Letter writer: Marc Hunt’s approach to lot near Basilica is constructive, pragmatic

Graphic by Lori Deaton

I am writing to express my strong support for Asheville Vice Mayor Marc Hunt in his bid for re-election to Asheville City Council this fall. The decision about the future of the city-owned property near … the Basilica of St. Lawrence is an example of an issue where Marc has led with constructive and pragmatic solutions. Marc’s stance —supported by five of the other six current Council members — is that the property should be the location of both an attractive building that would add vibrancy to downtown plus an open and inviting public plaza.

The suggestion by some in the community that the only appropriate use of the city property is to set the entire parcel aside as green space is oversimplified and, due to the financial realities, makes it more likely to remain a vacant surface lot that detracts from our vibrant downtown instead of adding an inviting mix of new public and commercial space.

With the redevelopment in recent years of Pritchard Park and Pack Square Park, downtown boasts several restored green spaces for residents and visitors to enjoy. Big spending for another full-scale park on the Haywood Street site would drain the city budget far more than the balanced use of the site favored by Marc and the majority of Council and would mean less money available for other priorities, such as sidewalks, greenways and non-downtown neighborhood improvements.

I have been a resident of Asheville for over 16 years and have worked as executive director of a regional land conservancy, protecting Western North Carolina’s parks and natural places. I got to know Marc as the senior program officer at the Open Space Institute, where he brought creativity, financial savvy and strategic vision to land and water conservation. Marc brings those same skills and a win-win approach to Asheville’s city government.

— Kieran Roe
Asheville

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34 thoughts on “Letter writer: Marc Hunt’s approach to lot near Basilica is constructive, pragmatic

  1. NFB

    Thank you for this letter. The notion that the only choices for this property is either a park or another high rise hotel is a false choice and many of the backers of a park insistence on portraying the choices as such borders on the intellectually dishonest (as does their persistent unsubstantiated claim that a “majority” of Asheville citizen’s want a park.)

    While my heart wants to see affordable housing there, so that downtown won’t be so dominated by luxury condos, my head recognizes that getting this prime piece of real estate on the tax rolls so that the money can help pay for the parks we already have (and perhaps getting some serious amount of money into the Affordable Housing Trust Fund) would probably be a more efficient method of getting more affordable housing in Asheville.

    I understand the desire for a park in that space, and it a perfect world we could maybe have one, but given the crisis of our local housing situation it is simply a luxury that we can’t afford financially or morally.

    • The Real World

      I agree with the original letter write and NFB that purely installing a park in that space is a much wasted opportunity.

      Why not try to solve a problem, create some revenue AND have a green space?! The parking situation is getting worse downtown and will continue to so my thought is to build a small parking deck (20 or 25 spaces per level x 4 levels = 80 to 100 spaces). There may be enough room on the Haywood side to include a couple of small retail spaces as well. Then put a park on top accessed by a ramp or two.

      There are lots of elevated parks in the USA and worldwide. An online search will produce plenty of info. Also, I’ve seen some very clever and attractive designs to the exterior of parking decks. From most sides you hardly realize that is what they are.

      We should be thinking of ways to solve problems, create revenue streams and, hopefully, satisfy a community interest as well. Rather than purely pounding the table for a large capital outlay for something that requires continual monies for constant upkeep. Gee, have you seen the roads in this town? Every taxpayer uses the those and, boy, do they need some repair. We need to spend some money on fixing our streets.

  2. Angela Phillips

    A fellow member of Asheville City Council wrote this “corruption is written between the lines. When Marc Hunt named Att. Bissette as a co-sponsor of his kick-ff event he sent a loud signal to the development community. Bissette represents more developers before Council than any other lawyer in town. Is that explicityly “corrupt”? No, of courrse not. But it suggests who has influence. McGurie, Wood & Bissette and VanWinkle law firms enjoy running the City of Asheville, to their benefit. Is that corrupt? Depends on your view, I guess. But the voters ought to know, and mostly don’t, where the decisions are being made. ” and this “And if I need to be more explicit look at this Bissette, former mayor. Manheimer(Van Winkle), Veronika Gunter (campaign manager/consultant for Hunt, Simerle, Smith, etc. -Van Winkle), Simerle(campaign strategist for Shuler), etc. and etc.

  3. Scotty_Mack

    Pragmatism: Elite consensus against policies that would benefit the 99%.

    Marc Hunt has shown he’s a pro-market, pro-developer conservative in sheep’s clothing, much like the mayor, happy to sell off public land to private developers for a pittance.

    “Pragmatic” is politic-speak for “lacking a conscience”

    • NFB

      “Pragmatic” is politic-speak for “lacking a conscience”

      Only if you are a idealogue.

  4. bsummers

    While we debate this, the City is already listing the property, and the “possible building” displayed on the parcel is a ginourmous 10 story slab, with a concrete “publicly accessible plaza” in it’s permanent shadow.

    http://www.ashevillechamber.org/economic-development/real-estate-connections

    “Signature Corporate HQ opportunity”, indeed.

