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hauntedheadnc

The Essential, Authoritative Asheville News Thread

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*Well, December is over, and if you take a gander at that month's thread, it sure was a busy month for Asheville in terms of growth and development. However, inspired by Matthew, here's the upcoming year's news all in one place, instead of month by month threads. Without further ado, let's start off your convenient, one-stop source for news from the Paris of the South on a low note...*

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From the Asheville Citizen-Times (01/01/03)

GROVE PARK DROPS PACK SQUARE PLAN

By Mark Barrett and Clarke Morrison, Staff reporter

ASHEVILLE - Grove Park Inn officials are dropping their controversial effort to build luxury condominiums adjoining Pack Square but say they are still interested in building in downtown.

The planned 10-story, $25 million structure would not generate enough profit to justify the risk of making the investment, inn President and CEO Craig Madison said Wednesday.

"After careful due diligence and months of significant investment on marketing studies, we have determined that (the project) is not financially feasible," Madison said. "Height and width restrictions and the extensive cost of providing underground parking make this project not a wise investment."

The proposal had received heated opposition, and the inn's announcement ended debate over the most controversial building proposal in the city last year. A few members of a group that had opposed the plan, People Advocating Real Conservancy, celebrated at the College Street site shortly after the inn's announcement.

"From a 6 to 1 defeat in City Council to Outright Victory!" one sign read, referring to Asheville City Council's agreement in September to give the inn an option to buy the publicly owned land.

Group members said they doubted Madison's explanation for the decision, which he said was made "on a purely financial basis."

"They ran into a bedrock of opposition," PARC leader Julie Brandt said of inn officials.

Some other area residents were disappointed.

"I thought it would have been good for a whole realm of businesses on this side of town," said Robert Sheeran, manager of Caf on the Square on Pack Square's southwest corner.

Attorney Steve Kropelnicki, who has an office near Pack Square, said the project would have increased the tax base while making a constructive use of downtown property.

"The same so-called ecologists that oppose urban sprawl are fighting a project downtown," he said. "You can't have it both ways."

However, it has not been decided yet what, if anything, will be built on the third of an acre at the corner of College and Market streets where the inn proposed to build.

City government revealed last January that the inn was looking at two possible sites for development - one on College Street, the other to the south of City-County Plaza, near City Hall. The first proposal picked up opposition as the year went on, generating concern about the use of parkland for a commercial building, disagreement over whether the building would fit into its surroundings and predictions that it would be an economic benefit to the rest of downtown.

Madison said the inn will now look at the feasibility of building a mixed-use structure on a 1.4-acre site to the southwest of City Hall and is still interested in building condominiums elsewhere downtown.

"Our reports confirm that there is a desire for a new product in urban living in downtown," Madison said. Building on the College Street site "is not feasible but the concept of investing in downtown Asheville is still on our radar screen."

The inn "will still consider alternative sites for this initial project, although none have been determined at this time," he said in a statement. "We still believe that significant investment in downtown Asheville is inevitable, and we will continue to consider investment opportunities in this area."

Madison said there was substantial interest among potential buyers of condominiums in the building, which might have numbered anywhere from 49 to 61.

But the cost of building parking underground for the building was projected to run between $15,000 and $18,000 per space, he said. It would take a larger building than design guidelines allow to cover the fixed costs associated with building the structure while also leaving room for a reasonable profit, he said.

Other issues like the cost of moving utilities also arose, he said, and collectively affected cost and profit calculations.

"When you don't have a lot of breathing room, the gnats become elephants," Madison said.

Madison said the inn's plans had also generated significant support and that the inn spent $300,000 to $350,000 on feasibility and other studies.

Calls by opponents for people to boycott the inn over the issue were not a factor in the decision and don't appear to have had a significant impact on business, he said.

"We had one of the most successful holiday seasons we've had this December," Madison said.

Contact Barrett at 232-5833 or [email protected]

Contact Morrison at 232-5849 or [email protected]

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From the Asheville Citizen-Times (01/01/03)

DOWNTOWN SPACE MAY BE MODIFIED, BUT HOW?

By Mark Barrett, Staff Writer

ASHEVILLE - Wednesday's decision by the Grove Park Inn not to build on the edge of Pack Square rules out one possibility for the space but raises several others already considered during planning for a renovation of the square and City-Council Plaza.

People have suggested a children's play area, carousel, visitors information kiosk, public restrooms, a water fountain for kids to play in or a combination of some of those uses for the space during planning meetings, said Carol King, president of the nonprofit spearheading the park renovation.

Park designers already have a general plan for the area between City Hall and the BB&T Building and are working on more detailed designs, King said. Construction is scheduled to start in early 2005 and take two years.

Local government officials get the final call on what should go on the third of an acre where the inn had considered building luxury condominiums. Trees and grass now occupy much of a triangle-shaped area at the corner of College and Market streets.

Separately, inn President and CEO Craig Madison said the inn will start work Friday to evaluate whether to put a mixed-use building south of City-County Plaza. City Planning Director Scott Shuford said a June 2004 deadline for a proposal to come to City Council might be extended.

Several observers interviewed Wednesday doubt city government will look for another company interested in developing the College Street property commercially.

"City Council wouldn't dare option this property to another company, and another company wouldn't dare attempt to build here," said Charles Thomas, a member of group opposing the inn's plans. "They know the citizens are against it."

"I think it's premature to say what (City Council) might do," said Mayor Charles Worley. But he said the city has no indication of interest from another developer and, "It's hard for me to conceive that someone else is going to want to come in and want to do the same kind of development that the Grove Park Inn proposed."

Contact Barrett at 232-5833 or MBarrett@CITIZEN- TIMES.com.

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*hauntedheadnc sez, "Losing out on the Pack Square building really isn't too much of a loss, seeing as the Midpark, Pack Square and City-County Plaza will be redesigned into something better than the clutch of big grassy doormats they are now anyway. Still though, it's a shame to lose out on a quality building. I do still take heart in the fact that Grove Park Inn is on the hunt for other downtown spots to build on.

I don't really think the opposition to the building fronting the plaza on the City Building side will have much steam in their argument. After all, the Inn is planning to build over what is now a parking lot, and who gives a damn if a parking lot gets built over?

...Well, aside from those dolts who own the Ritz Restaurant, that is...

But, I don't think normal people will have a problem seeing vacant lots, parking lots and all those ugly little buildings in the South Slope area and over toward the west part of downtown give way to nice, thoughtful mixed-use."*

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From the Asheville Citizen-Times (01/07/04)

HOMES IN NEW SUBDIVISION COULD BENEFIT WARREN WILSON COLLEGE

By Mark Barrett, Staff Writer

SWANNANOA - A new subdivision under construction near Warren Wilson College will increase housing options for college faculty and staff but also bring development a little closer to the school.

Work on 74-unit Craggy View Cottages began in September. The development is on 16.2 acres off Warren Wilson Road between Warren Wilson College and the Owen Blankets manufacturing plant.

The homes will be connected to one another and arranged in clusters of four. They sell for $150,000 to $220,000, said developer Bruce Alexander of Lifestyle Homes of Distinction, and the first units should be complete this summer.

Retirees Carol Holmes-Manchester and her husband, John Manchester, decided to buy a home at Craggy View in part to end the need for them to worry about keeping up the home they live in now off Leicester Highway in Asheville.

"I like it because everything's maintained there," Holmes- Manchester said.

Alexander said he expects the homes, which range from 1,270 to about 1,850 square feet, to appeal to two groups.

"One is people that are either retired, semiretired or empty-nesters (who) want to travel and be able to lock up their home and maybe even go south for the winter," he said. "The other will be people who are working . and are too busy. They just don't want to spend their spare time raking leaves and mowing grass."

Alexander's company is the local franchisee of the developer of the plans for the homes, Ohio-based Epmark, and Alexander said he expects to build several other similar developments in the region.

The cost of housing in Buncombe County is a handicap for Warren Wilson when the school is attempting to recruit faculty, said Larry Modlin, the school's vice president for business.

In the immediate area around the school, new employees find "very few (homes) in that price range, especially if they're looking for something that's turnkey, walk-in-the- front-door-type thing," he said.

The development was controversial on campus last year, Modlin said, because of student concerns about the environmental impact of development of what was once pasture and woodland and that residents "are going to overrun our campus."

Warren Wilson's setting today is largely pastoral, thanks to farmland the school owns, which students farm as part of its work-study program. Craggy View Cottages adjoins the campus but is over a hill and will not be visible from campus, Modlin said.

The school owned the Craggy View land at one time but sold it for use as a wholesale nursery operation. That business never materialized and the college eased a buffer zone restriction it had placed on the property to facilitate its development, Modlin said.

"It's just a mutual benefit that we're going to have a neighborhood that we think is going to be a good neighbor," he said.

Residents will have the use of hiking trails on college lands and be able to attend cultural events there, Modlin said.

"The things that are public to the rest of the world we hope they take advantage of. The things that are private we hope they leave alone," he said.

Contact Barrett at 232-5833 or [email protected]

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From the Asheville Citizen-Times (01/07/04)

COUNCIL WILL BE ASKED TO OPPOSE I-240 WIDENING

By Mark Barrett, Staff Writer

ASHEVILLE - A citizens group on Tuesday launched a drive to persuade Asheville City Council to push state government to scale back controversial plans to widen Interstate 240 in West Asheville.

