Letters to the editor

Take a (healthy) hike

The following open letter concerns relations between motorists and pedestrians in downtown Asheville. I’ve witnessed a number of similar incidents; one, on Coxe Avenue, nearly resulted in violence and caused a dangerous traffic obstruction. I hope to make your readers aware of the attitudes of some motorists regarding pedestrians. Personally, I walk at least two miles daily through town. Since I move relatively slowly, being disabled, I’m a careful pedestrian who can notice all that is going on around me, more easily than someone who is moving at higher speeds.

Dear Sir:

This afternoon, after crossing a downtown street (where there are no traffic signals), I heard you shouting at me from your car. You singled me out, insulted my body and intelligence, and shouted: “Look where you’re going, you (blank, blank, blank).”

I’d seen your car turn the corner as I reached the curb. I had to turn around and look up the street to find you. This means I was far from the car. I had, in fact, paid close attention to traffic as I crossed, as I’ve learned to do as a pedestrian. In crossing, I had posed absolutely no danger to you (in your new car), or to myself.

I moved on; you did the same, driving a little too fast for that road.

Then I wondered: Why did you feel sufficiently angered or threatened to verbally abuse a complete stranger? Could it be that you’re generally stressed, angry and frightened, and need only a vague reason to vent your discomfort?

Consider if, by some surreal chance, you had hit me. Which of us would have been hurt more? Consider also that, in using my body for travel, I am not contributing to air pollution or fuel depletion. Which of us has a more valid reason to be angry at the other?

I would suggest that you take the time to consider the fact that we all wish to enjoy the area: walkers, bikers, motorists, busriders. By abusing strangers or pedestrians, you’re doing nothing to contribute to this.

I’d suggest a little exercise to let off some of that steam — maybe a nice long walk.

— A. Walker

Trinity Baptist expansion: A tale of tangled zoning

Nelda Holder’s letter about West Asheville [April 21] was excellent! …

The degree to which City Council members “talk the talk” but rarely “walk the walk” in making their decisions as public officials is pretty amazing. The April 13 Level III Conditional Use Permit hearing was the most dramatic example, because it ended up as a struggle between neighborhoods and religious zealots [Editor’s note: At that meeting, Council approved Trinity Baptist Church’s request for a conditional-use permit that would allow a substantial expansion of their facility, located in a residentially zoned district.]

The Unified Development Ordinance, … along with the city’s 2010 Plan, is designed to address the issues of development in Asheville, to promote quality of life [and keep] development (commercial/institutional) in character and in harmony with existing neighborhoods with residential zoning.

For example, the only Level III Conditional Use permitted in residential zoning is residential, according to [the zoning district’s] density designation (i.e., units per acre).

Due to the size of its expansion plan, Trinity Baptist applied for Institutional zoning in December 1997 City Council voted unanimously on Feb. 3, 1998 to delay the … public hearing [on this request] for six months. [A valid protest petition against the action had been filed by the neighborhood.] Council members wanted to study (research) ordinance changes that might be more [accommodating] to TBC goals. In April, Council members received the “study” and tabled the motion to make changes in the UDO. … Finally, in August, with three votes, they denied TBC’s rezoning to Institutional — but once again promised to make changes in the UDO’s definition of church, to accommodate TBC’s expansion project. That is still being considered by the Planning and Zoning Commission.

The TBC expansion plan calls for buildings with a total of 170,000 square feet, on 20 acres zoned RM-6 [residential, multifamily, six units per acre]. That neighborhood consists of single-family homes, averaging less than 2,000 square feet, on lots [averaging] less than an acre.

Only by manipulative interpretation, since February 1998, of the UDO by the city manager, Planning and Zoning staff and attorneys, was this Level III Conditional Use Permit hearing scheduled. …

The sworn-testimony hearings required for Level III projects are rare, according to City Attorney Bob Oast. He was unsure (unclear) as to whether Council should vote on each of the seven conditions to be met, as outlined in the UDO, or vote on them as a package. So, Council went for the package method, which led to further obfuscation.

Council had before them the seven conditions, with possible questions for each that had been carefully prepared by Planning and Zoning staff. There was little methodical use of these questions, as Council took testimony from TBC and staff.

It will be interesting to hear Attorney Oast’s summation at the May 11 Council meeting, when Council members’ second vote is to be taken. Are Council members up to exercising their oaths of office to uphold the Constitution (that is, the laws and ordinances) and to represent the general taxpaying public — or will they continue to show preferential treatment to a special-interest (religious) group?

After relating this scenario to my postman a few days ago, he exclaimed, “That’s too big — too confusing. It’s like having your fishing line all tangled up.”

