Letters to the editor

All the ugly we can stand

It’s time for me to weigh in on the monumentally ugly Pack Place sign. I don’t like it. Sort of like I don’t like un-anaesthetized root canals, or like Custer didn’t like native Americans. I pretty much hate it, pure and simple.

As it was going up, I wandered around the base of it, staring up in utter disbelief that such a thing could happen. It felt like it feels when you are wrecking a car — inexplicable calm acceptance overlaying total disbelief.

It is the capstone of tasteless additions to Pack Square, which started with the BB&T building, continued with the Akzona building, and, previously, stopped with Rep. Charles Taylor’s old campaign office, which rated 8.6 on my personal ugly scale, due to its tenant, not its architecture.

The sign is millennium technology directly across from a building that was built not long after the Civil War. It is too big, too modern, way the hell too ugly, totally inconsistent with the nifty ambient structures, and has nothing in common with anything in this city. It merely provides a function: obnoxious, full motion and tasteless advertisement of the “goings-on” at an educational and art center. That it does well, if you will pardon the damning praise.

By the way, just inside Pack Place is a series of models of what Asheville used to look like in the good old days. (Time for a new model, boys!)

While achieving excellence in its vile charter of distributing useful information in the most heinous way possible, the sign does double duty as an “in-your-face” insult to the for-profit businesses in this town, whom we have made villains because they sought what Pack Place got: the right to place big, ugly, inappropriate signs all over the city. While we were all busy yelling at them, Pack Place was sneaking up behind us with a 20-foot electro-billboard. Who’d a thunk?

Unfortunately, the sign will probably not be going anywhere. My recent fantasies of organizing a plethora of shotgun-wielding gun-show types to destroy it have been relegated to the same place I put my dreams of smooching with Sigourney Weaver. (You know, it just now occurred to me if I can convince the folks at Pack Place to put a white-tailed deer graphic on that thing this fall, the NRA crowd might do [my bidding] without encouragement, it being open season on deer signs and all.)

Shame on the funding agency (Janirve Foundation) for trying to distance themselves from any culpability in this misplaced technological eyesore. The lame excuse of “We didn’t know how the money would be used” tells me that Janirve could use some help in future decision making. The grant request probably wasn’t titled “Real Ugly Sign for Pack Square Project” — but if my $107,000 was going to be spent, and I knew my name would be forever linked to it, you’d better believe I’d get involved. Perhaps I can write them a “Beautify Pack Square” grant: $107K for bulldozer and dump truck rental. Think they’ll check on what I plan to do with the money?

But back to the discussion … the sign will likely remain a festering carbuncle on the otherwise pleasant visage of our formerly beautiful downtown. I am powerless (at least unwilling) to actively destroy it. So what good can any of us salvage from it? For one thing, it has spawned a new breed of “letters to the editor” writers. That’s good. Perhaps this signals a new level of community involvement. That would be even better, because the ugliest thing about that sign is that community involvement might have prevented it from being so blessedly unattractive. A few years back, when UNCA tried to put an 80,000-square-foot conference center on top of Chestnut Ridge, it was community involvement’s absence that nearly made it a reality — and community involvement that stopped it dead in its ugly asphalt tracks. The sign can now be a daily reminder to us to get off of our lazy butts and make time for those periodic community meetings called to get our opinions and input. To get out and vote in those primaries. To get out and campaign for better parks for our kids. (Remember that failed bond referendum?)

Involvement, folks. Maybe that’s what Janirve’s $107K really bought, and it will be money well spent if we get some. Next time you see those tiny public-meeting notices in Mountain Xpress (Asheville’s only real paper), pay attention! Otherwise, we will deserve all the ugly we get.

— Forrest MacGregor
Asheville

Fairview’s needed sidewalk revolution

As you know, us residents of Fairview are experiencing a big change in our main road, Highway 74. I have already accepted that it will be a five-lane road, with nothing creative or unique to differentiate it from Highway 70 or Hendersonville Road. But maybe, there is still a chance; maybe, we could have some sidewalks.

