Letters to the editor

Mastering development

After reading in the Xpress about the grassroots resistance to hillside development, and [having moved] here myself to escape sprawl, I not only sympathize with the grassrooters, but warn them that unless they can convince the local politicians to stop talking and start moving on the problem, sprawl will come as sure as the sun will rise in the east.

I have personally watched developers buy off the local politicians, and development sprint up the east coast of Florida. In just 20 short years, they turned a once-pristine oceanfront seascape into wall-to-wall concrete buildings and eliminated even the sight of the ocean from the road.

While Buncombe County will never get Florida’s wall-to-wall concrete, they are a sure bet to get wall-to-wall hillside development if they deal with every hillside developer individually.

The key to preventing wall-to-wall hillside development is a master plan for both design and responsible, limited development. If you treat every developer like Bartram individually, history shows [that] the developers will win in court on their legal right to build what they want on the land they own. However, a master plan for the greater good of the county can prevent developers from winning in the courts.

Such a plan was written and legislated into law in Martin County, Fla. Residents did not want to see their county become a continuation of their sprawling neighboring counties, and [they] wrote their master plan in stone. The plan regulates all development. [If applied] in Buncombe’s case, [such a plan] could regulate both development design and hillside building. As a result of the Martin County master plan, most developers have side-stepped Martin County and moved on to develop the counties beyond. The point of this letter is that Martin County was saved from development sprawl only because they were smart enough to act before the damage was done.

Those grassrooters who want Buncombe County to retain its rural character and beauty should be lobbying city and county leaders to contact Martin County’s local government to find out how they wrote their master plan, and try to save Buncombe before it’s too late.

— Bert Bass

Give me some space

I can’t believe no one has proposed this before; it seems so obvious.

My wife hates cell-phone users — whether [they are] driving or in a store, but particularly in restaurants. I, on the other hand, am a businessman who uses a cell phone all day, and, yes, sometimes in a restaurant. Often, it’s an important call.

I was thinking about how most restaurants in Asheville and elsewhere used to have separate sections for smoking and non-smoking. Nowadays, there’s no smoking at all in nearly all area dining establishments. So why not create a “no cell phone” section? That way those of us who want peace and quiet can enjoy a nice meal without hearing a “he said/she said” one-sided conversation.

How about it, Asheville restaurants? You already know how to separate customers, and most of you are not seating smokers anymore. So give us a little area where no cell phones are allowed. And the rest of the world, waiting to hear from whomever about whatever, can yak away between forkfuls.

— Robert Collins

Thou shalt not kill

Mr. Lacy Pickens III was a U.S. citizen protected under the Constitution of the United States. Some people want to justify the killing of Mr. Pickens [during a July 6 stop by APD] based on his past history with the judicial system.

The Fourth Amendment says: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses … against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated … but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Given the facts and circumstances confronting the police officers (rather than hindsight), with the rank of sergeant, Sgt. Holden should have been the reasonable officer on the scene, with a plan to have a low-risk stop with other officers at the scene of the stop. It could be argued that Officer Chad Bridges is not a “reasonable” officer, based on another recent incident with the drug-suppression unit that involved serious injuries to Mr. Troy Wyatt on Jan. 25, 2006. The charge [resisting arrest] against Mr. Wyatt was dropped on May 3 in Buncombe County District Court.

Deadly force against Mr. Pickens was not necessary. A reasonable officer should have been in charge of the stop, and less intrusive methods could have been made to secure the arrest.

The due process clauses in the Fifth and 14th Amendments prohibit the federal and state government respectively from depriving “life, liberty or property” without due process of the law. The Asheville Police Department is not above the Constitution of the United States, nor above God’s sixth commandment, Thou shalt not kill. Officer Bridges pulled the trigger, but he should not be the only one held accountable. We should also look to the APD’s internal affairs office, the city manager, our City Council and the mayor.

— Caleb White

Please (don’t) color my world

In reference to “Spray-Painting Is Not (Always) a Crime[Aug. 30 Xpress], I was in NYC for a number of years — long enough to see the inception of so-called graffiti artists, and there is no doubt that some of the practitioners of this brand of street expressionism are extremely talented. But I am also old enough to remember when the first tags started to appear on the subway walls, and it was as if some collective consciousness was let loose on society that said: We have a right to display our “art” whenever and wherever we want.

