Letter: Park is not a four-letter word

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Graphic by Lori Deaton

The Haywood Street Advisory Task Force “vision” presented to [Asheville City] Council is a personal vision of its members, not the majority of Asheville citizens. That is why I voted against it.

The task force was charged by Council to gather input from Asheville citizens to create a representative vision.

Public-input results overwhelmingly favored open, public green space. When this data was presented, members balked, as the makeup of this group is not average citizens, but mostly downtown developers/ businesspeople currently serving on other city boards and commissions, heavily weighted toward private development. In fact, the actual use of the word park was banned by vote from the vision.

Members asked facilitator Chris Joyell, “Do we have to use the public input, or can we create our own vision?” Astonishingly, Chris replied that the task force could create its own vision.

The task force felt that they knew better than Asheville citizens, and their vision included private development.

Some residents wanted private development; some residents also wanted a carousel on that site, but not the majority.

While I continually pointed to the data and our responsibility to Asheville citizens, members argued that the public input was “only meant to inform.” “We make the decision.” “It is not up to the majority.” “If it were just a matter of numbers, City Council would not need us.”

The “citizen” task force process was a farce. Council did not need this task force. There are 12 years of documented public support for green space, not more commercial development. The city’s downtown master plan even designates this spot for a park.

I refused to allow bullying and peer pressure to force me to vote for something that the majority of the citizens of Asheville clearly don’t want.

Park is not a four-letter word!

— Julie Nelson
Haywood Street Advisory Team Task Force member
Asheville

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15 thoughts on “Letter: Park is not a four-letter word

  1. painternc

    How many studies and how many master plans and how many calls for public input is necessary for the Mayor and City Council to acknowledge that in regards to the property on Haywood Street, the majority of residents want green space. A Park – and I agree with Julie Nelson, is not a four letter word.
    As a long time Asheville resident and active voter I am dismayed that the Mayor and City Council appointed a Task Force to make recommendations for this important piece of property that was heavily weighted with activists for commercial development. Business people committed to development, who seemed to feel it was OK to ignore the 12 years of collected information and create their own “vision”.
    If you go to a surgeon with a problem – the surgeon is probably going to recommend surgery. If the Mayor appoints a Task Force weighted with folks who are developers and business people connected to city commissions and boards – guess what “recommendations” you will get? …a Haywood Street retail space. And why should they consider the 12 years of data where residents over and over again ask for green space? (LOL)
    It seems that the political way is to create master plans, poll the community, over and over again – and when our City is not getting the answers they want, appoint a Task Force that will definitely come up with the “vision” that was wanted all along. So so disappointing.
    Nan Davis

  2. NFB

    On what basis does the letter writer make her claim that a “majority of Asheville citizens” support a park at this location?

    The 2015 election? Turnout of that election, like most City Council elections in Asheville, was below 20%, hardly anywhere near a number a “majority,” and even if one discounts those numbers it does not take into account that at least some of the people who voted for Councilman Haynes and Councilman Young could well have done so despite their support of a park, not because of it. It often seems that it is supporters of a park who are the single issue voters not the opponents.

    Councilman Bothwell’s poll? That poll made no attempt whatsoever to gauge the sentiments of the issue of Asheville citizens, by limiting its sample solely to those who had voted in the past two City Council elections and given how pathetic turnout is for those elections that is a very small minority. The poll has also has had ample debunking given its methodology, how its questions were phrased, etc.

    It is obvious that many supporters of a park are passionate in their views but it is beyond disingenuous to make claims as so many do that a “majority” of the citizens of Asheville support a park (and/or oppose the reasonable compromise proposed by the task force) when there is no evidence one way or the other.

  3. DreadT

    Park Please!

    Most people I have talked with that aren’t developers have said the same. Not a scientific poll, but that’s all I’ve heard from Asheville residents who keep informed of current issues.

    • NFB

      That still does not verify the claims so many park supporters that a “majority” of Asheville citizens want a park in that location.

  4. The Real World

    DreadT – well, I’d enjoy a Ferrari. So, if you ask me whether I’d like one, I’ll say, “yes”.

    Honestly, if anyone wonders how this issue spun into never-never-land, part of the reason is thinking like that. And the silly people who will answer such a simplistic question as to, purely, whether they’d like a park versus something else…..well, that also propelled the nutty spin-out of this issue.

