Letter writer: Council sends troubling message in RAD by using eminent domain

Graphic by Lori Deaton

With the deployment of its nuclear option — eminent domain — in the RADTIP project, Asheville City Council sent an important message to its citizens and the nation. If you or your property are in the way of a pet project of City Hall, they can, and will, simply confiscate your property.

Eminent domain as a legal concept is one of the last remaining vestiges of European feudal societies. Despite its popularity with the likes of Donald Trump, it has no place in the 21st century.

It has been shown repeatedly and across many countries that one of the most important drivers of economic success is the existence of stable property rights. A regime under which someone can arbitrarily take part or all of your property clearly does not meet that standard.

Council’s readiness to blindly accept recommendations from the myriad unelected, unaccountable boards, commissions, committees, action teams, task forces — or whatever that it has set up — means that the risk of establishing such a regime clearly exists.

Say you repeatedly yell at your neighbors for letting their kids play in the street. Perhaps one of them serves on a board, commission, committee, action team, task force or whatever and decides to retaliate by promoting a cycle path up your driveway and through your backyard. Council has now demonstrated that you have no recourse except the courts.

We are told repeatedly that Asheville’s housing market “is the sixth-least sustainable in the country.” Whatever the truth of the matter, it is clear that we are at a point where it is imperative to attract capital into the city for housing construction projects. How enthusiastic will that capital be when it can see that it and its projects are subject to arbitrary confiscation?

Perhaps current Council members and staff should contemplate the following: Use eminent domain once, and your career is at risk. Use it a second time, and your career is over.

— Geoff Kemmish


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29 thoughts on “Letter writer: Council sends troubling message in RAD by using eminent domain

  1. boatrocker

    RAD- shed a tear for it. It used to make Asheville weird- now it makes Asheville gentrified.

    Strange how we only miss it once the yuppies get a hold of it, Which is What Asheville yuppies who kneel before tourist $ have wanted all along.

    How do you miss something you actively gave away? I’m so confused.

    • Lulz

      LOL, and just how do you think Pack Square was reinvented? Why the swindling of property owners via eminent domain. This is nothing new for local cronies and they’re using the same tactics once employed downtown now in the RAD. But this time with much “investment” of public monies that are being diverted from what they should be used for.

      • bsummers

        What property owners were “swindled” via eminent domain in the Pack Square saga? If you’re referring to Stewart Coleman’s attempt to build condos on the park, I don’t believe anyone had their property seized. Coleman won the appeal of the lawsuit by the Pack heirs who sought to reverse the County’s shady decision to sell him park land in front of City Hall. But by that time the housing crash had started, and he chose not to build, instead re-habbing the building he bought into the now-thriving Pack’s Tavern. If he had gone ahead with plopping a huge condominium building in the middle of the park, he likely would have lost his shirt when the bottom dropped out of the condo market the following year.

        We fought his attempt to blackmail the City into giving him exclusive rights to develop park-front property. That delay probably saved him (and his heirs) from a huge financial loss and being treated like pariahs for ruining the park. You’re welcome.


        • Lulz

          How long have you lived here? In the late 1970’s and early 80’s, the city “bought” out the property owners of Pack Square via eminent domain. Then turned around a few years later and gave people like Prosser the ability to “develop” it for cheap. All insider cronyism to a tee. How in the hell do you think downtown property and Prosser are synonymous? Because he had “vision”? LOL, no. Because he took advantage of city owned property that was FORCEFULLY taken away.

          • Lulz

            The real shame of it all is these people owned the property for decades and had businesses in it. But the central location of Pack Square meant that they were obstacles in the way of the downtown transformation especially after the mall was defeated and the Biltmore building was constructed. The city simply took the land, sat on it for a few year and then turned around and let outside developers come in and market it.

            Here’s a tidbit for you; I vividly remember the wrecking ball taking down that entire block were the Biltmore was constructed while waiting on the bus at the old Pack Square library. I was 8 or 9 at the time. I remember the Plaza theater and also Fine Arts when it was a porno plex and the Coke billboard on top of what was once the Pack Square cigar store.

