Letters to the editor

Figuring out the Civic Center

When I view the Civic Center “fix,” I admit that I am seriously conflicted. I am at once an Asheville resident and taxpayer, a Buncombe County taxpayer, a fiscal conservative, a symphony subscriber and a member of the Asheville Civic Center Commission (ACCC). There is no doubt that “something” must be done, but it’s certainly not clear which “something” is the best choice for Asheville, Buncombe County and Western North Carolina.

The clearest favorite approach is also the most expensive. If we build a new Performing Arts Center on the south side of the City/County Plaza and renovate the existing arena, we will wind up spending around $130 million. This approach would require a parking deck, but that would also be used for other Plaza and downtown events.

At less cost, and favored by the Asheville Arts Center for the Performing Arts, is the building of a new arena “somewhere else,” and then turning the old facility into a performing arts center through adaptive reuse. The new arena could go just west of the federal buildings. A parking deck there could service the western end of the city, including the Grove Arcade. A deck would keep us from removing many tax-paying businesses in that area, should we otherwise fall into the city-destroying surface-parking trap. For this choice, we would only spend around $110 million.

Note that both options need a parking deck. If we wish for downtown Asheville to continue to prosper and attract new businesses and their jobs, the next city parking deck needs to be built as soon as possible. Income from the existing parking decks, meters and tickets is now generating the funds needed to pay for a new deck. Therefore, I believe the cost of the new deck should not enter into the Civic Center deliberations — only its location.

So why is it so hard to decide? Why is the Civic Center Task Force struggling? In the past, we city taxpayers have borne the cost of subsidizing the Civic Center when revenues did not meet expenses, with no financial help from the county or the state.

A facility fee of $1 for each paying Civic Center customer has reduced the losses that must be made up by the property taxes we city residents pay. Why not increase the facility fee to the point that those who actually attend events in the Civic Center would pay for the new project?

If the Civic Center continued to have about a third of a million paying customers per year, and if the debt service for the chosen project were $10 million dollars per year, an additional facility fee of $30 for every paying customer who walks through the Civic Center doors would be required! That would be $30 added to each sports ticket, each show admission, ad infinitum.

That is why the decision is so tough. We are talking about trying to “find” a huge amount of money that could be viewed as dramatically subsidizing the Civic Center. You may argue with my estimates of usage and exact cost of debt service, but this simple example illustrates the point. We know we all want the “quality of life” that Asheville offers. But how much does it cost? Who should subsidize our pleasure?

I will conclude with my Civic Center commissioner hat squarely on my head. Whatever we choose to do is going to take years to accomplish. Meanwhile, we must maintain and preserve our present facility. In 2005, the ACCC presented a White Paper identifying crucial maintenance and repair projects for the existing Civic Center, now estimated to cost between $10 and $20 million. This is not “Option 3” nor “Option 4”; this is an absolute requirement.

— George E. Keller

Must we lose a WNC icon?

I am an artist in Western North Carolina. I live near the Black Mountain range and Mount Mitchell. I have talked with many people about the soon-to-happen tearing down of the Mount Mitchell tower, which is to be replaced with a 10-foot platform at least 20 feet shorter than the existing tower. In essence, there will be no more tower on Mount Mitchell.

Mount Mitchell is not only North Carolina’s highest peak, but the highest peak in the eastern United States. This is North Carolina’s equivalent to the Washington Monument. There is nothing built on higher ground in the whole eastern United States! Mount Mitchell hosts many visitors from all over the country every year. I go there myself each year to enjoy the wonderful view from the tower. I also enjoy looking from other vantage points in the mountains and seeing the tower, which distinguishes Mount Mitchell from the other peaks. A 10-foot platform won’t show up! It seems that we are taking away from the stature of the Summit of the East, not improving on it.

I know the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was faced with the same situation at one time, but is now still standing thanks to public involvement. I don’t want to stop the building of the platform, which will be handicap accessible. It would be wonderful for the summit to be accessible to all. But to tear down the tower — built many years ago — and decrease the viewing [identity] from other locations for everyone, handicapped or not, seems very wrong to me.

Why can’t we all have both? Why do they have to take the tower down? I have read that it is considered nonreparable, [yet it] is still safe for us to go up on. If it is not reparable, why not replace the tower with a tower? Or rebuild our tower and have a handicap-accessible platform as well?

I can’t imagine our Mount Mitchell without a tower. This is the people’s tower! I don’t think the public is aware of what is really happening. I don’t think I am alone in wanting to preserve or improve upon one of North Carolina’s most recognizable icons.

— Gayle Warren

Scant moment of (dis)grace

Clearly Hunter Pope is not a bluegrass fan. Judging from his scathing review of Town Mountain’s debut CD, it became very apparent that he has also never been in a band. To rip apart a very talented local band’s CD is shameful. If you don’t like traditional bluegrass, don’t bother to review it. Pass that one off to someone who appreciates the tradition and understands the genre. I’m saddened that Pope considers the art of preserving a cultural tradition very relevant to our area — not to mention popular within our community — as “tired bluegrass cliches.”

Not only are the five guys of Town Mountain great musicians, they are also really nice people who have worked hard trying to be heard and to form a fan base locally. I hope, for their sake, the saying “All press is good press” rings true, because Pope certainly didn’t do them any favors.

Go see them live sometime, and you’ll see why Robert Greer has been called “one of the best bluegrass singers of our generation.” Be captivated by their three- and four-part harmonies, and be welcomed by their sincerity on stage and their obvious love of what they do. I guess Pope’s “scant moment of grace” was when he mentioned their inventive, lively instrumentation.

Being a member of a bluegrass-based band myself, reading this review makes me hope Hunter Pope never sees one of our shows and dread the thought that he may ever hear a recording. Seems like the odds would be stacked against us before the first fiddle tune.