    If you were to ask the silly people who answer, “yes”, with NO additional details requested prior to answering, how much they’d like to contribute to a park project — they will look at you dumbfounded (their faces clearly indicating they think their view should matter but don’t ask them to put money where their uninformed mouth is).

    No, DreadT, I would want to know the price tag of that Ferrari, how much ongoing maintenance costs as well as annual insurance, what features it has, what other viable alternatives exist, what downside impact there would be if I can no longer afford to pay for it, ETC ETC. Very adult-like considerations such as those would be of interest to me before I’d answer affirmative to your question.

    I’ll bet all of those “yes, park” people happily voted for all 3 city bonds last Nov as well. What’s over 90 million bucks (incl interest) for a city of approx. 88,000 people? Gee, why didn’t the city put forth 4 or 5 bonds for vote? The folks that don’t ask all of the annoying questions that might burst their bubble would have passed them. Missed opportunity to load up!

    Whatever happens to that lot downtown, a plaque should definitely be placed describing the nutty, endless conferencing that took place and how to avoid it in the future. I’ll contribute to that!

    • DreadT

      Real World – I agree with several of the points you made. Cost is a major factor that should be considered, as well as the long term aspects of keeping it maintained. The city bond thing is a whole other issue. I didn’t vote for it, and I know at least a few other “Yes Park” people didn’t either. I think it was hurried onto the ballots before the voters could get a really good look at what it’s for, and a guarantee those funds won’t be displaced to other pet projects.

      I think one of the problems Asheville residents have with this property not becoming a park is the perception that our city is selling out. Asheville’s amenities , such as parks, locally owned businesses, etc. are the reason many people choose to live here. When a undeveloped city owned property is being used for a new building that private investors can make thousands of dollars from, it feels like we are being taken advantage of. Especially when many people (who knows if it’s a majority or not) are asking for a park. Combine this with the reduction of Pritchard Park’s accessible space by 1/3, and people begin to wonder about the motives of the City leaders and ask why shouldn’t this become a park? Logistically speaking, a park across from the library and civic center makes a lot of sense, and adds to the quality and beauty of downtown Asheville.

      As for the Ferrari scenario, it’s a clever way to describe one aspect of this situation. But, what kind of car are we currently driving? If it’s a Ford Pinto, then upgrading to a exoctic sports car is an insane step up. But if it’s a Lamborghini then the change isn’t really that drastic. I think Asheville is closer to currently driving the sports car rather than the Pinto. And suggesting the City of Asheville can’t afford to fund the cost of maintaining a park the size of this parcel isn’t realistic.

  5. Karen Ramshaw

    No one can vision quite like Asheville, and as a participant in a number of plans and charettes and visioning projects over the years, I’ve been pleased that we want to honor the work done in the past. There seems to be some disagreement as to the long-term ‘will of the community’, so I went back to look at the 2009 Downtown Master Plan. At the time, the City had not put together the larger parcel, now the Haywood/Page site that the Task Force was charged to “vision”. So yes, there is a section marked “Recommended Park” across from the Basilica, but it looks to be about the same size as Pritchard Park (a bit over .2 acres). The City property now under discussion is .75 acres and the public rights-of-way included in the study make the parcel approximately 2.35 acres. The 2009 study shows buildings next to the “Recommended Park” site – so the Downtown Master Plan supports a mixed-use concept on the 2.35 acres.
    I support a mixed-use concept that includes public greenspace for many reasons – cost of creating and maintaining another downtown park, security – and the cost of not having smaller parks or amenities in neighborhoods where our children live. I like the idea of having the developed portion of the site pay into our community to offset the costs of building and maintaining a park there. The money that we spend on another downtown park is not available for other City needs. There’s always a trade-off. I did appreciate Dread T’s perspective and there are a number of valid points; however, I keep reading how wonderful this large park will be for “all in our community”, but who is really coming to downtown? Do we need to pay for another park for tourists and the 1000 people who live downtown? Do you think a lot of poor families will come downtown and pay $5-$7 to park (assuming they can find parking at all) so their kids can play? A nice greenspace for visitors and locals on that site would be nice – but let’s put our money where the locals live as well. Why can’t more of our kids have a park within walking distance that provides for creative, interactive play? Or a place where neighbors can sit and get to know each other? Or where neighbors can garden? Should we be spending millions on another downtown park when our community centers are in disrepair? One of the issues I have with visioning is that it is usually divorced from the big picture and larger reality. Because we can’t have it all and we do have to make choices. What if we used our creative energies to build the most incredible .2 acre park in the Southeast? And let the rest of the site pay for it!

