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Asheville: A NIMBY Speaks Out

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From the Mountain X-Press, Asheville's weekly independent newspaper (10/29/03 edition)


by Peter Loewer

Last week, on a typical Mr. Rogers morning in Asheville, Frank Adams and I strolled over to City/County Plaza to take a look at the 0.43 acres of public property approved for sale to the Grove Park Inn by our illustrious City Council.

Arriving at the northwest corner of Market and College streets, we immediately noticed a strange odor. Our first thought was that it might be the smell of money; upon nasal reflection, however, we realized it was natural gas escaping from a vent pipe just under the trees. The pipe looks like a grill perched on top of a pole with an emergency 800 number posted on it. Buried underneath the pipe are a gas vault and a number of gas lines – which, according to PSNC Energy, will cost about $40,000 to cut off and move if the land is developed. This does not include the cost of rebuilding sewers and re-routing electric lines and traffic (due to the loss of College Street between Market and Spruce).

Because the property is so small, we were unsure of our bearings, so we sauntered over to City Hall, went up to Planning and Development, and requested a "footprint" for the parcel.

Down on the street again, we noted the hustle and bustle of pedestrians walking about, talking on cell phones, enjoying the morning, and discussing the day's events.

"What a pleasant place to be," I remarked.

"A city like none other," Frank replied.

Back at College and Market, I pondered the fact that this property is about half the size of my 0.9 acres in Kenilworth – and much smaller than the area I garden. What's more, we both noted, if a 14-story tower were erected on that property, it would cut off the view of the mountains from the Vance Monument.

"Just think," I observed, "the condo owners will see the Renaissance Hotel parking lot to the north, the County Courthouse to the east, the Fire Department to the south, and the I.M. Pei building to the west. Some view!"

"In fact," added Frank, "the building takes a bite out of the plaza that can never be undone."

"Apparently," said I, "most of the folks who developed this plan – lawyers, officials and such-- have absolutely no aesthetic sense. If they did, the idea would never have been taken seriously."

And since many of the people pushing this project appear to be focused on economics (which is pretty funny, considering that some of those same folks recently voted to stop requiring inspections of rental property, thus eliminating a small but steady source of income for inspectors), we wondered how many jobs would actually be added to the local economy once the construction was done. And how many of those positions would go to poorly paid maintenance workers, who generally don't pay a whole lot in property taxes?

Speaking of tax revenues – those gilt-edged dreams of money flowing into city coffers – let's just say I have my doubts. Here's what I see as a more likely scenario:

About halfway through the construction phase (say, year two of The Great Disruption), the Grove Park Inn approaches City Council, saying: "We've tried to build the best of the best, and it's way over budget – that's the price of excellence. So we need a tax rebate for a decade in order to finish up."

"Done," decrees Council.

Thinking about land values, Frank and I decided that $702,000 seems just a tad too low for a building site that will not only destroy the plaza but block it off until the whole grand area crumbles into rubble.

As for Asheville's economy, it seems to me it's already doing better than those of most American cities.

Apparently, USA Today agrees. Their Oct. 5 edition included a lavish spread on Asheville complete with color photos, interviews with local entrepreneurs, high praise for the city's music scene – not to mention the news that the Thomas Wolfe Memorial is one of the 10 best homes to visit in America.

And as if in response to those folks who seem to think that big-ticket development is the only way to boost the local economy, reporter Gene Sloan wrote:

"There's no doubt the city, which has relied on tourism to help fill its coffers for more than a century, has benefited greatly from America's shifting travel preferences in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 2001. Even as tourist business plunged at major destinations such as Orlando, tourism revenue in Asheville surged nearly 14 percent in the year after the attacks as vacationers seeking safe, drivable and not-too-expensive destinations re-discovered the city. Still, a boom was under way even before the attacks."

After Frank left, I stood there for a while, asking myself where the Grove Park Inn was during the 1970s, '80s and '90s, when I recall it represented itself as the great place to stay that wasn't downtown?

Sloan, meanwhile, also noted tellingly that "Asheville's mostly mom-and-pop boutiques, restaurants and bars are clustered around Pritchard Park and Pack Square. Some see it as the key to its attractiveness. So far the cookie-cutter chain stores and hotels have stayed away."

In other words, thanks to the Mark Rosensteins (of The Market Place – the first restaurant we ate in upon our initial visit to Asheville back in 1986), the Em

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Note how all the usual NIMBY tactics are out in front in this editorial for everyone to observe and admire. You've got the prerequisite NIMBY smugness and self-righteousness, certainly, but can you find a little something extra? I can.

The author of this article, in attempting to show that construction on this little snippet of the Midpark would be a bad deal for the city. However, in writing about that, they basically make it known that we're not talking about a verdant meadow or forested paradise here. The proposed contruction site is home to a single tree, a park bench, and green concrete and metal bunker sheltering utility pipes and wires, including the natural gas pipes mentioned here.