The state Department of Transportation's plan to widen the road to eight lanes will harm West Asheville and further cement the region's dependence on the automobile, a local attorney and leaders of the I-26 Connector Awareness Group told about 100 people at the West End Bakery on Haywood Road.

"It's a sure bet that if the only choice you give folks to get where they need to go is to get on the highway and drive their car, that's what they're going to do," said Doug Ruley of the Southern Environmental Law Center. That would harm local air quality, he said.

An eight-lane road is "huge," Ruley said. "It's almost hard to imagine the kind of swath that highway is going to cut through this community."

In June 2002, local government officials accepted a DOT recommendation that I-240 become eight lanes as part of the I-26 Connector project, which also involves building a new way for Interstate 26 traffic to cross the French Broad River. Work is to begin late this decade.

DOT revised a traffic projection downward by about 30 percent last July but said eight lanes are still needed. City Council cannot change the plans by itself. But a group leader said council action would help move DOT and a group of representatives of 18 area local governments that advises DOT.

Joyce Birkenholz, who lives near I-240 in West Asheville, was one of several residents who said they are concerned about the widening.

"I'm not sure what this might do to our house" but it probably won't be good, she said after the meeting. "Traffic will come if they build it, and it's not what we want." Contact Barrett at 232-5833 or [email protected]

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What I am about to say may sound politically incorrect, but NIMBYs make me say strange things... I have an idea for Pack Square: they need to build a 20ft tall statue of a condom and place it in the middle of the lot... Then, NIMBYs' children can gather around and play. Sorry for the stupid remark, but I can't help it.

This is EXACTLY how major projects die and how growing cities lose the interest of serious developers. If someone told me that a 50-story building would go there, then maybe I would agree that such a huge structure could "kill" the character of that area, but a 10-story residential could not harm anyone. Anyway, I am glad that the developer has not backed out of DT Asheville entirely, because that would have been bad news. When a developer "leaves" an area in favor of another, it sets the tone for the future projects. Hopefully, a better deal will come through. Does anyone have a photo that shows Pack Square?

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Actually, a price range of $150,000 to $220,000 isn't very expensive by Asheville standards, where the average house costs about $165,000. Even when you're paying about $15,000 less than average though, when you're paying Charlotte prices but only make Asheville money, even a house less expensive than average is still exorbitant.

Low wages are the bane of most Ashevillians' existence. A lot of people adore living here, and more people are fighting to live here all the time, but at the same time, lots of people just can't afford it and end up moving on. I wonder how many of them see the skyline shrinking in the rearview mirror and can't stop the tears. I know that's how I'd feel if I ever had to leave.

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When I'm at college, I'm usually thinking about back home. These forums, for at least a few minutes each day, help out a lot! When I was in high school, I thought I could leave, but now that I am in another state for college, only visiting family and friends once a month, I realize I will never leave this area. I do fear the lack of jobs may force me to leave, but it's too hard to leave home. I guess we all feel like that, no matter where we live. There are a lot of things you don't notice when you live somewhere for years, but when you leave for college and only visit once a month, you notice everything and appreciate it more. Sometimes I think we all should have that experience. It will change the way you look at your own city.

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From the Asheville Citizen-Times (01/10/04)

ASHEVILLE ANNEXATION PLAN DRAWS OUTRAGE

By Jennifer Brevorka,

ASHEVILLE - Thanks, but no thanks.

That's what Buncombe County resident Shannon Scott plans on telling Asheville City Council on Tuesday night when council considers annexation plans for 141 acres in Buncombe County that includes Scott's neighborhood.

"It's ridiculous. The city of Asheville is annexing everything it can get its hands on," Scott said. "The city takes in a lot of new taxes, and they're not offering anything I don't already have. I don't see any advantage for people living in the county."

At Tuesday's meeting, council will vote on starting a process that could bring 892 county residents into the city limits. The six areas include 419 homes and apartments, and 13 other properties, according to city staff.

Annexation has been a thorny topic for county residents who balk at paying the city's current tax rate of 53 cents per $100 of property valuation in addition to the county's 59-cent rate. County residents say they are outraged when their tax bills increase for little perceived benefit. Residents say they already receive services the city touts, such as police and fire protection.

Property taxes are Asheville's largest source of revenue, accounting for about $33 million of the $99 million operating budget. If the council approves the plans, it would bring an additional $252,753 in tax revenue for city coffers, according to city staff.

The revenue would be the financial equivalent of the city raising taxes by a half cent.

Mayor Charles Worley said the proposal is part of the city's commitment to bring developing areas on the city's borders under the city's jurisdiction

"We have a fairly well adopted practice of trying to do some annexations every year," Worley said.

City Planner Carter Pettibone said that with annexation, the city tries to eliminate pockets of development surrounded by city streets or boundaries.

If council approves the resolutions Tuesday, the new 892 Asheville residents could be on the city tax roll as early as July 2004.

Since 2000, the city has added about 1,130 acres of land through involuntary annexation, boosting the city's population by more than 2,100 people over the past four years, according to city staff.

Asheville has about 70,000 residents. From 1990 to 2000, the city's population increased by 7,034 people, of which 4,575 were annexed.

Compared with the top 10 largest cities in the state, Asheville has annexed the fewest people during the last decade, according to statistics from the N.C. State Demographics Department. For example, since 1990, the city of High Point has annexed more than 5,700 people, Wilmington more than 11,000 and Cary more than 19,000.

Urban planners say annexation is the best way to keep the burden of the city's upkeep from falling onto a small population, even though local roads, parks and services are used by thousands of people on the city's perimeters.

Worley also said some new city residents could see fire and homeowners insurance rates drop because the city would offer improved fire protection.

Roger Williams, a property owner in the Heritage Business Park, one of the areas under consideration for annexation, said he sees little benefit to being annexed. Williams, who along with his wife runs WILLCO, a construction supply store, said he wants his business to remain in the county.

"I don't need them," Williams said of the city's services such as sewer, water and police protection. "They don't have anything to offer me, but to take my money. The construction business is going through a tough time as it is. If they come in here and I have to pay more taxes it makes things harder."

The city heard similar sentiments from business owners in 2003, when it annexed 98 acres of land impacting more than 70 commercial businesses.

But city staff points out that while tax revenue may increase, annexation comes at cost for municipalities, when they have to offer trash pick up, sewer service, and fire protection.

"Depending on the areas that we annex, it may end up being a negative cash flow thing for the city," said City Attorney Bob Oast.

Oast added that Asheville's main interest is to provide urban areas with a level of urban services, not to boost the city's tax revenue.

"The state has adopted a policy that what is urban, should be a municipality," Oast said. "Obviously it increased our tax base, but it's not always a positive cash flow for us." Contact Brevorka at 232-2938 or [email protected]

For more information go to: http://www.ci.asheville.nc.us/council

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From the Asheville Citizen-Times (01/10/04)

FENCE FUELS 'THE BLOCK' BATTLE; PROPERTY OWNERS CLAIM CITY, DEVELOPMENT GROUP VIOLATED RESTRAINING ORDER

By Angie Newsome

ASHEVILLE - With a new fence blocking a South Market Street parking lot, "The Block" is the center of more legal battles over a multimillion dollar redevelopment plan targeting the area.

In a district court motion filed late Thursday, South Market Street property owners Eugene Ellison and Howard McGlohon said the city and Eagle/Market Streets Development Corp. violated a temporary restraining order barring action on the redevelopment plan.

On Dec. 16, Superior Court Judge Zoro Guice Jr. issued the order when Ellison and McGlohon filed a lawsuit to stop the project.

On Wednesday, workers installed a metal fence around the corporation-owned parking lot, which sits between Ellison and McGlohon's building and two buildings also owned by the corporation.

Elizabeth Russell, executive director for the corporation, refuted claims the fence violated the restraining order.

"It is a security fence," Russell said. "We were urged by our insurance company to put that fence up. There always have been security problems" at the site, she said.

In a prepared statement, city officials said no zoning approval or permit was required before the fence was put up.

The statement also said it was the corporation's decision to build the fence on the lot, which is the site of a controversial proposal for a new four-story building.

The proposed building is one element of a $6.6 million redevelopment plan. When completed, empty buildings owned by the corporation and Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church would be rehabilitated into apartments and small businesses.

As the city and the corporation waits for a legal judgment, the fence surprised some people who use the lot.

Court documents state William Hutchison, pastor of Eagle Street's Soul Outreach Ministry, said no one told him the parking lot would be fenced off, even though his lease includes a garage area inside the lot.

Hutchison rents space in the corporation-owned Collette Building, which also borders the parking lot.

Jesse Ray Jr., YMI Cultural Center's vice chair, said corporation representatives delivered a notice to the YMI about the parking lot, which was used by several staff members.

"The letter simply asked the staff not to park there anymore because of insurance liability," he said. "However, there was no mention that a fence would be erected the next day."

Officials have not yet set a hearing date on the motion.