— Stacy Claude

Reviewer Hunter Pope replies: There’s a CD that came out last year titled Rank Strangers, a recording of weekly gatherings at Nelia Hyatt’s home on Brevard Road. Very traditional — and I made it one of my top-five local CDs of the year, along with the Biscuit Burners’ disc, A Mountain Apart. So because I didn’t like one traditional bluegrass CD doesn’t mean I hate the whole genre. Actually, I am proud to say I’m from a region where a lot of mountain music was born.

I know that Town Mountain is a great live band, and Robert Greer’s voice will certainly propel the band to new heights. They deserved their top prize last year in the band competition at the 33rd annual Rocky Grass Festival in Lyons, Colo. In fact, I’ve mentioned them in my column three times — a rarity, since I try to be as well rounded with coverage as possible. Unfortunately, as a reviewer, I just didn’t like their CD.

If I only had a … carrot

Ms. Chantal Saunders, the author of March 29’s letter [“Animal, Vegetable or Mineral?”], could perhaps use a bit of tutoring in the field of general biology, as she implies that chickens and carrots are not dissimilar. She also discredits the presumption that humans are more “in communication” with chickens than carrots.

Might I remind her that we (humans and chickens) share not only the Phylum Chordata, but also 60 percent of our genetic makeup, similar early embryonic development, disease susceptibility, eye structure, cardiovascular system with four-chambered heart, and most notably a similar central nervous system with a similar brain that receives signals from other parts of the body and is quite capable of interpreting pain. A carrot has none of this.

— Christopher Dorin

There are two Democrats running

In your March 29 edition, you included a two-page article on one of the Democratic Party contenders for the 11th District seat to the U.S. House of Representatives [“Fear and Loathing in D.C.“]. You never once mentioned his primary opponent: C. Michael Morgan. Instead, you assumed the person in your article would be running against the incumbent in the fall.

I challenge the Mountain Xpress to give the same number of column inches to an article about C. Michael Morgan, without once mentioning that C. Michael Morgan has an opponent in the primary election and assuming that C. Michael Morgan will be the person running against the incumbent in the fall. That would balance the coverage you just gave to his opponent.

I encourage all voters in the Democratic primary this May to vote for C. Michael Morgan. C. Michael Morgan is a man of the people. C. Michael Morgan will represent you and not corporate interests. C. Michael Morgan has stated that when elected, his first act will be to introduce articles for the impeachment of Bush and Cheney. C. Michael Morgan has pledged to work for repeal of the PATRIOT Act. C. Michael Morgan will work to bring the troops home from Iraq. I encourage you to vote for C. Michael Morgan in May, so come November, we can have a real choice.

— Cicada Brokaw

Plywood beats OSB

After reading the letter written by Joseph Allawos [“Those Green, Green Fields of Home,” March 8] regarding a house in Monford newly built by The EcoBuilders, I’d like to comment particularly on the use of oriented strand board (OSB).

I do feel that The EcoBuilders have a strong commitment to the principles of green building and resource sustainability, from what was stated in response letters [“The Barriers to Sustainability” and “Different Shades of Green,” March 8], but the choice of using OSB is very puzzling. The production of OSB relies solely on large chip mills that are responsible for massive logging clear-cuts in the southeastern U.S., which contributes to forest fragmentation, habitat loss, [sedimentation of] streams, global warming, etc.

Plywood, although not a “green” building material, is certainly a better choice than OSB. Its higher cost is negligible, considering that it is structurally superior, the environmental impact is less (no clear-cuts), and it doesn’t require large amounts of formaldehyde to glue chips together.

If we expect to change the building-supply industry, it makes more sense to totally boycott products like OSB and choose better products.

My suggestion to builders and homeowners is to go online to the U.S. Green Building Council’s Web site and check out OSB and other building materials to make better choices for building green.

— Ed Stavish
Hot Springs

Just do the green thing

Please allow me extend a formal apology to Rob Moody and all of his employees at The Ecobuilders, Inc. Clearly, their public vilification was uncalled for [“Letters, “Those Green, Green Fields of Home,” March 8]. With that said, I urge the WNC Green Building Council to consider the following suggestions:

Use plywood instead of oriented strand board (OSB). Until a sustainable source of fiber becomes available, plywood is clearly the lesser of two evils in our region. Plywood sheathing is made from pine, much of which comes from pine plantations. (Yes, they do clear-cut the nice, neat rows of pine trees to make it, but they plant little baby pine trees to replace them.) [OSB manufacturers] claim to use undesirable species, unmarketable timber, etc., but … they will use anything — size or age is irrelevant. Essentially, the saw logs of tomorrow are being mowed down and chipped up to feed paper and OSB plants at a rate that doesn’t even approach sustainable. In addition, formaldehyde used in OSB manufacturing is a known carcinogenic compound. Both the Dogwood Alliance and the Southern Appalachian Biodiversity Project, when asked to make a choice, support the use of plywood over OSB for all these reasons.

Use metal instead of asphalt for roofing. Instead of buying asphalt shingles from a giant-box store, why not buy metal roofing manufactured right here in the mountains by Madison Metals, Inc. It has a high recycled-metal content, is cut to length (zero waste), comes in a variety of colors and will last for the life of the structure. Asphalt shingles are non-renewable and non-recyclable.

Use Valeron instead of Tyvek. I understand the need for a house wrap, but the decision should be based upon more than just “energy audits.” Surely the social and environmental record of the company must be considered, and one would be hard pressed to find a more socially and environmentally corrupt company than Dupont, the manufacturer of Tyvek. A quick search of the Internet finds at least one Tyvek alternative called Valeron. Hopefully, this product will be a viable option on the side of every “green” building you construct. Thank you for considering these currently available choices.

— Joseph G. Allawos

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