likely outcomes. What IS “amazingly simple” is to mount an intellectually dishonest campaign using yard signs which offer a fantasy depiction of a perfectly flat and tranquil green space at a busy downtown intersection which has a very steep grade. Or, to seize on people’s understandable anxieties about growth and change, and funnel them into support for a park, without carefully considering the wide range of possible alternatives for that parcel of land. Or, to tout imaginary economic benefits to (and taxes from) a corner of the city which has less private, taxable property than almost any other area. Or, to mount a deeply flawed push-poll showing support for the park. Or, to caricature any who question or oppose the park proposal as supporting a hotel or high rise for the space, or as being a lackey of development interests.

      Don’t get me wrong – that did take a lot of energy. And politically the campaign for a park, and effectively making it a symbol which resonated with many people living in neighborhoods to the north of downtown, in the midst of a very low turnout election, which did have a decisive impact on the outcome of two out of three of the seats, was all very well played. But the overly idealized depictions of what could actually be created there, what it would look like, its minimized costs, and exaggerated purported benefits, all have contributed to a considerable amount of divisiveness and an unfortunate dumbing down of the political discourse over this issue.

    • Jaded Local

      It would be nice if Asheville “progressives” cared as much about affordable housing as they do about another park. I don’t necessarily mean downtown (although the presence of both the Vanderbuilt and Battery Park shows it can be done regardless of what “other plans” the market has) but anywhere.

      Where is the massive yard sign campaign for affordable housing in the city? Where are the 14,000 letters to the various local papers demanding affordable housing? Where are the cynical false choices that the only option to affordable housing is another hotel?

      There was a time when progressives cared about social and economic justice and putting those struggling at the lowers ends of the economic margins at the top of the agenda. Those I count among my political heroes. Today, at least in Asheville, this is dismissed as “pleasant fiction” and all progressives seem to care more about some fanciful notion of (yet another) park downtown. Asheville is facing a crisis in affordable housing and yet the primary issue in the recent city council election was for a park downtown. Rome burns and yet we demand a place of lollipop gardens, gumdrop tress, and free range unicorns.

      I full support the notion of public park and public green spaces, but we have far more urgent problems in this city right now and it is sad to see people place another park as a top priority over the rapidly deteriorating affordable housing market in Asheville.

      • Big Al

        “progressives” have always cared more about trees (and whales, and owls, and darter snails…yada yada) than about people.

        • Jaded Local

          I don’t think that is the case, although certainly of late Asheville progressives aren’t doing anything to dispel that myth.

    • Better transit requires density which bothwell consistently opposes. More fantasy.

      No adjacent properties are going to see increased value from another park. If downtown residents stop caring for Pritchard Park, which I hope they do, you’ll see another s**t hole. the city doesn’t do anything to care for the park.

  4. Ashe Villager – it would be interesting for you to offer some example of votes taken on Council where I have opposed density.
    You won’t find any.

    Big Al – this is hardly about trees and whales, it is about livability of downtown. As our DTMP wisely suggested, a vibrant downtown has frequent pocket parks and green spaces. The stipulation in the DTMP is that they be within 2.5 minute walks of each other. This one fits, and is the only available City property that could provide that in the north part of downtown.

    Jaded Local – I’ve addressed the question about affordability upthread. In my view it is a fool’s errand to attempt to battle real estate price escalation with local tax money. (I continue to support use of federal funds for that purpose – not because I think it is more effective, but because as long as the feds are giving the City money earmarked for affordable housing it would be enormously stupid to reject it.)

  5. VladEmrick

    Want to help the citizens of the city? More money for sidewalks and suburban parks. Less money for greenways and downtown parks.

    • Gary W

      I completely agree and how about a more aggressive street repaving schedule. Have you attempted to drive down some of streets in various neighborhoods. The city is always looking to add more “parks” or what they deem as quality of life improvements when they have not been good stewards of their current infrastructure.

      • VladEmrick

        Exactly. Frankly, I can do without the current council’s obsession over downtown development issues. Get out here and help us in our neighborhoods.

  6. FRED

    This would unlikely be a hot button issue if there weren’t 8 high rises currently being built in Asheville as we type…. Anyone who’s been here for a few years is besides themselves at how dense downtown Asheville is becoming; I appreciate tourism, but the money they generate is going straight to the top. I’ll support a park just to stick it to the MAN!

    • Gary W

      8 new high rises??? And all of these are hotels downtown? There is other development besides hotels happening in downtown.

      • Fred

        My point exactly! If there wasn’t so many buildings going up all at once; nobody would care about that tiny green space! But since downtown is being inundated with so many high rises; everyone’s all in a tizzy about what’s happening to this park
        Space.

    • VladEmrick

      I’m curious as to what you think passes for a “high rise” in Asheville, because I’m hard pressed to find 8 of them.

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