Secondly, this NIMBY is demonstrating the typical NIMBY tactic of disseminating DUL (Distracting, Untrue, Lies) information when he mentions that the proposed building would be 14 stories tall. It will barely top out at 10 due to shrieking NIMBY concerns already, when 15 stories were originally planned. Also, the statement that the view of mountains from the Vance Monument will be blocked is untrue as well. From the Vance Monument you can indeed see Beaucatcher Mountain looming up behind the courthouse and city hall, down the hill and across City-County Plaza from the monument in Pack Square. However, the proposed Grove Park Inn building will not block that view. Instead, its facade will align with the Biltmore (Akzona) Building, creating a framed view of the municipal buildings on City-County Plaza and the mountain behind them.

Finally, the NIMBY tactic of demonizing those who don't agree with them is on display here, and it's a fine example at that. Note how this NIMBY, in his disagreement with the Pack Square Conservancy's plans to allow the Grove Park Inn's construction, demonizes the entire Conservancy. He says that the city is already dirty and wouldn't be able to properly maintain the new park proposed for City-County Plaza. Instead, he says that city gardeners could do a better job, which is silly. He seems to be saying that if you don't like one aspect of a major project, attempt to get the entire project scrapped. Apparently he would rather Pack Square remain a poorly designed traffic island, and would rather City-County Plaza remain a clutch of grassy doormats and parking lots sprawled before the courthouse and city hall.

The only saving grace displayed by this NIMBY is his allowance that new construction is needed downtown and there are suitable sites for it. But overall, this is the same dreck we've all come to expect from Asheville NIMBY's. Unfortunately, it's this attitude that may make developers think twice about investing in central Asheville. However, I hope that the city will approve this project and thus prove that there's room for everyone in Asheville, including both dirty hippies and capitalist pigs, and that having new construction, new investment, and new residents and shoppers downtown benefits everyone in the city, and can save us from sprawl.

Who's with me? B)

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Hell if I know, monsoon. Some of them seem to recognize the need for new construction downtown, but I'd bet a cookie that if someone were to come along and propose a building on one of these "alternate sites" they're always suggesting, they'd pitch a colossal fit and fall in it just the same as they're doing over the Grove Park Inn's current plans.

A letter to the editor in today's (10/31/03) Asheville Citizen-Times summed it up best. The writer had gone to the Urban Trail Arts Festival only to discover that protesters had set up an "information booth" about the project. He found it distasteful, especially seeing as the Grove Park Inn was one of the major sponsors of the festival. Plus, they were showing a "Kubrickian monolith" on the site where the Grove Park Inn wanted to build, and anyone who's done any research at all knows that's not what's planned there. He ended by saying that plan protesters (who tend to lean toward the political left) think suburban sprawl is bad, yet also seem to think that downtown construction is bad. And he ended his letter by asking, is there no pleasing them at all?

I agree. Anyone who has done ANY research into this project knows that there are very strict architectural guidelines at work here and that the building is not going to occupy all of Midpark and cut off Pack Square from City-County Plaza. Yet... those are the two arguments you hear most often about this project. When credible information about the proposal is so readily available but peopl insist upon disseminating false information, it seems to me that rather than fighting against a planned downtown construction project, they're actually fighting for the right to be stupid.

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2) Make the area more pedestrian-friendly about half the size of my 0.9 acres in Kenilworth...

If they want to make the city more pedestrian-friendly it might help to stop buying 0.9 acre lots to build their McMansions on! :rolleyes:

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Typical NIMBY-style hypocricy. Similar to Oberlin Village (Coker Towers, according to the NIMBYs), in Raleigh, where NIMBYs relied on lies to present their case; no matter how much the developer scaled down (50% reduction) the nearby NIMBYs were raising Hell. Here is a link for all to see what hypocrites can achieve:

Neighborhood Coalition

NIMBYs never change. They twist the truth and tailor it to their own needs; I can't write enough about them, but I am going to throw up if I continue discussing NIMBYs :angry:

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Kenilworth isn't a neighborhood where you'd find a McMansion, TravisNC. It's an historic neighborhood developed in the 1920's. I understand what you're saying, though... it's just that the author of this editorial is a little too smug for his own good. I imagine that some of that comes from living in the city itself in an historic area, in an historic house, in a district that displays to the letter all the hallmarks of a good urban neighborhood, while the rest of the plebians make do out in the suburban wastelands.

Midn you, I do consider suburbs to be wastelands, and I'd sell a kidney to be able to live in an historic in-town 'hood, but still. I recognize the city's need to grow and that to ban downtown development is to give developers a free pass to build crap on the outskirts of Asheville. Sometimes it seems as though these NIMBY's are happy enough if they can ignore the city beyond their particular haunts, and so long as nothing changes in the areas they personally frequent, the rest of the city can go to hell in a handbasket.

I take a broader view, however.

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I wasn't trying to trash the Kenilworth neighborhood. I love historic ones. I just thought it was ironic that this guy and his charette decided that Asheville should be even more pedestrian friendly while he lives on a one acre lot.

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