Personally, I don’t care if Picasso, Rembrandt, Matisse and Keith Haring all came back to endorse graffiti, do it on your own walls — not the public’s. One of our neighbor cities is now mobilizing to combat the tags that encroaching gang members feel is their right, in order to designate their turf. It’s not their turf — it’s the public’s turf. And until I see the public vote for this sort of desecration of the public space, I say no to this encroachment that starts out as just a few real artists expressing themselves and morphs into every wannabe Jackson Pollock and gang member wanting to turn the public space into their personal canvas. I guess the question is, do you want to take the chance?

— Jesse Junior

Getting real

Kent Priestley’s opening to the “Gaining Ground” article [Aug. 23 Xpress] was unfair. His image of a real-estate broker’s hands sweating and twitching feeds an image that needs to be corrected. It certainly isn’t the agent’s fault that people are selling their farms.

For most of my adult life, I worked as a volunteer with a nonprofit organization overseas, so I guess I was sheltered from the way real-estate agents are viewed. But when considering [my next] career path, I was drawn to real estate for a number of reasons. When shopping for a home myself, I found the whole process fascinating. The challenge of helping others plant their roots sparked something in me. I liked the idea of working closely with an ongoing stream of different people toward important, obtainable, personal goals. I’ve always loved encouraging and helping people. Plus, I’ve always had a love for houses and for the concept of “home,” as well as a healthy relationship to the environment.

Since becoming a broker, I’ve met some wonderful people in the field who share my values. I was excited to learn that the Asheville Board of Realtors offers a certification as environmental consultant. There [are] classes and other activities … to earn that credential. In the process of learning more to help my clients find healthy, energy-efficient, sustainable homes, I have met lots of other Realtors who are committed to living harmoniously with nature, not tearing it up.

At the same time, I’ve been shocked to hear how the general public perceives the real-estate business. Perhaps in the past it deserved a bad reputation, but now I’m impressed with the high level of integrity in the field. … Throughout all my training … I was told our whole purpose is to serve and look out for our clients’ best interest.

I’m sure [some] people have had bad experiences with real estate professionals in the past. Unethical behavior, however, should be reported and dealt with. Most people in the field now, I believe, are above reproach and doing their best to serve. Some may make mistakes, but those probably aren’t intentional. A Realtor wants to earn a client’s future business and receive referrals.

I’ve never worked so hard in my life to help people. I love what I do, but I also need respect. I’m a professional, and my service is valuable. Real estate is incredibly complex. I can’t imagine trying to do it without a trained professional. You need to be able to trust your Realtor to lead you through the process of buying or selling your home, probably the biggest financial transaction you’ll ever make. I think it’s time people give us a chance to change the image, and it would be nice if such publications as Mountain Xpress would be more enlightened.

— Pat “Tree” Spaulding

Writer Kent Priestley responds: It wasn’t my intent to single out real-estate professionals or cast them as culprits. However, in many rural communities in Western North Carolina, a generations-old way of life is imperiled due to newcomers’ appetites for open space and inspirational settings. And although the causes and factions involved cannot be simplified, there is little question that — however principled they may be — some realty agents do help to facilitate the change.

Critical mess

“How do we keep it constructive?” I asked myself as I pedaled away after the conclusion of [the recent] Critical Mass ride. I knew Critical Mass rides had the potential to be controversial, as their intentions vary from city to city. Having recently converted to bicycle commuting, I was interested in participating in the Katrina ride to see what Asheville’s “CM” would be like. Although our town is starving for bicycle advocacy, the Katrina ride was a disappointment.

Simply, bikes don’t belong on Interstate 240. It’s dangerous and illegal. Such a demonstration reduces bicycle advocacy to a mere one-time antagonistic demonstration. Asheville’s commuters need more. We need safe access to highways, secondary and town roads, and roads like Riverside Drive, Kimberly Avenue and Clingman Avenue. Let the fossil-fueled autos have the interstate. I recognize that Asheville is just beginning to cope with the growing pains of bicycle assimilation, and therefore the community lacks, in general, a road etiquette that accommodates the needs of all vehicles — [those with] two and four wheels, alike.

“Taking the interstate” does nothing to foster the safety of cyclists on the road. The city’s lack of cycling infrastructure, however, is no excuse for Critical Mass cyclists to endanger themselves by taking over a highway on which we don’t belong.

