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Asheville: Hi-Rise a Pivotal Issue in Election


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From the Asheville Citizen-Times (11/04/03)


By Jennifer Brevorka, STAFF WRITER

ASHEVILLE - Love it or loathe it, the Grove Park Inn's dream for downtown is on voters' minds.

Sure, people are concerned about affordable housing, city schools, bringing higher-paying jobs to Asheville and how the city can accommodate business.

But voters also want to know about the future of the taxpayer-owned, half-acre parcel of land in the heart of downtown Asheville.

The Grove Park Inn plans to use the space for a $25 million, 10-story building that would house about 50 condominiums, as well as some retail and restaurant space. In September, City Council voted 6-1 to approve an option that allows the inn to submit a bid for the land.

It's been one of the most controversial city topics this year, and it's one of the things people will have on their minds as they cast ballots in the Nov. 4 City Council election. Six candidates are vying for three seats on the seven-member council.

The race is one of dozens of municipal elections in Western North Carolina.

People are divided about whether Asheville should sell public land to the inn and concerned about what the building could mean for downtown.

Mildred Watkins, an Asheville resident since 1968, said she's heard people talking about the proposal for months.

"The whole plan bothers me," she said while waiting for the bus on Charlotte Street. "The average person just couldn't afford to live there. I just don't think it would be a good idea."

Jerry Sternberg, a local business owner, is optimistic about the plan.

"I think it's one of the most wonderful projects in downtown in a long time," he said. "The Grove Park Inn has a proven track record, and they've shown they have a real interest in our community for good development."

Others, such as Isaac Coleman, are listening to candidates' stances on the issue and waiting before making a final decision on the proposed building.

"I agree with the vote to let them continue the design process," Coleman said. "And at some point along the line the process may not develop into my liking. But I want to see how it will pan out and see how it will truly effect the tax base."

What concerns Coleman, however, is how the upscale condominiums might not include affordable units for the working and middle classes.

"We have to find some way in the city to make housing affordable," Coleman said. "And that doesn't just mean housing for low income people. It means homes that middle- class people can afford."

Along with their concerns about affordable housing, voters said they wanted to see more jobs and businesses come to Asheville.

"We have stifled a lot of investment for a long time," said Mac Swicegood, a local business owner, at a recent candidate forum. "And it seems while we need to try something new."

During the past few weeks, voters have sat through luncheons and forums listening to candidates describe their stances on hot topic issues, such as affordable housing, employment and downtown development.

While people were divided about which candidate provided the best solutions for these issues, they all were dismayed by the low voter turnout at the primary election and recent candidate forums.

"More people need to participate in the process," Clara Jeter said at a recent forum hosted by the African-American Caucus of the Buncombe County Democratic Party. "We need people to be educated about the candidates and to get out the vote."

Contact Brevorka at 232-2938 or [email protected]

Anyone who wants to participate in early voting can cast a ballot at the Buncombe County Board of Elections office on College Street in downtown Asheville. Early voting will continue through 1 p.m. Nov. 1. As of Friday, about 140 people had voted, according to the Buncombe County Board of Elections.

On Election Day Polling places open at 6:30 a.m. and close at 7:30 p.m.

Want to know more about the candidates?

The League of Women Voters of Asheville and Buncombe County will conduct a structured forum Monday for the six Asheville City Council candidates who are vying for election Nov. 4. The event is open to the public and will be held at the Renaissance Asheville Hotel in downtown Asheville from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Each candidate will have equal time to respond to questions posed by the moderator, including questions submitted in writing by members of the public. Information on these and other community forums is available on the organization's Web site, www.abc.nc.lwvnet.org, or by calling 258-8223.

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