Yes, and the Carrier Heights Neighborhood Association has had to hire an attorney to help us untangle it.

— June Lamb

Small steps against litter

Here I am visiting the coast — beautiful ocean, sweet little bungalow, and litter everywhere: soda cans and firecracker-remains on the beach, cigarette butts all around the house.

It’s the same at home in the mountains: trash lining city streets, on country roads and in the woods.

I feel incredibly sad to see Mother Earth disrespected so, hurt that people act so thoughtlessly, and angry that folks leave their trash for others to pick up.

Do you use a trash can and an ashtray in your own house? If you have ever thrown garbage down on the ground, please use a trash can in the future. If you have ever tossed a cigarette butt out at a stoplight, please use an ashtray in the future. If you have ever let trash blow out of your truck, please use a tarp in the future.

When each of us takes these small, conscious steps, we will have a clean environment/home that each of us will enjoy! Thank you.

— Hara Sitnick

If Kosovo blows

NATO’s intervention in Serbia and Kosovo may have much wider ramifications. After all, both countries used to be part of Yugoslavia, which was a close ally of the Soviet empire. And when we last tuned in, the U.S. and the Soviet empire were locked into policies of MAD, the mutually assured destruction of the world. What’s left of that empire — Russia — now seems to be run by a semi-democratic mafia in economic decay, but still fully capable of blowing civilization away.

Russia strongly objects to NATO’s attack. Fifteen years ago, if NATO were bombing in that part of the world, it would probably have been the start of World War III.

Clinton claims all we need do is push cruise-missile buttons, launch miraculous planes, and keep enjoying our king-of-the-world status and booming economic happiness.

The only real thorn in our side is that the first president we baby boomers elected is the supremely embarrassing Clinton. Thank God, big wars make old conservatives forget sick sexcapades! Monica Lewinsky is history. Clinton is redeemed and gleefully kicking ass — and that up-thrust thong moon — into the hazy, pre-war past.

The best thing about the war, so far, is that some of the still sexually outraged, usually militaristic Moral Majority are shouting: “Wag the dog!” For the first time, they see their country involved in a dubious air massacre, feel what it’s like to be unpatriotic, and experience the virtues of the nonviolent.

Meanwhile, Russia is suffering — embarrassed and laughed at by a Western world that, just 10 years ago, used to quake at its awesome power. Now they’re getting no respect at all.

We started the air attack while Primakov, the prime minister of the second most powerful military on Earth, was flying to America. He turned around in midair and flew back to thousands of delicately teetering, super-megatonnage nuclear warheads. The guardians of these atom bombs rarely get paid these days, much less scrutinized.

Clinton emphatically states on national TV: “I did not have sex with that woman. Oops, scratch that. There is absolutely no risk that Russia will go ballistic over Operation Allied Force.”

Drunken, infarcted Yeltsin yells at NATO, declaring that there will be serious consequences if we send in ground troops. Zhirinovsky and other Russian ultranationalists gain more power with each NATO bomb. When Yeltsin dies, some neo-Stalinist or Nazi types may be elected, with a mandate to restore the Russian economy and dignity, by any means necessary.

But the Russian conventional army couldn’t even cope with the tiny Chechnya rebellion. So, somewhere in a freezing Siberian ICBM silo, a Russian patriot and computer whiz has decoded the relatively ancient encryption codes. He listens to his new president’s inflammatory rhetoric and, with empty stomach and twitching trigger finger, he decides, “What the heck,” and presses the button.

The Cold War is barely warm, and we’ve already forgotten that to infuriate Russia is to invite Armageddon.

It looks to me like Y2K is careening our way with a real chance of a Revelations-class conflagration. Clinton is not just wagging the dog, he’s quaking the planet.

— Bill Branyon

Oh, for astute movie reviews

Our beloved Ashely has wandered into deep water, and I fear she will drown without a gentle reminder — some point of reference. Any semblance to offering informative movie reviews has been completely washed away. We now get to enjoy a “dear diary” approach to her reports, which I would truly enjoy if I were a personal friend of hers. But I’m not.

I only need to know something objective about the movies, combined with an astute view of how good they are. That’s not too much to ask, or is it ? There isn’t even any pretense at professionalism left in what she writes.

Please give Ashely a column to write, where her entertaining and valued point of view may air, and please get someone who will actually review the movies. The Mountain Xpress is a good alternative news source, but I don’t need what passes as an alternate to informed movie reviews — and, I suspect, neither do many other people.