Bicycle commuters need to make a lasting impact, not a perilous point. Asheville cyclists need to continue Critical Mass rides with the intention of promoting bicycle awareness — in a healthy way! Rides which highlight where cyclists are most likely to be found serve a purpose. For instance, an exemplary route is West Asheville’s Haywood Road to Clingman Avenue to Haywood Street and through the downtown area. Bicycles have a legal right to those roads, which are vital to bicycle commuters. The more cyclists utilize these roads, the more users will anticipate and accept bicycle traffic. I encourage cyclists of all levels to congregate the last Friday of every month to target commuter roads. I challenge participants, drivers and city officials to support such rides, as well. Let the Katrina ride serve as the preamble to community rides. As a city, let’s diversify our roads so that traffic of all types travels safely.

— Michael J. Sule

For the record

I would like to let my constituents know that I am complying with the new ethics, campaign finance and lobbying rules prior to their January 2007 effective date. Contrary to what some people are saying, I am not taking money from lobbyists, Jim Black or the state Democratic Party. My vote has not been, is not, nor will it ever be for sale.

During the past two years, I worked to get hurricane relief money for WNC ($247.5 million) and a 35 percent increase in the market rate for child care, putting us on the same level as the rest of the state. I sponsored legislation to toughen the laws on sex offenders, give tax credits to small businesses that cover part of their employees’ health insurance, and strengthen eminent domain laws. I sponsored a bill that set aside $8 million to build two new 100-bed nursing homes for veterans — one of those in WNC. I also sponsored a bill to cap the gas tax, which was included in the final budget.

This year we passed one of the best budgets that North Carolina has ever had. Critics complain because parts of the budget increased. Well, friends, look around you: There are a lot more people living in North Carolina now than two years ago. We have over 26,000 new students in public schools. We increased the education budget by $152 million and restored $44 million in discretionary funds to public schools. We gave $27.4 million to help cap Medicaid costs for county government. Almost $700 million went to give teachers and state employees a much-needed salary increase; $323 million went into our rainy-day fund. We paid back $195 million to the Highway Trust Fund and $30 million to the retirement system (leaving a balance there of $45 million plus interest). Another $170 million from lottery proceeds was designated for school construction.

The Budget and Tax Center reports that almost $550 million was set aside for savings. Another $388 million paid for tax cuts, including reductions in the states sales tax and the income tax rate on the state’s wealthiest taxpayers.

I would like to continue to serve House District 115. On Nov. 7, if voters elect to return me to office, they can rest assured that my concerns and my votes will be in the best interest of WNC.

— Bruce Goforth

Actions speak louder than words

Tom Rightmyer is Tom Wrongmyer when it comes to Susan Fisher. I recently read his letter [“Fiddling While Corruption Burns,” Aug. 23] attacking the character of Rep. Susan Fisher, and it turned my stomach. What venom! Even though Tom is a colleague of mine, a fellow Episcopal priest [retired], he is misguided when it comes to Susan’s character.

I was Susan Fisher’s minister for over 15 years before my retirement from St. John’s Episcopal Church a year ago. I know her well.

Susan was and is one of the best mothers I have ever known in my 40 years of ministry. Her children were very young when I first met her, and she amazed me with her ability to nurture and motivate these two beautiful children. She took this gift with her when she was elected to the Asheville School Board, eventually becoming its chairperson.

Another ability Susan brings to any community is her gift of organization and leadership. At St. John’s, she developed our children’s choir into one of the best in our diocese. Susan was always concerned with outreach and was instrumental in developing many of the programs that helped St. John’s serve the local needy. She was elected to our leadership board, the Vestry, and has served several terms as senior warden — the highest-elected lay position in the congregation.

There is no doubt about the fact that Susan is a dedicated and a hard worker for the things she believes in. Most important, to me, is the fact that I could always trust her to give me an honest answer when I sought her advice, which I often did. Susan is a person you can trust, and I am sorry that Tom does not know her well enough to appreciate the depth of her character. His words were wrong and hurtful, even to me.

I am proud to know Susan Fisher, and I would be most happy to introduce Tom to her anytime.

— Chuck Taylor

Tell it like it is

I would like to thank Congressman Charles Taylor for his helpful television campaign commercials. By pointing out that Heath Shuler has the support of liberals, Taylor selflessly reminds us that there may indeed be an alternative to the failed conservative policies of the last six years. Taylor’s ads are nothing short of noble. Thank you, Charles!

— Robert Rufa
Black Mountain

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