Contact Newsome at 232-5856 or [email protected]

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*hauntedheadnc sez, "This is just one of those situations where it's all you can do not to giggle all night long -- those on the edge of the city leeching off of Asheville are getting their comeuppance and the ninnies standing in the way of the Eagle Street redevelopment have their knickers in a twist over a new fence... tee hee!"*

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According to the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce, here are the largest employers in Buncombe County, monsoon. The number to the right indicates how many employees each instutution has.

Mission/St. Joseph's Health System -- 5,100

Buncombe County Board of Education -- 3,600

Ingles Markets (Home Office) -- 2,100

Buncombe County Government -- 1,700

Blue Ridge Paper Products, Inc. -- 1,600

City of Asheville Government -- 1,200

Community CarePartners -- 1,200

GE Lighting Systems -- 1,000

VA Hospital -- 1,000

Biltmore Company -- 900

Grove Park Inn Resort -- 900

Sonopress, Inc. -- 700

Asheville City Schools -- 700

Eaton Cutler-Hammer -- 700

These may not be completely accurate (they're from 2002)... I seem to recall hearing that Eaton Cutler-Hammer has since shut down.

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It's amazing to me how southern cities all just keep annexing more and more people and land. In Michigan annexing anything is virtually impossible. A city near my house wanted to annex a 10 are farm so they could expand a city park. Here we are two years later and the entire thing is still held up in court. Michigan is unique because there are no unincorporated areas to annex. As far as I know, all the land in the state is either part of a city or a charter township.

I totally understand the resident's concern over the tax thing though. Our township might consolidate with the city, which makes sense, because then you have one government with one set of laws in a given area, and things like zoning can be controlled much better, which is especially important because we are the fastest growing community in the state. But then the money issue comes up. City residents pay twice as much in taxes as township residents. This has brought lots of outrage among township residents. We'll then pay higher taxes, but will receive nothing more than we already do. I know that some long-time residents will get taxed out because of the higher taxes and rising property values.

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From the Asheville Citizen-Times (01/11/04)

PACK SQUARE CONSERVANCY DEFIES ACCOUNTABILITY TO PUBLIC IN CLOSING MEETINGS

By Asheville Citizen-Times

A decision by the Pack Square Conservancy board to close its meeting to the public last week shows a group clearly out of touch with the community it was established to serve and the task it was established to accomplish.

Where were the conservancy board members during the past few months as Asheville residents by the dozens have come forward to register their concern about what happens to "their" park? Asheville residents have even formed their own group, People Advocating Real Conservancy, to make their views heard about how Pack Square is developed.

Yet the private nonprofit incorporated in 2001 to develop a plan for the 6.5-acre public space and to raise private money to implement the plan wants to close its meetings to the public?

Surely board members do not believe that conducting business in private that affects the destiny of a well-loved publicly-owned park is acceptable.

Asheville City Council and Buncombe County Commissioners contracted with the conservancy to create and build a new park, to make final design decisions within the project area and to create an endowment to sustain the park. As part of the agreement, the city and county entrusted the group with the authority to establish mandatory guidelines that govern the design of any buildings that would be constructed in the Pack Square area. The conservancy can also grant variances to those guidelines. That means this group has the authority to determine how space owned by the public will look - and that means they have to be willing to let the public in on their deliberations.

The conservancy is governed by a 13-member board. City Council, Buncombe County Commissioners, the Downtown Commission and the city Parks and Recreation Department each choose one board member and the board selects the other nine. Mayor Charles Worley and Count Commissioner David Gantt are both among the members.

Clearly, the conservancy is acting as an agent of government as it plans the renovation of Pack Square, and as such, should fall under the North Carolina open meetings laws.

Yet conservancy President Carol King asked a Citizen-Times reporter to leave at the beginning of the board's meeting at noon on Wednesday, saying it was closed to the public. King said that because the conservancy is a private nonprofit, it is not required to allow the public to attend board meetings. It may be a private nonprofit, but it was created solely to execute a public project.

The conservancy has held design workshops and invited public input via that process, and will do so again, according to King, if proposals it recommended Wednesday are accepted by City Council. But much work is accomplished during board meetings, and by cutting the public out, the conservancy makes it more difficult for them to stay informed and to participate in a meaningful way at the point early in the process where plans or guidelines can easily be modified.

City Council and Buncombe County Commission owe their first allegiance to the public that elected them and that owns the public space at issue here. Council members and commissioners should demand that the conservancy open its meetings to the public. Otherwise, they should withdraw the contract that gives the conservancy control over the development of Pack Square.

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From the Asheville Citizen-Times (01/11/04)

ASHEVILLE CAN'T GIVE AWAY PUBLIC'S RIGHT TO BE INVOLVED IN FUTURE OF PACK SQUARE

By Robert C. Gabordi, Executive Editor

Sitting on a concrete floor, my baseball friend turned to me and offered congratulations on the newspaper's work on the county's botched investigation in the Mary Judd murder. The reporting and commentary took courage, he said.

"Stuff like that is what a newspaper is for," he said.

I thanked him for his comments and turned back to watch our boys work on moving their hands to the ball being pitched from a machine. But I haven't been able to shake the conversation.

Why, I wondered, do people think it takes courage to stand up to people in authority? What is it that we should have to be afraid of?

Years ago, my friend suggested, the Asheville Citizen- Times would not have tackled such a story. Now we are aggressive in standing up to law enforcement authority and to political insiders. That is a change for the better, he suggested.

More and more, I think, the public understands our freedoms are under attack.

If we decide not to fight for them, we will lose them. It is no different if we are talking about secrecy in law enforcement agencies or in public policy-making. Only that which absolutely must be done in secret ought to be done in secret. Only that which absolutely must stay secret ought to stay secret.

That is why we are challenging the right of the Pack Square Conservancy to meet secretly to plan what will happen with public land at Pack Square and City-County Plaza. The group has been given policy authority by the city of Asheville, including approval of building designs and other issues. Its members include the mayor of Asheville, a Buncombe County commissioner and appointments from various government agencies.

To us, it has clearly taken on the functions of government and therefore must follow state laws for open meetings and public records. It is all the same, whether we are discussing law enforcement authority or political authority - those in power have to be accountable to the public.

This issue came to a head last week when the conservancy chairman, Carol King, told reporter Mark Barrett he had to leave before a board meeting on prospects for donations, a contract with a construction manager, the fate of property where the Grove Park Inn had planned luxury condominiums and other issues.

The newspaper is not interested in much of that discussion. But certainly, the public has a huge stake in knowing the potential future of land it owns that is worth so much and is located in the heart of its downtown.

Plans for the future of that land have generated a huge public discussion, especially around the Grove Park Inn's proposal, which many in the public supported and others felt threatened to change the nature of this vital downtown area.

The conservancy has been given much authority by the city, perhaps too much. But the city cannot give away the public's right to know or contract away the public's right to be involved in its own business.

There was no vote by the public that we are aware of giving this group the right to lock the public out of discussions on the future of public lands.

What the group was discussing does not seem to fit the definition of something that must be secret. Whatever the details of the meeting, we suspect that national security matters were probably not a part of the discussion.

Why would the group even want to conduct the public's business in private? Or does anyone really believe what happens to such important public lands is not the public's business? As my friend suggested on the Judd investigation, stuff like this is what a newspaper is for, too. Robert C. Gabordi is executive editor of the Asheville Citizen-Times. He can be reached at (828) 232-5954 or [email protected]

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From the Asheville Citizen-Times (01/11/04)

SHOWCASING MONTFORD'S CHARACTER AND ARTS CENTER TO HELP COMMUNITY'S ARTISTS SELL AND BUSINESSES ADVERTISE

By Angie Newsome

Helen "Dutch" O'Connor, pushing open the door to the Montford Arts Center, walks in from the mid-morning cold with a newspaper tucked under her arm.

"I just want to look around for a second," she says on a recent Monday after saying hello to her neighbor Sharon Fahrer, who runs the center.

Then, O'Connor wanders through the space, which is broken into small art-filled cubbies by sets of old doors propped like art-covered fans.

Fahrer, 54, is one of a group of Montford residents that reshaped the empty storefront. She says the newly opened center will help Montford artists sell their work and new businesses advertise their services.

"My new neighbor was eyeballing that," O'Connor says as she looks at a small antique desk sitting in the front corner of the store.

Throughout, photographs and paintings share space with music CDs, pottery and jewelry. And they share space with someone who serves summons for the police station from a desk in the corner of the store. All this is separated by just one apple-red wall from the North Asheville Police Station.

As O'Connor wanders through the store, she and Fahrer talk about neighbors and friends. Every so often, someone walking up the sidewalk catches Fahrer's attention, and they exchange quick waves.

It's things like this - when neighbors get to know one another - that may be one of the most important things that happens in this space, Fahrer says.

Montford, known for its diversity, though the area - like many Asheville neighborhoods and older commercial districts - is changing. On nearly 300 acres, Montford includes over 600 structures - from small homes and large inns to apartment buildings and public housing.

But the small commercial strip near the middle of the neighborhood had fallen into disrepair over the last several years, Fahrer says.

Since it was built in 1926, the building was a grocery store until the 1980s. It changed hands and purposes over the years, and in 1995, the building housed both the Montford Resource Center and about five Asheville Police Department officers who worked on a community-police program.

