Letter writer: Where do City Council candidates stand on future of lot near Basilica?

Graphic by Lori Deaton

We’ve been debating what to do with the city-owned property in front of the Basilica [of St. Lawrence] since 2004. Most residents are clear that we want it to be cooling, a refreshing green space.

We have plenty of buildings going up, and each one will generate more heat and will increase traffic. More people, more congestion, higher rents and a less desirable city is the result. Saving out that small space for trees and shrubs is a tiny repayment for the hundreds of trees we have lost to development in the past few years.

I have a door hanger from Brian Haynes saying that he is in favor of green space in front of the basilica, and he has my vote. I note that Council member Marc Hunt is opposed to green space there, favoring selling the property for development.

Where do the rest of the candidates stand? This is not the only issue in the election, but it is an indicator of whether candidates will be responsive to residents or to the developers.

— Kathleen Lyons
Asheville

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20 thoughts on “Letter writer: Where do City Council candidates stand on future of lot near Basilica?

  1. Gary W

    Hopefully they will stand as a good steward of my money as both a city resident and taxpayer, to develop the land responsibly and generate revenue for the city. There are ample parks in this community that already require resources which are already strained, to maintain and upkeep. We do not need a park on every corner. The alternative is increased taxes for which I am opposed to develop more parks. There are enormous challenges and issues facing this and future councils, building new parks should not be a priority. The city’s bond rating was increased to AAA by demonstrating sound and disciplined fiscal responsibility. Marc Hunt has my vote.

    • North Asheville

      The views of Mr. Hunt and Ms. Mayfield about an appropriate balance between tax-revenue generating use and recreational use of the space earns my vote. Central Park is not only green space. It has an outdoor theatre and a major restaurant, Tavern on the Green., plus numerous well-traveled thoroughfares through it.

  2. Jaded Local

    “Most residents are clear that we want it to be cooling, a refreshing green space.”

    Most? Have you spoken to “most” residents?

    I’ve nothing against parks and if there weren’t any downtown I’d be all for this. But there are already two downtown, one just a block or two from this spot.

    How about some affordable housing? I sure wish Asheville “progressives” were advocating for affordable housing, of which there is a greater shortage of downtown than parks, as strongly as another park. Where are the yard sign campaign for that?

    At the very least let us have something on that prime piece of real estate that will generate tax revenue for the city so we can help pay for the parks we already have.

  3. Grant Milin

    Cecil Bothwell would like yes/no answers as to his St. Lawrence Green strategy. I know others want the St. Lawrence Green strategy to work out. But I do not answer to Cecil.

    I can offer a process that leads to a new community innovation platform based on our past (ended last year) Federal Partnership for Sustainable Communities program, GroWNC. ‘GroWNC II’, or what I call Sustain Asheville—in partnership with specialist groups like Asheville Design Center—can help us develop a suitable business model that merges sustainability and economic development strategy, starting with what goes into these extremely important properties facing the St. Lawrence Basilica.

    If the solution is inadequate, there could be another hotel glut/luxury condo problem there sooner rather than later.

    I wrote out detailed thoughts on these and other development questions in this article:

    http://www.grantmillin.com/asheville-city-center/

    • John Morris

      After reading your referenced post, Mr. Hunt, I fail to see how Ms. Lyons is misstating your position. The second stipulation in your seven point “Middle-Way” plan states that the property “preferably be developed for expanding the tax base,” while the seventh and last states ” that the development favor the creation along with the development a publicly-accessible plaza, and that in order to achieve the plaza, that a public-private partnership be pursued to make that economically feasible.”

      First of all, I take it that you call your plan a “middle way” because it favor[s] the creation along with the development a publicly-accessible plaza.” With all due respect, if a plaza attached to a development is mid-way between a hotel and a park, then Asheville must be mid-way between the Atlantic and Pacific. Moreover, if the preferable goal is expansion of the tax base, then one might expect the resulting “publicly-accessible plaza” to be as small as possible, probably something like the completely uninviting publicly-accessible plaza in front of the BB&T building, and absolutely nothing resembling the “earlier concept” drawing that you include.

      Moreover, your own words in the minutes of the April 21, 2015 Planning & Economic Development Committee (http://www.ashevillenc.gov/Portals/0/city-documents/cityclerk/mayor_and_citycouncil/council_committees/planning_and_economic_development_committee/PED_Minutes_04-21-2015.pdf) seem to cast further doubt on your commitment to even this “middle-way” proposal.

      “There were mixed feelings on the need for a plaza, and members thought street level vibrancy was important and onsite parking worth considering. However members felt the 7 principles were recommendations and not binding. . . .Chris Joyel, Asheville Design Center Director, asked if the property could be divided into separate civic space and business space, stating that an inviting space may help market the
      business side. Asheville Design Center is fully committed to seeing this space add to the urban fabric. Hunt thought searching for companies that share a vision that is compatible with ours was worth it, BUT SHOULDN’T BE A DEAL BREAKER [my emphasis], and that a subdivision would increase expectation that the City will build a plaza there, which the City is not going to do.”

      Mr. Hunt, I voted for you in the last election, and I truly appreciate much of what you’ve helped to achieve. At the same time, however, I’m appalled at the pace and quality of development in downtown these past several years, and feel that the Aloftication of our city is threatening the very things that have made Asheville so attractive to residents and tourists alike. (That, I believe, is what all of those yard signs are telling you.) And I’m extremely disappointed in your characterization of the grass-roots SLG movement as some sort of nefarious plot to stir up trouble, presumably for its own sake. SLG’s leaders and volunteers are devoting their time and energy to this cause because they care about our city, and have absolutely nothing to gain by their efforts other than a better place for all of us to live . Surely you owe them an apology.