— John B. Buckley

Ashley replies: Gee, John, it appears that there has been some mistake. MY professional, informative and insightful film reviews are to be found in the Short Takes column of the Mountain Xpress. Check them out …

The other day, I was heading south on Broadway downtown. I came over the hill at Vance Monument and looked over at Pack Place. It is such a nice little square; I enjoy the view of the building and trees.

But wait: Something is different; my view is blocked. What is the huge white elephant sitting in the middle of the square? Is it a piece of modern sculpture?

Well, whatever the thing is, it is a completely different style from the surrounding buildings, not to mention the size of the thing. It now completely dominates Pack Place, and it is ugly and probably expensive, too.

Someone, please fix it. Maybe they could use it at Climbmax, or for one of the old buildings that needs a fire escape to meet the new second-exit codes. Endless possibilities …

— Grace McPhee

Giant Jehoshaphat! It’s a sign!

I am concerned about the continuing loss of what is beautiful about downtown [Asheville]. “The view that made Asheville famous” — seen from Battery Hill and the front steps of the Battery Park Hotel — was virtually eliminated from public access when the overly ambitious Mr. Grove bought and removed the hotel and the hill in 1916.

Pack Square — prized centerpiece of our own fair city [and] hangout of the young Thomas Wolfe — was bequeathed to the citizens of Asheville in 1903, on the condition that it always remain a public square; [but it] has been reduced in size from more than 5,000 square feet to less than 1,000 square feet (see the scale models inside Pack Place). This loss could be partially ameliorated by the decommissioning of the unnecessary west end of Pack Square Street (between the Vance Monument and the Biltmore Building).

Until this month, a citizen could at least still stand in the remains of the Square and gaze at the fine architecture of the corner buildings of Pack Place, and imagine that this view could not be taken away.

Now there’s this new Big Metal Thing [an electric sign advertising Pack Place -ed.]. Does this new public obstacle, already in disrepair, indicate more of City Councilperson Barbara Field‘s involvement? Does she hate us? Can something not be done to prevent her from having anything to do with public places and art and architecture in our city? Am I making sense?

A friend of mine, well known to hold high the preservation — lo! the restoration of human dignities — upon seeing this Big Metal Thing and learning its purpose … and its intended prominence, said to me, “Things like this make it easier to die.”

If that long “fountain” to the end of Pack Square must remain empty and dry for so many months of the year, why not go Post Modern and begin (artistically) filling it with a pile of things, like Ms. Field’s $147,500 Federal Building Big Rusty Metal Thing and this new, amazingly out of place artifact?

— Ron Ogle

Barbara Field responds: “I didn’t have anything to do with [the Pack Square sign]. I went … to check it out and complain about it [recently]. If I had been involved [in the design], I would have screamed,” Field says.

A few years ago, Field recounts, Council members, herself included, did approve the general concept of allowing Pack Place to install a sign, and even amended the city’s sign ordinance to allow the sign to be placed in the street right-of-way at Pack Square.

Field was, on the other hand, more directly involved with the sculpture flanking the Federal Building: She was one of 25 community members who served on the committee that selected the sculptor. The committee, she notes, had nothing to do with the specific design. “But I like [the sculpture]. It has far more character than the Federal Building: It’s exuberant, compared to [the building],” says Field.

Litter, if you hate honking

Litter is bad, and people who litter should stop.

But on Thursday afternoon, April 22, the Honk Against Litter patrol set up their gauntlet at the corners of Broadway and Walnut streets, where hundreds of passing cars honked and honked — for 90 minutes. At the very least, it must have been distracting for all the consultants, architects, restaurants and other businesses in the vicinity.

Perhaps we should also ask people to throw a bag of garbage out their car windows, to protest the noise pollution.

— Klaus Martin

Beware of age prejudice

Mr. Cohen: Stereotyping seniors the way you did in your blatantly offensive cartoon [Cohencidents, April 28] is an affront to all of the mentally healthy and vibrant senior citizens who contribute so much to this community.

Many of us are gainfully employed at jobs that require considerable skills. In addition, our lifetime experience gives us the opportunity to further enrich the lives of many people we come in contact with on a daily basis.

Racism, sexism and age-ism are all the same. Let us beware of the ramifications that can arise from such insidious messages, such as was reflected in this cartoon.

— Lorraine Murphy

Vote YES for parks and greenways!

On Tuesday, May 11, we, the citizens of Asheville, will have the opportunity to improve the beauty, walkability and sustainability of our neighborhoods and city. On this day, a voter referendum is being held to decide whether or not to renovate Asheville’s run-down city parks.

If approved, the referendum will mean that vacant lots will be converted into soccer and baseball fields and playgrounds for our kids. Voter approval will give a green light for the creation of a linked system of city greenways, making our town a safer place to walk your dog, go for a run, or get across town on a bike. The greenway system will also go a long way toward preserving the scenic beauty of Asheville and buffering our creeks and streams from pollution.

