Letter writer: Park issue creates support for Haynes, Young and Lee

Graphic by Lori Deaton

I went to the candidates’ forum [Oct. 9] at A-B Tech and wow! I’m voting for Brian Haynes, Keith Young and Rich Lee. I’m not voting for Marc Hunt or Julie Mayfield.

Question No. 1: Shall we have a park across from the basilica?

Brian Haynes: “When you are elected to office, you should do what the people want. And the people seem to want a park. It’s my job to go with the will of the people. Rather than say why a park can’t be done, I would see how it can be done. A park will not cost millions; we can get a lot of private donations and build it at a far lower cost. On this issue, either the people have a say-so, or the developers do. It’s that simple.”

Keith Young: “I agree. It’s up to the citizens, not the developers.” (All night long, he hit hard on the developers. Thank you, sir.)

Rich Lee: “It should be a park as indicated in the Downtown Master Plan.” (I did not know that.)

And now, dancing around the issue:

Marc Hunt: First, there was self-promotion. “I hate to toot my own horn,” he began and then proceeded to toot, listing all the green things he has done. Finally, he said: No park. “Even the simplest park would cost $4 million.” (Voters don’t believe that.)

After the forum, my friend and I got back into our car. I said, “So what did you think of Marc Hunt?” She said: “If he’s so green, why did he clear that space and then cover it in concrete and put a chain link fence around it?”

“What do you mean?” I asked. So she explained: “Marc Hunt is on City Council. They are the ones who voted to clear the space, cover it in concrete and put a chain link fence around it — so they can sell it to a developer!”

Julie Mayfield: Now this was masterful. “We need a significant public space (cheers). To create a park, we would need private donations (cheers). But if City Council cannot raise private donations, we will sell it to private developers (groan). Not a high-rise. Not a hotel. Not a high-rise parking lot (cheers). Private developers can build a low-rise building with a public plaza.” Hmm, sounds like she has a developer in mind.

Watch the video: [http://avl.mx/1wo].

— Linda Brown

Editor’s note: Based on reader feedback from the primary, Xpress has begun asking letter writers if they have any formal role in the campaigns of the candidates they are writing about. Brown says she didn’t have a formal role when she wrote the letter, but has since become “captain of canvassing” for the Brian Haynes campaign.

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22 thoughts on “Letter writer: Park issue creates support for Haynes, Young and Lee

  1. Curious

    How have the candidates citing “what the people want” getting this data? At least Bothwell did a push poll. What kind of objective polling with a statistically significant sample did the two candidates the letter writer cites do? Could we see the poll?

    • PARC ran a poll in August 2012, about 80 percent favored a park. (Polled all city voters who had voted in the past two City Council elections.)
      Citizen-Times ran a reader poll (obviously a flawed approach) last year and about 75 percent wanted a park.
      I ran my poll, which wasn’t exactly a “push” since I accurately identified the positions of six candidates, and then asked what people favored. I guess if you favored sale of the property, it “pushed” you toward Hunt, Mayfield and Simerly, and if you favored preservation for public use it “pushed” toward Haynes, Lee and Young – but there was no emotional load to the question asked (which you would expect in a push poll: I didn’t say Donald Trump eats babies, will you vote for Donald Trump? We simply stated positions and asked the question.

      State law forbids a referendum on property sales. My fellow Council members have refused to create a citizen poll, or survey, or hold public meetings seeking public input.

      • Oh, and several thousand people have signed petitions opposing sale – first when the parking deck was proposed in 2005, and in the St. Lawrence Green poll this year, about 5,000 have signed opposing sale.

      • Curious

        Thank you for that clarification. Have the candidates supporting a balance of private property-tax-paying development and public space (plaza, green space, or other alternatives) taken any polls to bolster their positions? It would be helpful to those of us who still gathering information.
        How was the question phrased on the Bothwell poll? Did it allow the response of Yes, to property-tax-paying development in a good combination with gracious public space?

        Copley Square in Boston might be a good model for Asheville: Historic church, Boston Public Library, green space, Copley Square Hotel, major insurance skyscraper, all buildings with distinguished architecture. It can be done. It isn’t either or.

