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Asheville: Mayor Speaks Out...


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From the Asheville Citizen-Times (11/02/03)



After serving two years as Asheville mayor and six years as City Council member, I understand residents have differing opinions on issues like the potential Grove Park Inn (GPI) building, which merits factual discussion. A recent guest opinion by Nelda Holder, president of the League of Women Voters, misstated some facts and, unfortunately, ventured her organization into political advocacy. In the interest of informing the public, I will revisit Ms. Holder's comments and provide accurate corresponding information.

Ms. Holder stated City Council failed to adequately inform the public concerning the GPI proposal, which council considered as a regularly scheduled agenda item on March 25. Council received public comment prior to approving GPI's investigative process. The approved agreement contemplated a decision on the option agreement later this year, and at that time three public hearings were held. Public involvement before and after council's March meeting is outlined below.

Ms. Holder questioned the Pack Square Conservancy's (PSC) role, a nonprofit group redesigning Pack Square and City- County Plaza with approximately $6.5 million in private funds. PSC reserves some design control to make donors comfortable with the use of their funds. PSC has devoted countless hours involving the public; furthermore, PSC cannot implement park redesigns without city and county consent.

Ms. Holder expressed concerns about the building's inclusion in redesign illustrations. The building's inclusion or exclusion in a specific drawing depends on its time of creation during PSC's three-year design process. In 2000, Urban Design Associates recommended including two buildings in the redesign, depicted in PSC's original drawings. Those drawings were posted in Pack Square and adopted by council in the master plan. During subsequent years, PSC did not have a committed developer for the building and thus removed it from drawings. At one point, PSC included a playground as an interim "placeholder." Pursuant to the GPI proposal, PSC started using the original drawings including the building.

Title research is under way to determine if Buncombe County owns a small segment of the project's legal description. However, the county supports the project and will almost certainly sell the land if it owns it. No part of the land is covered by the George Willis Pack bequest.

City Council cannot grant variances to the PSC design guidelines; only PSC can grant variances. What Ms. Holder mistook as a "variance" was council's establishment of building height and width parameters beyond which the PSC cannot grant variances, "capping" potential variances.

If the PSC plan is fully implemented, the park will gain one-third acre of public open space. Considering only the initial project, the net open space "loss" will be less than 1,000 square feet. The actual building has not yet been designed, so specific concerns about the building's appearance are premature.

An independent traffic engineering consultant studied the park's traffic circulation, concluding the impact on downtown patterns would be insignificant. Additionally, PSC included Asheville Police and Fire Department in the entire park planning process, and changes will have no effect on emergency vehicle traffic.

It has been clearly stated that the initial GPI project will generate roughly $150,000 annually in city property tax revenues. Full development will generate about 10 times that amount.

The city has made extraordinary efforts to inform the public. We prepared a Web page containing frequently-asked questions and wrote an editorial responding to concerns. A public information timeline follows:

-- January 2000 - Council receives project presentation; approves $7,500 study allocation.

-- May 2000 - PSC three-day design charrette; establishes original design with two building sites.

-- Summer 2000 - The city and county approve design.

-- February 2001 - Council approves signage for Pack Square illustrating two buildings.

-- Aug. 14, 2001 - Agreement for park project executed by city, county and PSC.

-- October 2001 - PSC hosts additional multi-day charrette.

-- March - Council approves GPI development agreement.

-- July - PSC holds focus groups on design guidelines.

-- Aug. 19, - City Council discusses option agreement; approves design guidelines.

-- Sept. 2, - City Council discusses option agreement.

-- Sept. 16, - City Council approves option agreement.

The city understands Pack Square is enormously important to our community. We carefully weighed the project's potential benefits, and council gave the Grove Park Inn approval for further site study and building design development. The results will be presented to council early next summer. In the meantime, I encourage residents to keep an open mind about the positive contributions of the Pack Square Renaissance, including the GPI proposal, may make in Asheville. I also encourage continued factual discussion about the project.

Charles Worley is mayor of Asheville.


*hauntedheadnc sez, "Mayor Worley kicks butt. But I doubt he can get the facts through these people's thick skulls anymore than anyone else." <_< *

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