    Rich Lee has made a strong, realistic argument in favor of a park on this property, and it’s partly why I support him for City Council:

    http://goo.gl/jta7xN

    • hauntedheadnc

      A ten story building… You mean, just like the other three buildings (Vanderbilt Apartments, Battery Park Apartments, and the old JC Penney building) that are as tall or taller and are all within a block of the site? Plus others like the upcoming Cambria Suites, 21 Battery Park, the Flat Iron Building, Indigo Hotel and the Public Service Building that are also about that tall and are also nearby?

      I usually agree with you, bsummers (and I love to see you throw a few darts at everyone’s favorite sociopath, Friend Peck), but in this case… not so much. Downtown is where the tall buildings belong, and it’s not as though tall buildings are anything new to downtown. I feel that some tax-generating enterprise plus a plaza is a good compromise in this situation.

      • bsummers

        Downtown is where the tall buildings belong, and it’s not as though tall buildings are anything new to downtown.

        But in the concentration that would eventually turn our narrow downtown streets into canyons? I don’t see it as being headed in a direction that people will enjoy living in/visiting as much as a place with a mix of tall buildings and open spaces. This is one of the very few downtown lots that the City owns that could be preserved as open space, and it’s a natural place for a park. Across from the Civic Center & the Basilica, it could become a new iconic ‘viewshed’ to attract people here for generations to come, and to send a message that the City is thinking ahead, past this one potential short-term cash infusion . Think of it as an investment in Asheville’s future – sure, today it may feel like there’s adequate park/green space downtown, but when highrise after highrise goes up, we’ll be glad we saved this one space.

    • Henry

      Great to see a Woodfin resident invading our city and pushing his views on us much like the General Assembly does from Raleigh.

      Hey, Woodfin resident Barry Summers, why don’t you practice some of that local control you preach and leave our Asheville elections to us? Or else move here and pay our taxes.

      • Jeff Fobes

        Henry: I hear your frustration, but free speech is a big deal in the United States. It’s fine to point out that a person isn’t a city resident and can’t vote in the election, but beyond that, this is an open forum.

        • Henry

          Jeff,

          Barry used whine endlessly about local control and how the citizens of one area should be self determined. I just thought it would be funny to hold him to his own standard, as he’s an outsider trying to influence another municipality’s election cycle.

          Trust me, I don’t expect Barry to ever pipe down.

          • Jeff Fobes

            You’re probably right about Barry not piping down. :)

          • bsummers

            Thanks Jeff. I take that as a compliment.

            BTW, can you determine from the URL associated with this “Henry” account, whether they are actually an Asheville resident? They don’t seem to be in a hurry to answer whethr they’re sitting in a trailer in Nevada or not.

      • NFB

        It’s not just Woodfin. People from many places outside the city limits, and from across the political spectrum, regularly tell city residents how we should vote and what our city government should do.

        • Peter Robbins

          Some of us just want to make sure that our sales-tax money is being well cared for.

      • bsummers

        I get it – you don’t share my point of view, and rather than countering it, you want to discourage me from participating. That’s kind of sad.

        I live approx. 10 feet outside the City of Asheville. Despite not being able to vote, Asheville elections and decisions made in the City Hall 10 minutes from my house are absolutely in my interest to weigh in on.

        And I’m flattered that you think I have as much power over the City as legislators in Raleigh do, but don’t believe my PR office’s hype. I’m just some guy speaking his mind.

        • Henry

          Barry, under that logic, people from Canada can vote in US elections, and people in the US could vote in Canadian and Mexican elections.

          Your ever shifting logical principals make you a sly cat to pin down, Barry.

          • bsummers

            I never said that I should be allowed to vote in Asheville’s election, “Henry”. Now you’re flatly misrepresenting what I said. If someone in Canada wants to get on a comment thread and give an opinion about US policies, there’s nothing wrong with that.

            Speaking of which, how do we know who or where you are, Mr. Anonymous Hater? You could be a PR rep for an Atlanta construction company who wants build another mega-hotel in Asheville. You could be a rep from that Spanish company that’s already building one. Heck, you could be climate-denier Tom Harris or one of his sockpuppets.

            Will I sit still while you try to shut me up or tell more lies about me? Hmmm…. History shows probably not.

        • Henry

          “If we want something else for that prime piece of public land, we’ll have to fight for it and elect people who are also willing to fight for it.” – Barry Summers, This Comment Thread, 9/11/15

          So you’re saying that you aren’t part of Asheville’s elections, but that “we” (meaning you, a Woodfin resident) need to elect those persons to make the right decisions about City of Asheville property.

          Oh, okay.

          • bsummers

            Yes. I’m urging people who agree with me, that it matters who they vote for.

            If I were an Asheville voter, I would vote for Rich Lee, Keith Young, and Brian Haynes.

            BTW, “Henry”, who are you and where you live?

          • Henry

            I like all three of those candidates, Barry. They have the gumption to stand up to the group-think and pursue pragmatic alternatives to the problems created by all of the other politicians you’ve hoisted on my city, Barry.

            Thanks for helping fix the problem.