        • Gary W

          Curious, You make an excellent argument supported by undeniable successful examples, however, I suspect you will not receive a response because they do not appear to be interested in a balanced approach. Their way of thinking is all park or nothing. It’s unfortunate that there are candidates running on a populist platform which is great until we falter financially. What happen to the days of being good stewards of our tax payer money and while be accountable to all of your constituents? The “will” is not always feasible or prudent. A good leader knows how to facilitate the larger conversation, create sustainable objectives and achieve favorable long term fiscal and quality of life outcomes that truly benefits the many not just the few. The park only advocates know there’s an opportunity to approach this situation as a win win for those of us who truly care about the city as whole, but that scenario does not support their agenda. Cecil and company and select candidates, I dare you to compromise.

          • Curious

            Thank you for that perspective. You issue a challenge to the All Park Is the Only Option candidates. The candidates with Park Plus options are also challenged to make their case, as well as supporters of balanced Park Plus Development options. Maybe if some actual designs were presented, with distinguished architecture, along with well-designed green space and other public amenities, the conversation could be expanded. If our minds can only see the ungainly new hotels, we cannot see the possibility of another Grove Arcade or S&W Cafeteria-style building. How would Douglas D. Ellington respond? I.M. Pei came to Asheville to convince us of the need to add a striking new structure to Pack Square; unfortunately the building he gave us wasn’t one of his masterpieces. What would Frank Gehry put in that space? What about a Santiago Calatrava modest masterpiece plus plaza across from Rafael Guastavino’s masterpiece?

          • Actually no. Our argument is “listen to the people” not “all park or nothing.” The issue is this: Why won’t my colleagues on Council hold a forum, conduct a survey, hire a pollster (if they don’t like my poll), engage the citizens? Why have they decided, repeatedly, that the only answer is sale or development? Without asking the citizens?

            If the people clearly want a high-rise office building – the idea currently being marketed by City Staff as directed by Hunt and company, then, great! But let’s get citizen participation first, not later.

          • Curious

            You make a good point, Mr. Bothwell, which fits with my thought that the citizens see a variety of design proposals for the space. Your refer to “a high-rise office building – the idea currently being marketed by City Staff.” Could you provide a link to the city’s proposals/requests for proposals about that space, so we can see what’s proposed by the city to potential developers?
            A high rise building is not, in and of itself, a detriment, to a public park with a historic church, as Copley Square in Boston shows. The key is the quality of the architecture, as the I.M Pei John Hancock tower on Copley Square shows. A distinguished high rise in conjunction with a historic church can be a masterpiece.

  2. OneWhoKnows

    Don’t BOTHER yourselves to vote…it’s a total waste of time and energy. None are qualified and you won’t know
    the difference on council regardless…bunch of silly power hungry progressives who’ve ruined the city already…

    • Curious

      Thank you for the reference to Mr. Lee’s very thoughtful page on the pros and cons of park/development opposite St. Lawrence Basilica. He asserts, “If city officials support a public park or plaza of some kind, they ought to at least say what kind and size of space they’re looking for, so the public can provide ideas and compare what they look like. Otherwise a lot of good work dies on the vine.” If he is elected, perhaps he will ask for the city to specify to potential developers of the parcel how they will incorporate meaningful public space and seek a comprehensive, imaginative design that creates both a tax-revenue and public amenity.

  3. And bear in mind, Hunt said in a recent Planning and Economic Development Committee meeting that a public plaza was a fine idea but “shouldn’t be a deal killer.”

    The question is not “park or no park” the question is “listen to the citizens first? or find a buyer first and see if the buyer is willing to put a few tables out front?”

    • Gary W

      Cecil, Our taxes were just raised, so can we afford to fund everything that the “citizens want”? If yes, then I have a long list of supplemental items, that as a citizen, I want to the city to provide as well. With all due respect, you seem to marginalize anyone that seeks balance. Is governing that easy? There are a lot of competing “wants” out there so where do we draw the line and compromise. I was impressed by Hunt’s response to those that were petitioning council to convert property on Collier ave for yet another park. I ask you, do you support a public private partnership? Parks are beautiful and indeed add to the quality of life but we’re also fortunate to be surrounded by natural parks. How about a debate about the best method for recruiting good jobs and developing affordable housing. That is taxpayer money well spent.

  4. Gary, as I noted above – the people of the City deserve to have their voices heard. I’m not marginalizing people who seek balance, I’m marginalizing those who are unwilling to even listen to the people. Too many elected officials seem to think they become smarter than the people who elected them when they are sworn into office. What is not “balanced” about seeking public input?