  2. luther blissett

    The letter writer correctly notes that too much power in Asheville is vested in barely-accountable boards commissions and task forces and other talking shops composed of people with too much time on their hands and too much unchecked influence. However, he seems unclear about the meaning of the word “confiscate” and the history of eminent domain in America, which has clearly had *some* economic success over the past 200 or so years. (The more dubious uses declared constitutional by the Kelo case don’t apply here.)

    Furthermore, if the author is hinting that the city’s use of eminent domain on part of the 12 Bones property is in order to get back at Chris Peterson, he should perhaps say so explicitly, since there are no other examples to cite. It won’t make the sharp Z-bend at the intersection of Riverside Drive and Lyman Street any less dangerous. Perhaps the city should just knock down the building containing RiverLink and Warehouse Studios instead to improve the line of sight for drivers? Peterson bought that parcel in 1995, and the assessed value’s now over half a million, four times what it was in 2001, so he’s going to make out like a bandit no matter what.

    As for the RAD in general: it’s the nature of “artists’ districts” to be gentrified, often delivering a welcome return to the artists (or short-fused property developers) able to buy property early on, and there are already new clusters developing in other parts of town.

    • jan kubiniec

      No Mr. Peterson is not the only person affected or targeted by a conspiracy of local and state governments and several large employers for his property. I am an older widow who has been harassed viciously over my family property on Beaucatcher Mountain. Partly by the numerous boards and commissions who got insider information about these land grabs years ago and purchased choice lands adjacent to one or more projects in order to reap heavy profits. These people act as vigilantes harassing those who do not spout their mantra of Greenway. Its stealing people’s land and it’s so business and developers can get more. Mr. Peterson just has the guts to oppose them. Look at the numbers of properties being seized and now they heading along the new interstate connector. How could anyone believe this is for the people of Asheville. While you are looking, try to ask why there is a gag order on the Beaucatcher Mountain project. Few people even know that knoll exists. That’s been sitting at the middle of greenway project since 2008 and not one person will say who is moving there. Wake up people. Powerful business and political interests have just stolen our town.

      • Lulz

        People get the government they deserve. Kumbaya singing old fools on Lexington coupled with mainly north Asheville and Montford loons voting and controlling the elections means people like you don’t matter. You’re just an obstacle in the way of “progress” lulz. The insanity is painfully obvious on Hendersonville Road where they’re laying sidewalks that no one will use.

        Again, why are we subsidizing the 1 percenters in this town via rising taxes?

      • luther blissett

        I appreciate this response, and perhaps the MountainX ought to follow up its March story with specifics on whatever harassment you’ve faced.

        The letter-writer may have spoken of Beaucatcher in past correspondence — he clearly has a stake in that project, along with an apparent vendetta against sidewalks — but in this letter he spoke specifically of RADTIP, and the only parcel subject to eminent domain on that project is Mr Peterson’s. To repeat my earlier point, if he believes that property owners are being specifically victimized by people in power, then it’d behoove him and any others affected to name names.

          • luther blissett

            Unfortunately, a lot of that website reads like Chris Peterson (and his wife) grinding an ax, accusing New Belgium and Fort Collins of being behind a grand conspiracy, and making guilt-by-association accusations towards property owners who are not Chris Peterson. It also doesn’t appear to address the Beaucatcher issues.

            (Need it be said that the same tactics could be used against Mr Peterson himself? We surely remember how local Republicans regarded his downtown properties, particularly the former Magnolia’s, as their home from home in town. We also remember that Mr Peterson claimed he’d “adhere to urban-village design principles, with wide sidewalks, mixed-use buildings and substantial green space” in redeveloping the Deal Motors site on Merrimon, and looking at the Harris Teeter and Chik Fil-A that actually got built there, you can be the judge of whether to trust anything he says.)