But in February 2003, Fahrer and a partner bought the building to enable the police department to stay in the neighborhood. Then, it became the North Asheville Police Station. And one storefront down, Pyper's Place, a cafe and coffee shop, replaced the commercial strip's laundry that same year.

On Dec. 13, the storefront opened to reveal the arts center.

"I think that Montford is such a traditional neighborhood . people want to know their neighbors, otherwise they're in suburbia," Fahrer says.

She says the center could serve as a kind of community- building tool and business incubator, one where new arts- based businesses can help build their clientele, and one where residents can learn and support neighborhood initiatives. For the neighborhood association, they also sell light bulbs, flags and T-shirts to give community efforts a boost.

"They want a place to identify with and identify with their neighbors and to interact with their neighbors," Fahrer says.

Already, the community rallied around the space. Some helped decorate. Others helped paint.

"If you want any more people, get one washing machine back," jokes musician and dancer Ira Bernstein, who stops by to deliver a handful of his and Riley Bangus' album, Appalachian Roots.

Fahrer says the center is the only place in Asheville to carry videos of Bernstein's performances, which he gives around the world.

"It's just a community effort," she says as O'Connor walks over to look at a set of bird houses sitting on top of a cabinet.

"And the stuff's great," O'Connor adds, before she leaves with a bag of light bulbs.

Contact Newsome at 232-5856 or [email protected]

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From the Asheville Citizen-Times (01/14/04)

'BLOCK' FISCAL DETAILS LACKING

By Angie Newsome

recommending that $1.1 million in taxpayers' dollars be spent on redevelopment of "The Block."

But in an extensive review of public records on the project, the Asheville Citizen-Times found no official documents outlining the future financial agreements between the property owners and the developer.

City planners say they don't have them because they say they're in draft form. They also say they trust the developer to do the right thing.

National urban planning experts, however, say citizens need to know these kinds of financial details about public/private projects.

Since November, debate has heated up over the $6.6 million redevelopment plan targeting properties owned by Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church and Eagle/Market Streets Development Corp., two major property owners in South Pack Square. "The Block" is the historic heart of Asheville's African-American commercial district.

If completed, empty buildings will be reworked into 47 apartments and 12,000 square feet of ground-floor commercial space.

South Market Street property owners Eugene Ellison and Howard McGlohon filed a suit on Dec. 16 to stop the plan. Then, a temporary restraining order kept the city and Eagle/Market Streets Corp. from proceeding.

On Thursday, the day a restraining order will expire, an expected court decision will open or close the door to The Block's future.

What financial records don't show ...

Research revealed that city planning officials have no drafts or specific documents outlining key agreements - the leasing agreement and how the organizations will "buy back" improvements on their land.

The only details on the actual leasing agreement or the buy- back agreements come from the developer and are in a summary presented to Asheville City Council during a Dec. 9 work session. Before construction can start, City Council must approve the $1.1 million in federal funds.

"I do not regard the detail - of course, we will look at those documents - I do not regard the detail of the lease agreements or the development partnership agreement to be likely to be crucial," said Charlotte Caplan, the city's community development director. She has worked with the developers to apply for and secure public funding for the project.

"It is most unlikely," she said, "with the lawyers of the various sides involved, (they) will come up with something that is weird and risky. But yes, we do have to take on trust what the developer partnership tells us their intentions are."

Caplan and Scott Shuford, city planning director, said the taxpayers' risk is guaranteed by the city's second mortgage on the property.

"No matter who owns the property and the improvements upon it, we're going to have all that property and another building Eagle/Market Streets already owns, as collateral for the (federal) loan," Caplan said.

When the Citizen-Times requested the lease agreement, the "buy-back" agreement and the market study exploring the need for the development, Eagle/Market Streets Corp. would not provide them, saying it is a private nonprofit. Mount Zion representatives also would not provide the lease agreement or buy-back agreement because of the ongoing litigation.

The details that are public, Caplan said, were based on information from David Rogers of Rogers Assoiates, one of four businesses and organizations - including Eagle/Market Streets Development Corp. - that formed a development partnership for the project.

Rogers also declined to provide the lease agreement and buy-back agreement requested by the Citizen-Times, deferring to Eagle/Market Streets Corp.

Neither the church, the corporation nor the developer would comment on this story, citing the lawsuit.

... and what they do

Information the city has - which is in the form of the project summaries - provides little concrete detail on what developers will pay to lease the property or how investors will be paid off.

What the summaries do reveal is:

-- The titles to the buildings will remain with the church and the corporation during the redevelopment.

-- Both the corporation and the church can "buy back" improvements to their properties from the developers after five years, the amount of time a private investor using tax credits must remain in the project.

-- Terms for the buy-back price are explained in the land lease for the corporation, which has not been released.

-- For Mount Zion, the summary stated that "the Church will have the option to buy back the improvements and acquire 100% (sic) control of the project." How the option will be determined is not spelled out.

-- Until Mount Zion buys back the improvements, the church will receive a lease payment on its properties, the amount of which is unknown.

-- Eagle/Market Streets Corp. will receive an undisclosed lease payment and 50 percent of the project's income. The other 50 percent will go to a group of developers and investors, including Rogers Assoiates.

What will happen if the organization or the church is unable to meet those agreements is uncertain.

`The issue is transparency'

National experts on financing community redevelopment proposals said that the public has the right - and indeed the duty - to know the details of these types of financial agreements, considering public financing is a linchpin in the entire project's success.

"Cities have often been lax and lackadaisical" about redevelopment plans, said John Accordino, urban studies and planning professor at Virginia Commonwealth University.

"They think everything's going to be fine and nothing will happen, but often the deal doesn't work out," he added.

He said that one misstep in judging the market - which city planning officials have relied on the corporation and developer to provide for this project - and the project could fail.

"We need to know the relationships there," said James Jennings, Tufts University professor of urban and environmental policy and planning.

"The issue is the transparency of those arrangements."

Accordino said city officials would be "foolish" to rely on a developer to analyze the market and to determine what is a fair agreement in a publicly financed project.

And, he added, it is unlikely that the city, as holder of the second mortgage, would receive anything if the project declared bankruptcy.

"There's just too darn many cases around the country (that have failed)," he said. "And often it's the city's responsibility, quite honestly, if they're putting public money (into the project)."

But Jennings cautioned communities from assuming that community redevelopment won't work just because there are questions about financing.

"This is not a private business," Jennings said. "This is public dollars. These are my dollars. City Council has a responsibility to say, `This is the financial plan, and this is why this financial plan is solid.'"

Contact Newsome at 232-5856 or ANewsome@CITIZEN- TIMES.com.

---

From the Asheville Citizen-Times (01/14/04)

CITY COUNCIL APPROVES STARTING ANNEXATION PROCESS FOR SIX AREAS

By Jennifer Brevorka, STAFF WRITER

ASHEVILLE - City Council's plans to begin the process of annexation of areas in Buncombe County is tough for some residents to swallow.

"What choice do we have in this?" asked Jan West, an Enka Village resident for 13 years, before the council meeting. "They've already taken acres and acres of land in the county and all of the (Enka) plant. When are they going to stop? Haywood County?"

Council, in a 5-2 vote Tuesday, began the process of annexation for Heritage Business Park, Honey Drive, Enka Park, Heathbrook, Ashwood and portions of Sweeten Creek Road in Buncombe County.

If council annexes the six areas, it could put 419 homes and apartments on city tax rolls by July 2004. The move would also add 141 acres and 892 new residents to the city while increasing tax revenue for Asheville by $252,753, according to city staff.

Annexation is a sensitive issue for Buncombe County residents, who balk at paying the city's current tax rate of 53 cents per $100 of property valuation in addition to the county's 59-cent rate for what they perceive as little in return.

"Enka Village is already a town. It has been for eons," said Ralph Lewis, a resident of the community for 45 years, on Monday. "It has its own sidewalks, its own street lights, its own sewer, until recently. We were a town on our own and we don't need to get gobbled up and pay double taxes."

Many residents in the neighborhood echoed Lewis' sentiments, saying they could do little to stop the city from annexing their neighborhood and raising taxes for city services.

Urban planners say annexation is the best way to keep the burden of the city's upkeep from falling onto a small population, even though local roads, parks and services are used by thousands of people on the city's perimeters.

The six neighborhoods proposed for annexation are surrounded, or bordered by, city streets. As part of annexation plans, the city tries to bring in pockets of development surrounded by city streets or boundaries, said City Planner Carter Pettibone.

But those reasons didn't quell some objections to the plan.

"Why are they doing this? So they can go after Biltmore Lake," Enka Village resident Sophie Mills said, referring to the nearby, upscale 1,300-acre development.

The city announced in 2002 that Biltmore Lake was one of several areas it may eventually consider for annexation, but the development has not been named for this round of annexation.

Mills moved to the Enka Village, along with housemate Gaelyn Evangreene, because it was rustic and peaceful, yet close to Asheville.

"And we could afford it," Evangreene said. "That was before we learned about our taxes possibly going up."

Contact Brevorka at 232-2938 or [email protected]

---

From the Asheville Citizen-Times (01/14/04)

COUNCIL BACKS PACK SQUARE HIGH-RISE BAN

By Jennifer Brevorka, STAFF WRITER

ASHEVILLE - The skyline adjoining Pack Square will remain wide open.