  4. bsummers

    Candidate Rich Lee has made a strong argument in favor of a park:

    http://goo.gl/jta7xN

    His position, and the sound reasoning behind it, is part of why I support him for City Council.

    • That destroys any claim Lee might have had to being a housing advocate. If he was he would support housing on the site.

  5. John Morris

    The following is from a recent exchange on the Montford listserv:

    First, Julie Mayfield’s position on this issue, in her own words:

    “I think the choice that is being offered to people for the land across from the Basilica – high rise or green space – is a false choice. Those can’t be the only options, right? I agree there needs to be a public space there – a plaza, a park – something. But I also think there is a chance to do more – to make that space more vibrant and better used than just a passive park. I think a contributing structure of some sort – mixed use building, event venue, all day restaurant – is needed to keep people flowing in and out and through the public space all day. If it’s just a green space with no benches, nothing to draw you in or keep you there, as depicted on the signs, it will be an under-utilized space on a key corner of our city. Likewise, if it’s all building. There’s a balance to be found and design is the key. I would also like to see that intersection reconfigured to make it safer for pedestrians and to create a better connection between that space and the civic center. The Asheville Design Center has done excellent work on this that should be brought into this discussion. ”

    Second, my own response to Julie:

    “Julie, thanks for taking the time to explain your position on the St Lawrence Green Space issue.

    With respect, the whole point of creating a green space (with benches, of course) is the just sort of “under-utilization” that you’re describing. NYC’s Central Park, by your definition, is an under-utilized space, and yet thousands of people visit it every day expressly because it is, in contrast with it’s more vibrant, over-utilized surroundings, “just a passive park.” My guess is that the draw of some relative peace and quiet in a natural setting, together with the chance to contemplate the beauty of Asheville’s two most iconic structures, the basilica and the Battery Park Hotel, would draw in plenty of people.

    That said, and please correct me if I’m wrong, the whole question of what to do with that space, now owned by the city, will be moot if the next council decides to sell it to the highest bidder in an effort to maximize tax revenue. Should that happen, and judging from recent and current development, we can likely expect that space to be filled by yet another well-utilized and vibrant hotel. Am I correct in assuming from your statement thai you support the city exercising control over whether and how that property is developed? Also, if enough citizens were to express their desire for a park-like green space of some sort, with benches but no buildings, (a great many have already signed a petition supporting just that), would you be in favor of finding a way to put this issue directly to the voters, perhaps after a series of debates on the issue?

    Finally, a more personal note. When I was asked not long ago to circulate the green space petition in the Kenilworth neighborhood on a Sunday, from 6-8 pm, I agreed, but reluctantly, as I thought it might be counter-productive. Who wants to be bothered on a Sunday evening by someone circulating a petition? To my amazement, every person I spoke with thanked me for my efforts and was eager to sign the petition, and only one declined to accept a yard sign. I admit that my brief presentation was over-simplified, but it was nonetheless abundantly clear that people’s support for the SL green space idea was part of their larger concern with the whole pace, direction, and quality of development that has been taking place these last several years in downtown Asheville. I’ve come to see the issue, important in its own right, as also in some sense a proxy for the larger issue of what constitutes quality of life in an urban environment. As I discovered, a great many people feel that we’ve been going in the wrong direction.

    Thanks for listening.

    Sincerely,

    John Morris
    Cumberland Ave”

    If I get a response, I’ll post it here.

  6. The city can’t even manage Pritchard Park and we expect yet another one downtown. I will put my money on it that most of the people in support of a park on this property spend little time at either Pritchard or Pack Square Park. Yet they want more green space. What downtown really needs, and where tax dollars would be better spent, is improving sidewalks and creating some public plazas such as those we see in NYC. How about more public art? Some new cross walks on busy streets like Biltmore? How about a pedestrian mall? We have millions of people milling about downtown, yet we haven’t addressed the cramming of these people into tiny little sidewalks and forcing them to dodge traffic as they cross the street. Before we consider any more green space, let’s deal with the public spaces we already have and they leave a lot to be desired.

  7. The rising rents prove precisely that there are NOT plenty of buildings going up, and downtown condos and apartment towers can reduce both traffic and rent. That land is needed for high density housing and Haynes made himself antihousing by opposing housing on the site. Housing has gotten so expensive in Asheville that the highest bidder is quite likely to build housing, thus relieving the housing supply crisis and thus rents by supply and demand. Hunt has the best proposal I have heard from any candidate on the site, though it would be still better if the city deed restricted the property for residential use of unlimited height and density.

    • But to be clear, I oppose all 3, Hunt, Mayfield and Haynes and the best candidate, Payne, has yet to take a position. Hunt has had years on council to repeal density limits and parking requirements and has totally failed to do so.

  8. OneWhoKnows

    Vote for Mumpower, Miall, and Dee Williams , the 3 BEST choices !!!

  9. 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.”

    • Thank you Angela Phillips for spelling out connections of Simerly and Veronika Gunter to homebuilders and their representatives, though I would like to see more details and links. I find these connections very mysterious, though they may be good and I greatly wish they were out in the open. As a supporter of homebuilders and homebuilding on the site, I want to see candidates that are openly supported by homebuilders, which are so needed that they are both highly lucrative AND highly ethical, though I want this support to be open, not secret. because I can’t defend connections that I don’t know about.
      I don’t like the fact that Simerly set her facebook page so I cannot comment on it. That is a strike against her right there. If she is closed to public input on her campaign facebook page, she will be closed to public input on council too.

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