  5. Other possible uses for tiny little piece of corner real estate:
    – Campground for those that want to stay down town but can’t afford $300/night
    – Flea market
    – Miniature zipline or golf
    – Training ground for future buskers, pan handlers, wanderers
    – Outdoor yoga center
    – Fish pond that filters storm water and effluvium
    – Bier garden
    – Sculpture park
    – Mega high rise, ala Manhattan, with at least 40 stories
    – Empty lot

    Any other ideas?

    • The Real World

      bsummers – “But in the concentration that would eventually turn our narrow downtown streets into canyons?”

      As a former resident of Manhattan a couple of decades ago, I can tell you that urban canyons do indeed exist. And they are dark, cold places. There are long stretches on some NYC streets that do not see sunlight. So, there is validity to that point.

      I maintain, as stated above, that purely installing a park is a missed opportunity. Too simplistic and a bit odd for that significantly tiered lot. Perhaps my parking deck idea (w/park atop it) isn’t ideal because of the triangular shape but a short building with commerce/retail on the lower Haywood side topped with a park that on top that ajoins Page Ave, or is a bit higher with a walking ramp up to it, seems ideal.

      Jeff – “but free speech is a big deal in the United States”.

      That gave me, what I’m sure will be, the best bellylaugh of the day. If it were only true……….

      • bsummers

        I’d love to see a real discussion about ideas such as yours – an elevated park combined with some sort of parking or other use is worth considering.

        Unfortunately, look what the City and the Chamber and several of our Council candidates seem to be favoring: as big a building as possible (10 story, “Signature Corporate HQ Opportunity!”) with a token concrete “plaza”. Yeah, that looks inviting.

        Years ago, when we started the organization ‘PARC’ in response to the City’s plan to sell off a huge chunk of City/County Plaza for luxury condos, all sorts of info started flowing to us. I was told by an insider at the City that the next big fight would be over that land next to the Basilica. (And that was 2004. We’ve been tussling over it all this time.)

        The day that the Grove Park Inn signaled their surrender on that terrible condo idea, one of our folks was in a auto shop, waiting for his car to be fixed. He said that there was someone else in the lobby having a loud discussion on his cell phone, obviously talking about the GPI issue.

        “Yeah, I know. I hope they don’t come after us next!”

        The names of the two people involved in that conversation happened to be the same as certain people still active in making plans to develop that land even now. Yea, unto the Middle Ages, this town has been run by development interests. If we want something else for that prime piece of public land, we’ll have to fight for it and elect people who are also willing to fight for it.

        • Henry

          Barry Summers Pre-2011: As a PARC Member, I’m going to try and influence Asheville City Council decisions even though I live in Woodfin!

          Barry Summers 2011-2014: Local Control! Local Control!

          Barry Summers 2015 – Present: Local Control excludes other points of view! Local Control won’t be used to exclude me!

          • bsummers

            Back when I was a “PARC Member”, I was in fact a resident of Asheville. Just because I now live on the outskirts doesn’t mean I’m not interested in, or affected by, Asheville elections or development decisions.

            And you’re conflating the argument that Raleigh shouldn’t be allowed to seize Asheville’s water system, with a local resident voicing an opinion about local issues? That’s a stretch, Mr. Anonymous-How-Do-We-Know-You’re-An-Asheville-Resident-Anyway, “Henry”?

          • Henry

            Barry,

            Best I can tell, you’ve been out in Woodfin for some time, pre-Moffitt even.

            No, you’re conveniently forgetting the argument that when the County Commission districts were changed, and Asheville City Council Elections (as opposed to the Town of Woodfin elections) were rumored to be changed to district elections, everyone was shouting “local control!”

            By the way, having seen you progressives trample around the inter-webs for years without anyone demanding they reveal their identity, your criticisms of my withholding my last name fall flat.

          • bsummers

            You haven’t been following the XPress threads much, have you? I’ve been arguing against anonymous posting for years, even going so far as to congratulate Tim Peck for having the integrity to post under his own name.

            I’m done responding to personal attacks from someone without the courage to take responsibility for it, or to let us know if “he” really is who he pretends to be.

          • Peter Robbins

            Now, now. Maybe Henry doesn’t have a last name. This is unfortunate, but I can assure him that society no longer looks down on children born into this circumstance. I suggest he forget the past, take his mother’s name, and work on cultivating a more cheerful demeanor. Or at least a less Pecksniffian one.

    • Peter Robbins

      Give him time. First he has to measure how many feet away it is.

    • Henry

      Don’t be silly, Barry.

      He hasn’t run around screaming “local control” for years, only to step around it when it became an inconvenience to him.

      He’s just as welcome to contribute to Marc as much as George Soros is to buy an election.

      I almost replied to your comment on that other letter though. Since you have a problem with real estate attorneys, I wondered if you had a problem with commercial realtors representing you in Raleigh. I bet not.

  6. We need housing on that spot. which will make nearby housing more affordable by increasing the supply curve. All of it needs to be housing. there is no room downtown for a “mixed approach” housing is what is in crisis and space needs to go ALL for housing.

    • Yawn

      How about a nice, flat parking lot… with asphalt… ahh yes, the smell of asphalt in the morning…

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