At little debate on the issue Tuesday, Asheville City Council unanimously passed a request to prohibit high-rise buildings on the corners of College and Market Streets in Pack Square.

The request from the Pack Square Conservancy came less than two weeks after the Grove Park Inn axed plans to build a 10-story building on the site adjoining Pack Square.

In addition, the conservancy asked officials Tuesday to enact a 60-day moratorium on sale or development of that property. Carol King, president of the conservancy spoke on behalf of the trustees.

The third of an acre is where the Grove Park Inn had proposed to put a mixed-use building with luxury condominiums and retail space. The inn said Dec. 31 that it was dropping the idea, saying it's not economically feasible.

For advocate Julie Brandt, a member of People Advocating Real Conservancy, the city council's decision Tuesday was the right one. But, Brandt also questioned the how public input truly influenced the conservancy's designs.

In addition, Brandt asked Tuesday that the conservancy's meetings, and minutes from meetings, be open for public inspection.

While council has final say on what happens with the land, the conservancy does have some authority for the park and building sites.

The conservancy's mandatory guidelines, adopted by Asheville and Buncombe County leaders last year, govern the design of any buildings that would be constructed in the Pack Square area. The conservancy can also grant variances to those guidelines.

Contact Brevorka at 232-2938 or [email protected]

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CONFUSION REIGNS ON COUNCIL HIGH-RISE VOTE

By Jennifer Brevorka, STAFF WRITER

ASHEVILLE - It was late, Asheville City Council was tired, and in the haze of a seven-hour meeting, anything seemed possible, including a permanent ban on high-rise buildings on a plot near Pack Square.

The vote, held after midnight Wednesday, confused some who thought council had banned high-rise buildings on the corner of College and Market streets. Others disagreed and said Wednesday afternoon high-rise construction at the site had been stopped for only 60 days.

The site was the center of controversy last year after the Grove Park Inn proposed building a 10-story condo and office complex. The inn pulled its plans last month, but a group whose guidelines govern the design of new buildings in the Pack Square area wanted an outright ban on high-rises. The Pack Square Conservancy also asked for a moratorium on development of the site.

Councilman Carl Mumpower made a motion to act on the conservancy's request "with the caveat of 60 days." Council approved the motion.

Wednesday afternoon, Mumpower said local media outlets, including the Citizen-Times, had misinterpreted his motion. Mumpower said he wanted the 60-day moratorium, not a permanent ban, on high-rises and other development at the site.

But members of the conservancy came away from the meeting thinking council had OK'd their request for an all-out ban on high-rise buildings at the site.

Mumpower said the motion may get another airing.

City Manager Jim Westbrook said he can't look at Mumpower's motion until he looks at council's minutes, which aren't official until council approves them at the next meeting.

Contact Brevorka at 232-2938 or [email protected]

Councilwoman Holly Jones: It was late, but I was not supporting a 60 day timeframe on each of the four recommendations. To do so would have been in direct contradiction to (the request) about high rises.

Councilman Carl Mumpower: I would not have personally supported a permanent ban without a staff report and additional information.

Karen Tessier, Pack Square Conservancy trustee: My impression was that we presented our recommendations and they included a high rise ban that says in print now and in future. Thats what I thought (council) approved.

City Manager Jim Westbrook: There seems to be a difference of intent on (Mumpowers) motion.

Julie Brandt, member of People Advocating Real Conservancy: The time limit was very vague to me. I dont know what to make of that.

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CONSERVANCY ACCESS STILL LIMITED

By Mark Barrett, Staff Writer

ASHEVILLE - The head of Pack Square Conservancy said Wednesday the nonprofit organization will allow a Citizen- Times reporter to attend board meetings of the group directing renovation of Pack Square and City-County Plaza.

But conservancy President Carol King would not say whether members of the public would be able to attend also.

"We don't have a meeting access policy. We responded to a request from the Asheville Citizen-Times," King said. She said the organization will also allow a reporter from Mountain Xpress, a local weekly newspaper, to attend.

King asked a Citizen-Times reporter to leave at the beginning of a Jan. 7 conservancy board meeting. Citizen- Times Executive Editor Robert C. Gabordi later said the newspaper was considering legal action.

State open meetings and public records laws generally provide that the public should have access to meetings of governmental bodies and documents that government generates. King said last week that the conservancy, as a private, nonprofit corporation, is not subject to the open meetings law.

"It's not about coming to board meetings; it's about information," she said. "We want to be as open as we can possibly be."

Virgil L. Smith, president and publisher of the Citizen- Times, said he appreciates King's action but thinks the conservancy should extend access to the general public.

"We would be hopeful that Carol King and the board would adhere to" the state open meetings law, he said. "If the public desires to be present at their meetings, I'm sure that they can make some accommodation."

Smith characterized the conservancy's response as "inadequate" and said it's an issue not about media access but public access.

Uncertainty about public access to the meetings perplexed Woodfin resident Marshall De Bruhl.

"I would think they would welcome the public, everybody," he said. "Look what happened with the Grove Park Inn thing before. They rode roughshod over public opinion and it came back to bite them."

Contact Barrett at 232-5833 or MBarrett@CITIZEN- TIMES.com.

---

CITY PLANNER DEFENDS WORK ON 'THE BLOCK' PROJECT

By Angie Newsome

ASHEVILLE - Responding to an Asheville Citizen-Times investigation of a downtown redevelopment plan, Planning Director Scott Shuford defended his department, saying key facts were missed about why the project should be trusted to proceed.

"The City (sic) staff has done its job in insisting on proper protections for the federal money, and we will recommend that City Council allocate the funds for this project," he said in a letter distributed Wednesday.

The Citizen-Times reported Wednesday that city staffers do not have certain financial information that could outline the future of the area, though City Council is poised to send $1.1 million in federal dollars to Eagle/Market Streets Development Corp. to help fund the plan.

At issue are two pieces of information: the lease between the developer and property owners involved in $6.6 million development plan, and the terms dictating how property owners will "buy back" improvements to the buildings.

The project targets "The Block," the city's historic African-American commercial district. When complete, 47 new apartments and more than 12,000 square feet of commercial space will be in the area. Superior Court Judge Zoro Guice Jr. is expected to decide today whether the project can proceed.

On Wednesday, Shuford said the city plans to "insist on having copies of the lease agreement" with the corporation in its files, though he also said the lease has no bearing on the city's responsibility.

He did not address agreements with The Block's Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church, saying the church is "receiving absolutely no public money for their part of the project."

In the letter, Shuford also said, "For City staff to insist to be involved in this type of decision-making for either of these organizations would be highly inappropriate; we would be stooping to a level of condescension that we take special care to avoid with our other community development partners."

National experts on urban redevelopment have said residents must hold cities accountable in community redevelopment proposals.

"Those are questions that get to the criteria of the soundness (of plan)," said James Jennings, professor at Tufts University. "Those are not necessarily critiques of the idea."

Mayor Charles Worley said Wednesday afternoon that he had not read Shuford's comments, so could not comment on their merit.

Contact Newsome at 232-5856 or [email protected]

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Well, it would certainly be nice if it were to be built, but if the GPI can't afford to build the underground parking structure, then they can't afford to build the underground parking structure. And that's that. And if they're not going to build anything there, why go through this mess all over again? The Pack Square Conservancy had a wonderful plan for redesigning this part of the square before the GPI got interested, and I think they ought to go back to it rather than incense the people all over again by courting another developer.

Build a carousel, a fountain, or public bathrooms. Hell, put up a chicken coop it will make people happy. Just get moving with the park overhaul already.

And more living space is a good thing downtown. Definitely, and I think the GPI will look elsewhere downtown for an opportunity to build. Thoughtful infill or new mixed-use development in the largely architecturally insignificant South Slope immediately south of downtown will likely get a much warmer reception than a high-rise on what is now a public park, even if that "public park" is a leftover scrap of green space home to a single bench, one tree, and a crapload of utility pipes. I would have preferred to see that high-rise built, but since it's not feasible, I hope the Inn will find somewhere else to build something big and beautiful quickly.

However, for a project that will bring new residential space, keep reading... There's been an interesting turn of events with redevelopment plans for 'The Block.' Remember how some of the property owners sued to stop redevelopment...?

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From the Asheville Citizen-Times (01/16/04)

JUDGE REJECTS HOLD ON REDEVELOPMENT FOR THE BLOCK

By Angie Newsome

ASHEVILLE - Backed by a Superior Court judge's decision, Asheville City Council can turn its attention back to "The Block."

On Thursday, Judge Zoro Guice Jr. rejected two South Market Street property owners' requests to temporarily stop redevelopment plans for Asheville's historic African- American commercial district.

It is only one decision in a lingering lawsuit. Next, Guice must decide if the redevelopment proposal violates council-approved guidelines for the area's redevelopment.

But Guice's ruling allows City Council to decide if $1.1 million in federal public money should go to Eagle/Market Street Development Corp., the organization leading the area's redevelopment.

Martin Reidinger, the corporation's lawyer, said the ruling was a first-step victory.