            On Beaucatcher: it seems as if the position of residents is that the city rights-of-way along the mountain should be preserved for public access to the unspoilt landscape and vistas, just as long as people don’t really know that the trailhead is there and it’s hard for them to make use of it without trespassing on private property. I’m genuinely sympathetic to long-standing property owners up there — though perhaps less so to newcomers who have only owned a Sky Club condo on the mountain for 18 months — but I think it might be more honest of them to campaign against any public access at all.

  3. Big Al

    How dare the hippie/hipster/artsy LibDems confiscate and demolish President Obama’s favorite restaurant for a traffic circle. Like crabs in a barrel, eating their own when they get too high up. So much fun.

    • bsummers

      One day when I worked in Alaska, I saw two crabs fighting. At some point, they rolled over, and fell apart in separate directions. Only, one of them didn’t realize it. He had a grip on one of his own pincers with the other pincer, thinking he was still fighting with the other crab. I stood there and watched him rip his own arm off and wave it around in agonized victory…

      Funny, now that I tell that story again, it makes me think more about North Carolina Republicans and HB2.

      • Big Al

        I have not significant push back from any Republicans over HB2. If anything, it has created solidarity between Governor McCrory, a big city Liberal RINO, and the rural conservative Right.

        If HB2 is defeated, it will be from outside the party, probably the U.S. Justice Dept. or the Supreme Court.

  4. DreadT

    What I don’t understand is why are they leveling a well known restaurant that helped make the RAD what it is rather than the gravel pit (J.R. Stone sales) directly across the street?!?!? It seems that moving the traffic circle to the location of a gravel/stone retailer would be a much better option. Can anyone shed light to this?

    • luther blissett

      12 Bones is a great place, and damn, it’ll be missed, but that bend in the road is dangerous, especially at lunch time, and it has been for over a decade.

      Take a look on a map: I don’t see how using the gravel yard property would fix the problem with Lyman Street directly west of the railroad crossing. If you can redraw the intersection with Riverside Drive using that property in a way that makes sense for businesses, drivers and pedestrians down there — and remember that the big problem is that you can’t see through the studio warehouse on the corner — then please share your work.

      • DreadT

        I have seen the map of that area many times and from what I recall, a traffic circle is planned for this intersection. So again I ask, why couldn’t a traffic circle be placed where the Stone Sales is located? I believe it can be done with keeping 12 bones in place, and eliminating all the dangerous blind spots. I’ll be glad to draw it up, but I’m unsure any of the powers that be would care to look at it.

        • luther blissett

          “I’ll be glad to draw it up, but I’m unsure any of the powers that be would care to look at it.”

          Well, do it anyway for our edification. That section of Lyman St that runs east-west past the Wedge then over the railroad line before turning south is hard to fix, and I though I think the RADTIP layout has weaknesses, because it retains the option of a blind left on the spur road, it seems like the right approach. I’m open to being convinced otherwise. Remember that for modern roundabouts, you yield to traffic already in the circle or coming in from your left, so you have to have a clear view of all that.

          • DreadT

            Thanks for your very clear directional description of the roads in question, certainly makes for a better discussion. I will try to do the same.

            The roundabout design actually lends itself very nicely to the situation of leaving 12 Bones and using the Stone Sales property in its place. In fact, the current road design for a right hand turn form riverside dr. onto Lyman St. has a clear view of oncoming traffic, which could exist without any major redesign in a new roundabout traffic pattern. It’s when the left turn vehicles from riverside are waiting to turn onto Lyman and cross the train tracks is where the danger of a blind spot occurs. This situation is completely eliminated with the roundabout plan because a let turn no longer exists!

            Looking at the Craven St. roundabout, the area it occupies could easily be fit into the Lyman/Riverside intersection and allow for all the needed requirements to be met. Again, I am completely willing to draw it up, but I am unsure how to present it.