Sidewalks don’t seem like a revolutionary idea, but none of the new roads seem to have them. It doesn’t make any sense. Along these new roads come many different types of stores and restaurants. Yet, customers must get in the car and drive from one to another. Of course, it is possible to walk, but it is a terrifying experience. If there is a sidewalk, it gives the pedestrian a chance — a lane where they always have the right of way.

Even if the [North Carolina] Department of Transportation won’t put sidewalks on the whole road, maybe they could at least put one in the central part of Fairview, from Angelo’s down to Cane Creek Road.

If other people feel concerned about this, please write the DOT.

— Annie Louise Perkinson
Fairview

All a board

A recent letter [Sept. 22] lauded Home Depot’s announcement of their curtailment of the sale of old-growth-forest products and called on others in the industry to do the same. The reality is that there has been virtually no old-growth wood sold by Home Depot for years, nor by any of their competitors — not because of their environmental awareness, but because it simply has not been available.

Home-center lumber sales are primarily pine, a small amount of cedar and a small amount of hardwood. They also sell a lot of sheet goods (plywood, etc.).

It is easy to look like a hero by making this type of announcement, but look closely at where their wood originates: clear-cut forests and pine plantations. Typically, the forests cut are second-growth, and are then replanted with pine, to be more commercially viable in the future. Forest diversity is eliminated and — well, you have heard the arguments before.

There is an announcement [Home Depot and others] could make that would be heroic: They could announce that they will be selling only wood products that originate from certified, well-managed forests. These are forests that practice sustainable forestry, in accordance with the guidelines of the Forest Stewardship Council (www.fscus.org).

Millions of acres of certified forests exist. Even the state forests of Pennsylvania have been certified. This program is the viable compromise between loggers and environmentalists, which has been slowly moving forward worldwide. Building materials of all types are available from these resources and, if more consumers demanded, the Home Depots would sell them.

— Robin E. Clark
Asheville

Workers for peanuts

Recently, while bidding on a sheet-rock and paint job offered by a contractor, I was told that he (the contractor) could employ three Hispanics for the price I gave him. Not willing to work for $5 per hour, all I could say was, Adios!

Now, I don’t blame the contractor, nor the Hispanics — and I would hope no one blames me for not embracing the flow of slave labor that’s becoming prevalent in this county, state and country.

— Don Humphries
Asheville

Wake up to Floyd’s message

On Wednesday, Sept. 22, an administrative-law judge ruled in favor of the N.C. Division of Air Quality, saying that it had acted properly in granting permits to two asphalt plants, in Polk and Macon counties. The one in Macon is in the floodplain of the Cullasaja River, one-and-a-half miles from two schools and in the middle of a residential community with many elderly. … Prior to the issuance of the permit, there [was] no public notice, nor any site visit by the state.

Macon County is prone to tropical storms and even had Hurricane Opal come up from the Gulf and go up the Cullasaja River four years ago. With regard to the asphalt plant, with Hurricane Floyd, it is a matter of “when,” not “if.”

All North Carolinians must insist on strict enforcement of our environmental laws. And if they are not strict enough, we should insist that logic, not greed, be used and get them put on the books. It is a shame that it took a tragedy like Floyd to wake up our “leaders.”

Our leaders have not served us well by not respecting our valuable wetlands and allowing them to be filled and destroyed. They have allowed everything and whatever to be placed in the floodplain, causing flooding downstream and immeasurable contamination. The earth simply was not able to absorb the water [from Floyd], due to asphalt, concrete, compacted lands, such as golf courses, and buildings.

We don’t know how much we have permanently lost. The rest of the nation and the world are watching, as so many innocent people and animals have lost their lives or continue to suffer.

All those who were lenient with the rules, and those who got out of having environmental-impact studies conducted, should accept blame in this debacle.

It is just a matter of time before Mother Nature shows again that she is to be taken seriously, as she did in this case.

Maybe now, [people will] realize what we’ve been trying to say for years: “Without a healthy environment, you don’t have a healthy economy.”

— Peg Jones
Franklin

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