We have a free front seat at one of the great melodramas, replete with Roman tragedy, Greek pathos, bathos and raw comedy.
The opening scene takes place in City/County Plaza in the ancient village of Asheville. Many worshippers and mystical witches are dancing around a beautiful magnolia tree that they have imbued with a special spirit.
The rising full moon casts a frightening shadow over the scene, and as all look up, a Greedy Developer appears, dressed in a huge black cape with fire in his eyes and long, fingerlike tentacles.
“Save me! Save me!” the magnolia cries out as the crowd moans in great passion, knowing the developer is about to drive them from this sacred ground and destroy the tree.
In the next scene the Park Queen, Connie Servancy, enters. She’s garbed totally in green, except for her silver tongue—which has extracted millions of government and private dollars in order to turn a park into a park as the cost has risen from $8 million to $22 million-plus, and the completion date has extended into eternity.
In the process, she’s managed to siphon off precious funding that could have gone to many other worthy civic projects, such as the Reid Center or affordable housing. We even had to settle for a plain-vanilla roof on our Civic Center, which is falling down around itself.
The queen, however, has promised that a phoenix will arise from this site, which will consist of a band shell where the homeless can hang out, complete with covered parking for their shopping carts. And this tiny sliver of land that is home to the magnolia tree, she declares, is part of her empire—never mind that her minions destroyed scores of its brothers and sisters.
Along with the anti-everything protesters, she decries the Greedy Developer’s plan to build a condominium for rich people, even though a similar building was shown in her original plans.
Meanwhile, outside the gates, the less fortunate keep up a constant chant, crying: “Please don’t take all the money from our shelters, our food banks, our child care. Why not direct your energies and money toward helping us, instead of trying to save a tree?”
In the next scene, City Council members clad in togas wring their hands in great anguish, pointing fingers at the county commissioners (also wearing togas)—who, in a parallel scene, decry their own decision to sell off this sacred parcel.
The commissioners apologize for having conducted what appeared to be a legal transaction, proclaiming, “We’re so sorry we didn’t know that the building shown in the conservancy plan was just a façade to hide Eagle Street so parkgoers wouldn’t be offended by the view.”
Other scenes show the Greedy Developer interacting with all parties in a non-attempt to reach a compromise. Here stands this powerful monster who has jumped through all the hoops, despite these groups who are eager to bring him to his knees.
But hark: They’ve called for the ruthless black knight, Emmett Domain, to come to the courtyard and do battle with this villain. Unfortunately, Emmett works on cost-plus, and that may be more than the taxpayers want to pony up to cancel the project. Confronted with the cost, they raise a chorus of protest that can be heard all over the village. Meanwhile, the magnolia sings “Save me” and the unfortunates outside the walls chant “Help us” in harmony.
The final dramatic scene depicts the eloquent lawyer for the descendants of generous Lumber Jack Pack singing that the land was deeded to the county in perpetuity. The lawyer for the Greedy Developer sings, “There’s no sunshine on a cloudy deed,” giving him clear title to the property.
The judge (casting note: They couldn’t find a male with a powdered wig, so they cast a female judge with a beautiful head of hair instead) rules that the land must remain available to the public. Hosannas ring out across the courtroom and the village.
But wait. The Greedy Developer stands with arms folded, contemplating an appeal as the only way to gain a profitable settlement.
The spectacular finale features the entire cast in full costume—activists and witches; the helpless, the homeless and the hippies in their tatters; trust-funders interspersed with the toga-draped Council and commissioners; judges and lawyers in their august robes; Connie resplendent in green; and Emmett in his special (law)suit of armor—all holding hands and dancing around the magnolia tree.
The star and perceived villain of the piece, Greedy Developer, leads everyone in a reprise of “This Land is Our Land,” his huge black cape swaying, while the bewildered magnolia tree continues to murmur, “Save me!”
In the end, this morality play demonstrates the powerlessness of all the factions involved:
• The power of prayer. Will the earth people’s sincere incantations save the magnolia tree? Probably not.
• The power of government. Will the efforts of either chamber of government succeed in stopping the project, short of an expensive payoff? Probably not.
• The power of politics. Will the conservancy get this land under its control and finish the park in our lifetime? Probably not.
• The power of the courts. Will the judge’s ruling, subject to appeal, result in the return of this land to the county? Probably not.
• The power of money. With the millionaire potential purchasers of these condos unable to get financing from the greedy banks, and the roadblocks created by governmental and obstructionist forces, will the Greedy Developer ever build the project? Probably not.
• And finally, the power of heart and charity. Amid the din and clamor of all those who find this such a compelling issue, will the cries for help of those who are most needy be heard? Probably not.
[Local developer Jerry Sternberg is a longtime observer of the community scene. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.]