The referendum is the result of a year-long master-planning process, with extensive public involvement throughout the city. Thirty-three projects, which are located in all parts of the city, were selected by a citizens committee as the highest priorities to be funded by the referendum.

The proposal includes four new community parks, renovations of parks throughout the city, an aquatics facility, and land acquisition for future parks. A citizens-oversight committee will ensure that funds are spent only for these projects.

The parks and greenways referendum will be a great investment in our city and in our future. So please get out and vote YES on May 11, in support of parks and greenways for Asheville!

— Brownie Newman

For days, something resembling a 12-foot-long, one-ton paper airplane rested on its side in front of Pack Place.

Then some enterprising folks with welding torches and hardhats came along and managed to fashion it into a modern-looking sign, like the ones seen in front of shopping malls in big cities like Charlotte. They did a pretty convincing job.

But the thing they erected is not really a genuine sign: It’s a hoax. Maybe it’s a belated April Fool’s prank. Perhaps a bunch of welders got together with some leftover pieces of a shopping center, a couple of cases of beer, and voila! — they came up with this monstrosity.

But they can’t fool us. It’s in front of Pack Place, which is a center for art, for goodness sakes. And everybody knows that no artist would be caught dead with that thing in the front yard.

April First came and went, and we needed a good laugh. Now can we take that thing down, before the tourists arrive and see it? They’ll panic, thinking they took a wrong turn somewhere and ended up in Charlotte, at the mall, when they really wanted to go to Diana Wortham Theatre or the Art Museum.

Or is the joke on us?

— Tommy Kerr

Two troubled children …

Days ago, two troubled children walked into their high school in Littleton, Colo., and began shooting. In the end, both they, themselves, and several others were dead. That’s really how the event should be told, isn’t it? That two students decided that they no longer wanted to live, and decided to take as many along with them as they could? It’s a horrible, tragic event that happened.

What’s even more horrible and tragic is what’s transpiring now. The reasons why they did this are now coming out. Let me list them for you:

It was the clothes that they wore, and the music they listened to. It was the games that they played, and the Internet sites that they surfed and/or maintained. It was the filthy language that they heard on television, and the violence that they saw at the local movie theater. It was the guns they had access to, and the things that they read. It was the pornography they owned, and it was the fact that they “didn’t fit in” and weren’t part of the “good kids” clique.

Or, could it be just what this letter began with? That they were two troubled boys who had some problems: Problems that might have been noticed if people weren’t more interested in the clothes that they wore, the music they listened to, the games that they played, and the Internet sites that they surfed and/or maintained, the language that they heard on television, the violence that they saw in the movies, the guns they had access to, the things that they read, the pornography they owned, the fact that they “didn’t fit in” and weren’t “good kids.”

No, it couldn’t be that they just had problems. It must be those reasons.

So, let’s all do the sensible thing: Ban the clothes, the music and the games; shut down the Internet, and censor the television and movie industries; take away all the guns and burn all the books and outlaw all the pornography; make the children “fit in” and be “good kids” by taking away all these horrid influences from them.

But if we do that, then what will we blame the next tragic crime on, the next time? What scapegoats will we have left then?

Days ago, two troubled children walked into their high school in Littleton, Colo., and began shooting. In the end, both they, themselves, and several others were dead. The two boys had some serious, long-term problems, and we were too preoccupied with our own lives to notice them.

We failed them, and through that failure, failed all involved.

Next time, we’ll pay attention to the problems, and not the excuses.

— K. R. Gentile

Children learn from adults’ actions

We expect more from our children than we do from our government.

On April 20, President Clinton expressed surprise and dismay over the latest incident of students killing each other. But should we really be surprised?

Our nation’s leaders have repeatedly taken up arms and attempted to blow up those whose actions they disapproved of. How can we expect our children to deal with their frustrations better than our leaders? Children follow the examples of what they see. These students did only what our nation’s leaders have done …

We know that children exposed to violence, even in cartoons, act more violently. Why then should we be surprised that children exposed to images of violence in the media are responding by becoming more violent?

We’ve had bloodied, dead toddlers dangling from the arms of firemen depicted in every supermarket check-out (Newsweek’s Oklahoma bombing coverage), footage of dead people strewn in the streets, and live-action footage on TV of people being shot, let alone the violence that passes for entertainment.

We tell our nation’s youth that violence is not the answer. Yet, we are showing our children that violence is the way to make an impact. Our actions simply speak louder than our words.

— Sarah K. Pizzini

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