"We feel that it was the appropriate ruling based on the facts and the law that was presented to the judge," Reidinger said.

Eugene Ellison and Howard McGlohon, who filed the suit Dec. 16, said they respected the decision, though the suit remains.

"The denial now allows the Asheville City Council to take responsibility and provide leadership on this issue," they said in a statement.

Charles Dennis, co-owner of Eagle Street's Anaya Gallery, said the ruling wasn't surprising.

"(Ellison and McGlohon) have some legitimate gripes," he said, but added that he thinks the redevelopment plan "will be beneficial to Eagle Street and Market Street."

Mayor Charles Worley said Jan. 27 is the earliest date council could revisit the issue, though it is not yet on the agenda. No other hearing date has been set

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From the Asheville Citizen-Times (01/16/04)

ASHEVILLE IS CORRECT TO PURSUE PRESENT COURSE OF ANNEXATION

By Asheville Citizen-Times

Urbanized areas belong in cities. Asheville is right in systematically annexing such areas on its fringes.

The issue Tuesday night was addition of six small parcels totaling slightly more than 140 acres. One of the six, in the Sweeten Creek area on the south side, has most of the acreage and most of the 892 people who live in the target areas. The council voted, 5-2, to begin a process that should bring the six parcels into the city by June 30.

Some city-residents-to-be are displeased. "What choice do we have in this?" asked Jan West of Enka Village. "Why are they doing this? So they can go after Biltmore Lake?" asked another Enka Village resident, Sophie Mills. Ralph Lewis argued that Enka Village already provides sidewalks, streetlights and sewage disposal. "We were a town on our own and we don't need to get gobbled up and pay double taxes."

It's easy to understand the opposition. Why should people living in urban areas on a city's fringe want to be annexed? But their property values are elevated by proximity to a city.

They use the city's streets and facilities, and depend on the city's police and fire departments for protection when they go into town. It is only fair that they help pay to sustain those amenities.

That's why North Carolina law provides for involuntary annexation of property that meets certain development criteria, provided the city can provide services. The state explains its rationale succinctly in the annexation statute:

"(M)unicipalities are created to provide the governmental services essential for sound urban development and for the protection of health, safety and welfare in areas being intensively used for residential, commercial, industrial, institutional and governmental purposes or in areas undergoing such development; ... municipal boundaries should be extended ... to provide the high quality of governmental services needed therein."

City Planner Carter Pettibone noted that the city tries to bring in pockets of development surrounded by city streets or boundaries.

All six target areas meet this criterion, which means those living or working in them routinely use streets maintained by city taxpayers.

Opponents of annexation say the city simply is after their taxes. A $100,000 home assessed $590 in county taxes would be subject to an additional $530 in city taxes if annexed. "The city takes in a lot of new taxes," said Shannon Scott, a resident of one of the target areas.

It's true that, after the first couple of years, the city expects to take in more revenue than it will spend providing services specifically to the areas to be annexed. Based on very preliminary estimates, the city expects $400,000 a year in revenue from property taxes, utility and sales taxes, fees and permits and refunds from the state for street maintenance. Annual expenditures to provide services specific to the areas to be annexed are projected at $150,000, with initial capital expenditures of $300,000 to $500,000 for utility lines, solid waste equipment, etc. Aside from an estimated $250,000 in property taxes, most of the other revenue the city will garner from the annexation is already being collected. It's just not coming to the city. Still, property owners don't think they're getting a fair shake. But the money they will pay above the amount it costs to provide additional services helps even out the cost of maintaining the city among all the urban dwellers who benefit from it.

Allowing urban areas bordering a city to remain unincorporated results in services that are either inadequate or expensive due to fragmentation. Annexation may result in lower insurance premiums for some due to city fire protection. Beyond that, the present situation is unfair to city taxpayers who are in effect subsidizing the outsiders.

In his protest, Scott went on to say the city is "not offering anything I don't already have. I don't see any advantage for people living in the county."

That is exactly the point. What he has is in large part due to Asheville being next door and the services financed by the 70,000 people who already live in the city. The city's program, which has added more than 4,500 residents since 2000, should continue.

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From the Asheville Citizen-Times (01/16/04)

CITY RESPONDS REGARDING ITS ROLE IN REDEVELOPMENT OF 'THE BLOCK'

By SPECIAL TO CITIZEN-TIMES

The article, "`Block' fiscal details lacking: With no official document, city planners `trust' developers," (AC-T, Jan. 14), about the redevelopment activities on "The Block" failed to include some key information as to why city staff (myself included) would "trust" the prospective developers of this important project. This information is provided below and I would greatly appreciate its timely dissemination.

First, despite several hours of interviews with city staff, among others, your reporter has confused some key roles of the various organizations involved in this project:

The city's role in this project is to allocate, monitor and protect federal money that has been provided by HUD for community development purposes. While we will insist on having copies of the lease agreement with Eagle-Market Streets Development Corp. for our files, the details of the lease agreements given such prominence in the article have no particular bearing on the city's role. These details are important to the two local nonprofit organizations who are involved in this project, however, because they affect their return on investment (see more about this in the following capsules). The federal money is protected through promissory notes and real estate collateral provided by the developer and the nonprofits. The city staff has done its job in insisting on proper protections for the federal money, and we will recommend that City Council allocate the funds for this project. Should council allocate the funds, no monies will be distributed until all appropriate securities (promissory notes, deeds of trust, etc.) have been executed.

Mount Zion Church is receiving absolutely no public money for its part of the project. Consequently, the city has no oversight role whatsoever in the lease agreements between Mount Zion and the developer.

Eagle-Market Streets Development Corp. is a private nonprofit with full access to excellent legal advice and is consequently fully capable of making its own decisions about the financial return from property it owns and controls. This is true for Mount Zion as well. For city staff to insist to be involved in this type of decision-making for either of these organizations would be highly inappropriate; we would be stooping to a level of condescension that we take special care to avoid with our other community development partners.

Second, the development team involved in this project is highly experienced in historic preservation and infill development. The team is certainly highly capitalized - an important factor in assessing risk - but, more importantly, the team includes the Enterprise Foundation. The Enterprise Foundation was founded by Jim Rouse, one of this country's most successful real estate developers, for the purpose of creating partnerships to "work together to provide low- income people with affordable housing, safer streets and access to jobs and child care." (This is quoted from the foundation's mission statement; I recommend you visit their Web site at www.enterprisefoundation.org.) Many people are familiar with the good work of Habitat for Humanity, but the Enterprise Foundation was the first nonprofit organization to build 100,000 homes for low-income families. If there are any organizations in this country that should be "trusted," the Enterprise Foundation would head the list.

Third, while the article did have some information about the benefits of the project included in pictures and text inserts, it is always helpful to reiterate these benefits so that the public will be informed as to the city's interest in the project. The total project (including the Mount Zion portion) will renovate five buildings to Secretary of the Interior historic standards and will add an infill building that has been applauded for its compatibility. The $1.4 million in federal money (there are NO local tax dollars in this project, by the way) will leverage a total of over $5 million in private investment. The Block will be transformed almost overnight in a manner consistent with the redevelopment plan that governs its future growth. It is extremely unlikely that we will ever get another project with as much "bang for the buck" as this one in terms of appropriate land use, redevelopment plan compatibility and compatibility with the architectural heritage of the area.

In summary, the article did not reflect the following key facts with regard to why the project should be "trusted" to proceed:

The project is managed not only by city staff but also by two local nonprofits with the capability of handling their own affairs.

The development team includes a partner that has an impeccable, international reputation for doing sound community development work consistent with the public good.

The lease agreements are immaterial with regard to the city's role in protecting federal funds; these federal monies are separately secured through promissory notes and real estate collateral.

For anyone seeking additional factual information about this project, please visit the City Web page for FAQs (www.ashevillenc.gov/newslinks).

Scott Shuford has been Asheville's planning and development director since 1999. He also lives in Asheville.

---

*hauntedheadnc sez, "A valuable project gets a roadblock taken from its path, and the Citizen-Times, as it often does, is right on the money in its opinion about urban development issues. Happy day!"*

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Yeah, actually. Eagle Street runs parallel to Pack Square back behind Pack Place, the bank you mentioned and the Jackson Building.

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From the Asheville Citizen-Times (01/21/04)

MEMORIAL STADIUM TO GET REVAMP, VETERANS TRIBUTE

By John Boyle, Senior Writer

ASHEVILLE - For decades, Memorial Stadium has been a bustling center of athletic events and community gatherings.

But it's always lacked one essential element: a fitting and highly noticeable tribute to the veterans it was originally built to honor. Asheville City Council plans to address that oversight in the near future, though, with a revamped stadium that includes new lighting and seating, a playground - and an impressive memorial to war dead.

"I think it would be a super-duper gesture, because it will be something that is functional for the city as well as in good taste for the veterans," said Ray Green, a West Asheville resident and chairman of the Buncombe County Veterans Council, an umbrella group that includes members from the county's 23 veterans organizations.

Green, a 30-year veteran of the Air Force who served in Vietnam, estimates more than 20,000 veterans live in Buncombe County alone. He advised the city's Parks and Recreation Department on the veterans memorial, a half-acre site proposed for the entrance to the stadium.