  5. Fine Line

    I can say I’ve not voted for one single person that runs this town, because I see thru bs, there’s much more at stake then those Libtard talking points. Keep swallowing it bsummers, the city council has more coming

  6. jan kubiniec

    apparently I have lost my time to respond to mr blissette. Mr. Peterson does have an ax to grind and it would appear that it has nothing to do with the Beaucatcher problem. However, overall it’s a rich person’s land grab that is not sustainable. As the longest existing resident on Beaucatcher with the stupid right of way. The alleged greenway is not green. It’s asphalt with concrete retaining walls. It was a plan created in the smoke-filled back rooms of “lets make more money.” It will be an engineering nightmare. It looks great on paper but not even that great. People should be able to go up there. Why harass one old woman. She didn’t build the mountain she just lived on it. U want more names?

    • luther blissett

      Jan: like I said, the Beaucatcher situation deserves a more thorough discussion than the RAD plan.

      In the RAD, I think the city is responding in a reasonable way to a genuine problem with a dangerous road layout at Lyman St and Riverside Drive, and I think Mr Peterson is being unreasonable when he’s likely to make a very healthy profit on his original investment; the owners of the 12 Bones business are on record saying that the city has behaved reasonably towards them.

      If the proposed Beaucatcher greenway undermines the environment that it’s supposed to open up to the public — and I think long-standing residents of the mountain have a valid case here — then frankly I’d be fine with it being left relatively undeveloped like lots of trails out in the county. However, that would also justify limiting further private-sector development: if there’s no room for a greenway, then there’s no room for more million-dollar subdivisions and condo developments, especially ones that shut themselves off to public access.

      (As best as I can tell from public records, Mr Kemmish the letter-writer is not a long-standing property owner on the mountain, but is instead a recent purchaser of a mountainside condo who objects to a) sidewalks in the city; b) having trail walkers park in his condo lot. That’s a hard sell if you don’t want to look like an newcomer NIMBY. )

      What I do dislike is the perception that Beaucatcher (and Town Mountain) are as off-limits to other Asheville residents as the Biltmore estate, even though the roads up there are public. That has nothing to do with you personally, but believe me that we feel like we’re not welcome to go up there and take in the landscape and the view. Perhaps there’s room for compromise here: less intrusive development, but more of a welcome to respectful visitors?

  7. Fin

    The bigger the city’s budget gets the less affordable this town becomes. Rad plan will increase the rate of rents in that area at an excelerated process. Don’t beleive it look at city’s like Austin, or any major city in CA. Every infrastructure project that is more of a luxury then necessity is a sign that were being played. They don’t even take care of our roads.

  8. jan kubiniec

    well. On the Beaucatcher section. I don’t know why people feel un-welcomed, Anyone who comes by my 100 -year-old house gets invited in to hear a rambling history. Even the pharmaceutical reps. Who are usually too busy to stop and chat. Also the hospital engineers used try to run me off the road with some sort of pent up anger. the nicer tourists would sometimes ask where the park was and I would say, “I think it’s there or here but they never decide.” And everyone would get rambling directions combined with local history. Why don’t they hand tourists a map showing the trail. It’s a hard to find but beautiful. Harassment of one vulnerable individual who spent a lifetime enhancing the mountain is just horrifying. If that happened to me who knows what goes on in other places. Killing my beloved dog was the final blow. I’m having the historic gem of a house dismantled in his memory and try to leave a stone shell apparently for tourists to park on.

    • Virginia Daffron

      Jan, what do you mean about killing your beloved dog? Not Rocky, I hope. And dismantling the house? What?

  9. AVL LVR

    I absolutely support eminent domain to build new greenways, infrastructure, and to bulldoze eyesores including trailers. 12 Bones is simply relocating and the property owner is well-compensated. We have a nicer-looking city. Everyone wins! Gentrification is good. If you want to live in a dump with cheap housing, move to Haiti.

    • luther blissett

      Can you point to the place on the doll where the trailer touched you in a bad way, LVR?

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