    Incidentally, we have lots of debates about best methods for recruiting good jobs and developing affordable housing, with plenty of citizen input. What we don’t have is ANY citizen input on disposition of the land opposite the Basilica and Civic Center.

    I’d certainly support a public private partnership on Collier – there seems to be some private money in the “kitty” already. But the kind of public private deal being considered for Collier is a far cry from Hunt/Mayfied/Simerly on the Haywood property – all of whose options involve sale (with Mayfield wiggling a bit) and convincing the buyer to include a privately owned plaza.

    And as to the bottom line – the cost estimates being swung around wildly are plucked from thin air. There are parks being created across the country at little or no cost – demonstration gardens, shipping container markets and pubs, art installations, farmers markets and more.

  5. No RFP yet. The City Staff bumped it down the road in hopes of not having it be an election issue. They intend to bring their ideas forward in January.
    Basically, the development staff works this way: they locate a likely buyer (perhaps a couple) and then write an RFP that fits the prospective buyer, and convince Council to issue the RFP. That’s why Mckibbon was the only bidder for the hotel RFP in 2007, which expired, which my colleagues still approved, which was then shot down by other hoteliers who cried “foul” for the illegal approval process.

    • Gary W

      Cecil, thanks for the response. A couple of questions in light of those pretty serious allegations. Is there some type of corruption in the city’s process? Secondly, are we going to station a park warden at this property similar to Pritchard Park if successful? Considering the proximity, it’s all but certain to experience the same issues and challenges. I love parks however, I’m just trying to understand why this specific piece of land is so divisive. It’s no wonder why Raleigh continues to overreach into local affairs. An obvious abuse of power in which I have never been an advocate of, but beginning to understand more and more everyday. Everyone needs to come to table absent of any personal agendas and work this out for the good of the entire city. You make valid points as well as the other parties, but I have feeling there may be a lack of complete transparency on both sides.

      So here is some citizen input on the property, take a new poll but one that reflects the real choices in front of us – a tax producing structure with a public plaza, structure with no plaza or a park space. All parties must seek a resolution and move on to more pressing issues facing our city or invite the state in to settle it. Plain and simple.

      • Gary, I wouldn’t say there is big C Corruption – but there is a tendency for bureaucracy to take the path of least resistance. The economic development department feels it has been authorized to sell the property – so they’ve been peddling like mad. (Hence the grotesque building suggestion you may have seen posted from the Chamber of Commerce Web site – it wasn’t a City Staff creation, but someone at the Chamber drew the picture “helping out” the sale.) The development people want to be successful at development, so they do what they do. In 2006/2007 the Council wanted a hotel on the site … so the Staff found some hoteliers, etc. and only one turned out to be both interested and qualified.

        In a similar vein, our Planning Department spends a lot of time with developers, and not unreasonably become friendly with them. By the time a project comes up through P&Z to Council, the Staff is invested in it – emotionally and professionally – and tend to weigh in in favor of passage. Not corrupt, just human nature.

        I don’t pretend that my poll was perfect. Robo calls have their limits, but they are cheap. We did cast a very wide net (every voter who had voted in the past two City and past two County elections, or registered since 2014 – and with a land line since robo to cell is illegal.) As I stated upthread and repeatedly for years – my only agenda is to ask the people of the city what they want, to have stakeholders offer suggestions and debate the options. Council has repeatedly tried to impose its agenda – the parking deck in 2003/2005, the hotel in 2007 and again in 2013, now a high-rise corporate headquarters is the target envisioned by the economic development staff and embraced by my colleagues.

        Perhaps the reason this one is so divisive is that people have lobbied for a public space there for a dozen years and every Council has rejected the idea of public input. The several thousand who signed petitions in 2003, the many who protested, the opposition to the hotel deal in 2007 and again when it was resuscitated in 2012 … and now the thousands who have signed the St. Lawrence Green petition … do not feel heard. At all.

      • Curious

        Thank you to all for thoughtful conversation on this matter, which has enlightened this curious reader/voter. I concur, “So here is some citizen input on the property, take a new poll but one that reflects the real choices in front of us – a tax producing structure with a public plaza, structure with no plaza or a park space.” And I also add, let the citizens see some visual representations of what top-notch design for each of these options might be. Has Asheville Design Center updated their participation in this project? It seems our architects ought to weigh in on this important matter.

  6. Our formal Council session begins at 5 p.m. so I won’t be interacting here for a bit. But thanks to all for the thoughtful conversation.

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