Memorial Stadium, which is above McCormick Field baseball stadium, was originally built in the late 1920s in honor of veterans who served and died in World War I.

The stadium, which was dedicated again in the 1940s to veterans of World Wars I and II, became the home for the Asheville High Cougars and the Stephens-Lee High Bears, hosting many a legendary sports matchup.

"You ask any native Ashevillian to name the city parks, and I guarantee you 90 percent of them know where Memorial Stadium is," said Councilman Joe Dunn, an Asheville native and veteran of the Navy.

Today, Asheville Youth Sports and other youth leagues use the facility, as well as the Asheville Grizzlies semipro football team, the Asheville Assault women's football team and the Asheville Splash women's soccer team.

Asheville City Council heard about the plans, which it first saw last fall, again on Tuesday during a work session. In all, the upgrades and renovation costs will total $2 million.

City staff told council it will be asked next week to accept $550,000 that will go toward the upgrades. Of that, $450,000 is being funneled to the city through the Eblen Foundation, a local charity that is receiving the money from the Asheville Splash. The remaining $100,000 will come from other sponsors.

The Splash, which is contributing the money for the installation of synthetic turf, is raising the funds largely through sponsorships. The Eblen Foundation is acting simply as a pass-through for the funds, but the charity may receive some proceeds from benefit events held at the stadium.

The Parks and Recreation Department also is asking the city to approve an application for a $250,000 grant through the N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund.

Council will vote on these items Tuesday. If the city is approved on the grant, the money would be available in June and work could start in the fall, said Irby Brinson, director of the Parks and Recreation Department.

Councilwoman Holly Jones raised concerns about the stadium project leapfrogging other park projects or overshadowing areas in the city that have no parks.

"I need to feel that this is the best use for this money," Jones said, "and not just something the city is going to get the most strokes for."

Councilman Carl Mumpower, a Vietnam veteran who chairs the Memorial Stadium Action Committee, pointed out the upgrades, which include a playground, a picnic area and a walking trail, will improve the area for everyone.

Contact Boyle at 232-5847 or [email protected]

---

*hauntedheadnc sez, "I hope this is a catalyst for dense, smart development in the South Slope area between downtown and the medical district, but regardless, this is yet another example of how to do things right."*

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From the Asheville Citizen-Times (01/23/04)

BATTERY PARK WILL REMAIN A HOME FOR SENIOR CITIZENS

By Mark Barrett, Staff Writer

ASHEVILLE - An Ohio nonprofit organization is preparing to take control of the historic Battery Park Apartments following a judge's ruling in its favor last week.

National Church Residences plans to close on the property within 60 days and will continue to operate it as government- subsidized residences for low-income seniors, Director of Acquisitions Joe Williams said Thursday. The organization based in Columbus, Ohio, operates more than 225 homes for senior citizens nationwide.

Members of a partnership that owns the 122-unit landmark at One Battle Square downtown have wanted to sell the building but have been in a legal dispute over who the buyer should be. One group supported National Church Residences as the buyer. Another partner, Arkansas resident Marshall "Skip" Coffman, pushed for the building to be sold to a company he had been involved in.

Superior Court Judge Dennis Winner signed an order Jan. 12 adopting the findings of a court-appointed referee who ruled last year that a contract to sell to National Church Residences for $4.7 million was binding and should be carried out. The order was by consent of the parties involved, meaning it is unlikely to be appealed.

"It's good news. We hope they'll do great things for us," said Battery Park resident Clara Byrd.

Some residents had been worried the building would eventually be converted to condominiums if National Church Residences' bid failed.

"If it went into condos, people like myself could not afford it," Byrd said. "My check wouldn't go that far. We're most grateful to have this."

National Church Residences expects to spend a good bit of money on cosmetic and mechanical repairs, Williams said, although he said it is too early to discuss details of the work. He said the historic character of the building, once a luxury hotel, will not change.

City officials have said the dispute over the Battery Park has delayed work to build a large parking deck immediately to the north of the apartments because a small piece of Battery Park property is needed.

Williams said National Church Residences is "agreeable" to working with the city on the project but, "nothing has been signed yet."

Contact Barrett at 232-5833 or [email protected].

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MEMORIAL STADIUM IS RICH IN HISTORY; ADDING A VETERANS' MEMORIAL WOULD MAKE IT RICH IN DIGNITY

By Asheville Citizen-Times

Memorial Stadium, in many ways, lives up to its name. Memorial, after all, pertains to memory, and many if not most people in Buncombe County have fond memories of Memorial Stadium. It's a safe statement that over the decades tens of thousands of cleat-clad feet have competed on its fields, and hundreds of thousands have watched events from the stands. Memories have been made there in a gamut of sports, from football to soccer to spirited pickup games.

Memorial Stadium has endured long enough to become an institution. Everyone has their story to tell about something they've done or something they've seen there.

But what's been missing all along from Memorial Stadium means on a very basic level that it isn't living up to its name.

Where's the memorial at Memorial Stadium?

On the way, we hope. Asheville City Council is looking at a plan to add a memorial to war dead as part of a facelift for Memorial that could also add a playground and new seating and lighting.

It's been a long time coming. Memorial Stadium was built in the late 1920s and named in honor of those who died, and those who served, in World War I. It was rededicated after World War II to honor veterans of both world wars. It became home field for the Stephens-Lee High Bears and Asheville High Cougars, and currently hosts games for the Asheville Splash women's soccer team, Asheville Assault women's football team, Asheville Grizzlies semipro football team and a variety of youth sports activities.

A half-acre site at the stadium entrance is being proposed for a memorial. Ray Green, a Vietnam veteran who logged 30 years with the U.S. Air Force, advised Asheville Parks and Recreation Department on the memorial. Green says Buncombe County is home to more than 20,000 veterans, and that a memorial "would be a super-duper gesture, because it will be something that is functional for the city as well as in good taste for the veterans."

The total cost for Memorial's facelift is around $2 million.

At a time when budgets are tight, needs many and every penny from government and charitable private organizations must be spent wisely, it would be easy to ask if money for such a project is necessary.

In this case, we'd say it is. Renovating Memorial Stadium will put many additional years on a beloved institution.

And adding a memorial is simply long overdue.

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*hauntedheadnc sez, "Groovy. What little affordable housing to be found in downtown Asheville stays put, and a grand landmark gets even better. I love this town!"*

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From the Asheville Citizen-Times (01/28/04)

COUNCIL POSTPONES VOTE ON THE 'BLOCK'

By Angie Newsome

ASHEVILLE - With $1.1 million on the table, Asheville City Council decided Tuesday to wait four more weeks to vote on funding a controversial downtown redevelopment plan.

Despite protests by area redevelopers, council members said that a Tuesday vote would have killed the project, which targets "The Block," Asheville's historic African- American commercial district.

Wrestling with questions about community involvement, financial documents and revenue projections, council members unanimously agreed to wait.

Their decision came after many members engaged in a tense discussion with James Geter, chairman and president of Eagle/Market Street Development Corp. who repeatedly pushed for a vote.

"I feel like we're throwing you the biggest lifeline in the world," Councilwoman Holly Jones said. Citing a 2002 organizational audit, Jones said she questioned the organization's capacity and public credibility and urged the organization to spend a month working to address council concerns.

Several community members were upset by the vote, which pushes the controversial plan back yet again.

"We've been waiting for this moment since 1978," Althea Goode said. "We can wait another 26 years, but it says a lot about our city."

"We're tired of being treated like second-class citizens," said Samuel Camp. Both Goode and Camp spoke during the meeting, urging council to approve the funding.

Once the corporation gets the money, construction could begin on the redevelopment project on "The Block," an area just south of Pack Square known as the heart of Asheville's African-American community.

The total redevelopment plan would invest $6.6 million into an area that has long sat in disrepair. Headed by Eagle/Market Streets, the project would add 12,000 square feet of commercial space and 47 apartments.

Before council is $1.1 million in grants and loans to the corporation for the $3.2 project.

The corporation joins with Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church for the project, which would total $6.6 million.

Council was scheduled to vote on the project Dec. 16, but a lawsuit filed by two South Market Street property owners stymied council's plans. The lawsuit asked the courts to decide whether the corporation's plan to construct a four- story building in an empty parking lot violates the South Pack Square Redevelopment Plan, which Asheville City Council passed in 1993 and updated in 1996.

That day, Buncombe County Superior Court Judge Zoro Guice issued a temporary restraining order against the city and Eagle/Market Streets. The order prevented them from continuing any work, as he considered requests to issue an injunction on the project.

A month later, Guice denied requests for the injunction, though the lawsuit against the city and Eagle/Market Streets remains.

After the meeting, Dr. Charles Blair, an Asheville physician, said he still supports the project, "no doubt about it."

"I have an added respect for council members," he said. "I saw them really struggle to make the right decision. I hope that in four weeks they do."

Council will take up the issue again at its meeting Feb. 24.

Contact Newsome at 232-5856 or [email protected]

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*hauntedheadnc sez, "Does it ever seem to you that the Asheville City Council's modus operandi here is to try to ignore the heavy issues in hopes they'll go away?"*

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From the Asheville Citizen-Times (02/02/04)

ASHEVILLE WOOS BUSINESS AWAY FROM ATLANTA

By Dale Neal, Staff Reporter

ASHEVILLE - "Adios, Atlanta. Hello, Asheville."