    • The Real World

      DreadT – I know I was a bit terse and appreciate you not letting it get in the way of my over-riding points, which you seemed to comprehend accurately. Something occurred a couple of years ago related to that parcel in that it – irrationally, in my opinion – became a kind of litmus test. Of what? I’m still not sure. Except it seems that a particular contingent got so emotionally invested in their “a park or bust” vision that they lost the ability to reason and treated the issue as a competition to be won at all cost. That seems to be why it spun out. All-or-none viewpoints rarely work out well for anyone. It was the intractable “only a park” mentality that grated on many, including me.

      Karen Ramshaw – thank you for the details about what the 2009 Master Plan indicated for that site. Additionally, I agree with everything you said. I have made almost identical comments on this website numerous times. It is VERY possible to have our cake and eat it too by having a commercial building (bonus: that pays annual taxes) help with both the build-out cost of a smaller park/green plaza and the maintenance of it. It is so totally win-win that those that refuse to consider it are clearly operating from a place other than the best interest of the city and it’s taxpayers.

    • Lulz

      This is what kills me about modern day Asheville and their crony parks and BS. I grew up here and my park was the street where we played football and rode our bikes. But that was a different time where the culture wasn’t feminized and weak. Nor was downtown promoted as a LOCAL gathering place yet in all REALITY is nothing more than a tourism machine. I know of no locals that go downtown anymore. None. Nor is downtown geared for locals. It’s a lie and just like this “park”, nothing more than a cover up that presents Asheville as one big happy town where we all gather in downtown. But in the world none of us can really afford the prices and we can eat and shop outside of there at much better places. See while places charge 15 dollars for eggs, they pay 10 an hour for a cook. And they are nothing more that government promoted slave shops that progressives are proud of.

      • DreadT

        Thank you Real World and Karen Ramshaw for the info you provided, I learned some new details about this situation. It’s nice to have a discourse about a subject where people don’t just spout false opinions without any facts to back them up.

        Lulz, I and many other locals go downtown frequently, almost everyday. We go for a variety of reasons such as restaurants, stores, entertainment, business, and fun outdoor activities like using parks. You may think our culture is weak, but really it’s narrow minded people that can’t accept change that I consider to be the real weaklings.

  6. cecil bothwell

    A large park on this site is necessary to provide space for the several sorts of outdoor activities identified via public input. It will be different from RogerMcGuire Green which is basically arranged as an audience space for stage performances (and is so unsuited to other types of events that the Greek Festival pulled out). People have asked for a farmer’s market, shade, benches, a community garden, public art, music, dance, and more than anything a place to relax. The DTMP suggested that parks should be within a five minute walk throughout the City, and this site fits the description. As for ongoing costs, in other cities nonprofit groups pick up much of the load and there’s no reason that can’t happen here.

    Another aspect of the public comments has been “local, local, local” and if the site is developed for retail and other business use there is no way to force “local” into the mix. Private property leases and uses cannot be stipulated as “local” -as we’ve learned during the growth of the “Buy Local” campaign. it is voluntary.

    • More circular (il)logic from Bothwell. Ongoing costs? No problem. No reason nonprofits (unidentified) can’t pay for them like they do in other (unidentified) cities.

      Would these be the nonprofits that seek grants from the city and county by any chance?

      If the city wants to forgo sales proceeds and devote the space exclusively to a park, get serious about the true ongoing operating and commit to fund those costs. You know, Bothwell, like you’ve never done for Pritchard Park which is only a few blocks away. In a few short years this park can be a dump also. Hope they name it after you.

      • SpareChange

        Completely agree. Not only has Mr. Bothwell mounted a totally intellectually and politically dishonest campaign for a park, he and the two lackeys on the council who follow his lead on this issue voted against the funds for maintenance and improvements for Pritchard Park because the proposal (which was revised to address at least some of his concerns) did not precisely accord with his singular preferences. His faux-progressive political posturing and quixotic assaults on imagined political enemies has gotten really tiresome. Our own little Trumpian narcissist in the guise of a soft-left hero. It’s time for a clear thinking progressive who doesn’t tilt at imaginary windmills and make a public display of it at every opportunity.

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