The phone message at IntelliSound's offices said it all last week for clients trying to reach the telephony services company last week.

On Friday, Joe Scott turned out the lights in his offices in Atlanta, where he founded his company in 1997. This morning, the corporate headquarters of IntelliSound with its staff of six is open for business on Haywood Street in downtown Asheville, just the latest refugee from the South's traffic-snarled metropolis who's transplanted to the mountains.

Scott lived and worked in Atlanta for 18 years, but he had seen the city change. "The unbridled, unmanaged growth of Atlanta had really decreased the quality of life," Scott said.

With the advent of the Internet, Scott found he could work from anywhere, downloading voice talent from New York or Los Angeles or cities in between to create the voice messages and phone menus that customers get when they call their bank or a hospital.

Jeff Goss made the move back in 2000, bringing his Atlanta- based advertising agency and a national clientele to Biltmore Avenue in downtown Asheville.

"I wanted to move (here) 10 years ago, but I couldn't then," Goss said. "Today's technology opened up the world so that if you're in an intellectual or service business, you can really live anywhere you want."

Targeting Atlanta businesses

Hoping to attract more businesses like IntelliSound or the Goss Agency, the Buncombe County Economic Development Commission is planning a mailing this month to some 1,200 technology companies in and around Atlanta.

The advertising campaign comes on the heels of a $17,000 mailing last spring to some 4,500 companies in New York City and New Jersey, touting the advantages of Asheville's scenic beauty and quality of life. That four-piece mailing brought responses from about 35 companies representing more than 1,000 employees, according to Dave Porter, vice president of the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce.

"We continue to have a dialogue with eight or nine of them. It's probably one to three years out," Porter said, before any of those companies relocate here, "but you have to plant the seed."

The four-piece mailing will cost about $20,000 since it includes a CD-ROM in the last package, Porter said. The promotional materials highlight the competitive price and abundance of office space in the Asheville area while playing up the natural beauty and outdoor recreation.

Atlanta presented a likely target for the mailing campaign, Porter said.

"Atlanta is growing to the north," he said. "You can reach those suburbs from Asheville in under three hours."

The Asheville Regional Airport is co-sponsoring the mailing campaign, promoting the direct fights from Asheville to Newark and to Atlanta. The next marketing targets would be in Ohio with the Comair connections to Cincinnati and then probably Houston, Porter said.

Success would be measured if only one company decided to relocate from Atlanta to Asheville, Porter said.

And such a company wouldn't be alone, joining the ranks of Web wizards, video producers, graphic artists and many others who have traded the traffic of Atlanta's notorious rush hours for the slower pace of the mountains.

A growing list of transplants

The 2000 census listed 7,500 Western North Carolinians who had been living in Georgia in 1995, making Peach State transplants the fourth-largest group of newcomers to the mountains behind former residents of other North Carolina cities, then South Carolina and Florida.

Thomas Oliver, a native of Marietta, Ga., made the move in 1998 after he had started his own video production company, H20 Video, offering streaming media for Internet service providers.

"It was right when broadband was starting to get to different places. And we decided we could get the work done anywhere," he said.

Oliver settled on Flat Rock at first.

"We had a friend with a mountain cabin he was willing to let us use, and we were a mile from the Green River," said Oliver, an avid kayaker.

The whitewater was readily available, but broadband access was slow to come.

"We were in the old post office in Flat Rock, and we were No. 4 on the list when broadband was connected to Flat Rock," he said.

In 2001, Oliver moved his company, now known as Oliver Media, and five staffers to Asheville. There was no Green River here to kayak, but he could pursue a master's degree in business administration offered by Western Carolina University on the campus of UNC Asheville. And from UNCA, he also gets the support of student interns from the multimedia arts and sciences department.

So the technological links are in place and talented people to make his business run, but Oliver says technology companies have to excel here in order to survive.

"We have to make our services world-class," he said. Creativity and collaboration

Gary Crossey and Brian Jones are more recent tech transplants from the Atlanta metro area. They brought their Web design company Fastfwd to Weaverville last summer.

For Crossey and Jones, Asheville's creative community of Web designers and media pros has proved a welcome change from Atlanta's more cutthroat atmosphere, Crossey said. Fastfwd has found work with other small media companies such as Ironwood Productions and Black Box Productions.

"In Atlanta, these guys would have been our competition," Crossey said. "Instead they have been some of our best customers."

Jones liked the collaborative spirit as well.

"I like the fact that everyone is bringing something to the table," he said.

They also dived into the Media Arts Project, an effort to unite the community's digital artists with the new URTV Channel 20, a public access station for Asheville and Buncombe County. Fastfwd will redesign the Web site for the project. Crossey foresees a networking place online where businesses can quickly see what kind of graphic designers, film and video producers and other multimedia artists are available locally.

That creative community makes Asheville just as appealing to new technical workers as the laid-back lifestyle, according to Goss. A mail campaign is both an effective and economic way to target those companies.

"You may not hit them right away," Goss said. "They may put it in a drawer, and it may take a year or two before they pull it back out."

The Goss Agency is preparing a promotional campaign for AdvantageWest with the theme, "Don't give your employees a job, give them a lifestyle."

Drawn by a laid-back lifestyle

A native of Ashe County, Goss used to drive through Western North Carolina on family visits. But at the end of the weekend or the holiday, Goss remembers that sinking feeling he'd get driving back on the Cherokee Foothills Parkway through South Carolina back toward Atlanta: "I'd ask my wife to punch me. `Remind me again why we're going back?'"

But as Internet communications gained Goss clients in St. Louis, Canada and even Micronesia, he started asking another question: "Why do I have to be in Atlanta?"

The increasing traffic in Atlanta made face-to-face meetings with his clients impractical, Goss said.

"In a nutshell, if you were visiting your client every day, you were wasting your time, when 90 percent of your business could be done over the Internet," he said.

Moving to Asheville made sense for Goss, who had also spent six years in New York.

Asheville has unusual assets with the surrounding mountains, recreational opportunities, along with a distinctive downtown architecture and a diverse population, he said.

"It's a better lifestyle here," Goss said.

In choosing Asheville for his corporate headquarters, Scott had a few business criteria in mind.

"We had to have a city with an airport, a city that in the process of getting good broadband for high speed connectivity," he said.

Scott also was looking at Savannah, Ga., Charleston, S.C., and Roanoke and Charlottesville, Va., but Asheville was the closest and the friendliest.

Scott thinks the ad campaign can net more newcomers like himself.

"We need to attract small and mid-sized growth companies that use high technologies for their customer support," he said.

Scott doesn't want to move again, so he hopes Asheville can ward off the problems of urban sprawl that forced him out of Atlanta.

"My level of confidence is high that community leaders are interested in progressive, moderate growth and well-planned development," he said.

Contact Neal at 232-5970 or [email protected].

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*hauntedheadnc sez, "Delicious! It's a luxury in this economy to know that people are still going to be coming no matter how tough you make it for the city to grow. It's not just people, but businesses who will put up with an awful lot to be here. That means we should get cracking on growth guidance and guidelines that ensure this place grows the way it did when they were building downtown, instead of growing in the way that gave us Hendersonville Road, Airport Road, and other suburban horrors. Can it be done? Will it be done? Depends on how much the citizens want it to happen. Elect crummy leaders and you'll get a crummy city -- a lesson I hope is remembered next time elections roll around. I feel the city government is a bit too business-friendly and is willing to give up too much just to make Asheville more hospitable to commerce. Hell, new businesses, just like new residents, are fighting each other to be here! Make 'em build beautiful buildings and plant forests in their parking lots (which should be required to be behind the buildings themselves, by the way)... They'll dance to whatever tune the city plays, so play a nice one!"*

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PUBLIC TO DECIDE WHAT GOES ON PACK SQUARE

By Mark Barrett, Staff Writer

ASHEVILLE - If not luxury condominiums, then what?

The public gets a chance next week to answer the question of what should go on property adjoining Pack Square that the Grove Park Inn had once considered as a site for condominiums and retail space.

A nonprofit group spearheading a renovation of Pack Square and City-County Plaza has set meetings for Tuesday and Wednesday for people to offer ideas on use of the property at the corner of College and Market streets.

Designers will unveil their recommendation Feb. 12. Then the Pack Square Conservancy will present it to City Council and Buncombe County commissioners for approval, conservancy President Carol King said Wednesday.

Work on the overall project is to begin in 2005.

The inn on Dec. 31 dropped a controversial proposal to put a 10-story building on the site, saying studies had found that it would not be a good investment.

The conservancy's board voted at a meeting Wednesday to make its records open to public inspection except those involving legal issues, donors to the project and other unspecified "confidential" matters.

The conservancy's Jan. 7 board meeting was closed to a Citizen-Times reporter. The newspaper said it was considering legal action, and King later said a reporter would be admitted to future meetings. She also allowed a member of a group that had fought the Grove Park Inn's plan to attend Wednesday's meeting.

The increased openness is "a step forward," said William Wescott of People Advocating Real Conservancy.

Contact Barrett at 232-5833 or [email protected]

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