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From the Asheville Citizen-Times (11/05/03)


By Angie Newsome

ASHEVILLE - The view from the fourth floor of the Ritz Building on South Market Street is remarkable. To the west: The square BB&T building cuts into an electric blue midday sky. Farther east, the tall peaks of the Jackson Building and the rounded top of City Hall.

Warm afternoon sunshine bounces off the red brick Del Cardo Building, with its boarded-up windows and fading exterior. Below, a parking lot wedged between the Ritz and Del Cardo buildings is nearly full with cars.

A redevelopment proposal for this neighborhood, known as "The Block," jumped another hurdle Tuesday. With the approval of the Asheville Downtown Commission, the proposal could change not only the view from the Ritz's windows but also the face of a community determined to re-create itself.

The commission approved the Eagle/Market Streets Development Corp. redevelopment proposal despite vocal opposition by the Ritz's owners, Gene Ellison and Howard McGlohon, and another nearby property owner, Jesse Plaster. The commission is a city- and county-approved board that reviews downtown redevelopment.

According to the corporation's proposal, plans include filling the parking lot with a four-story building, rehabilitating several adjacent buildings, including the Del Cardo, and demolishing a smaller building on Wilson Alley.

Construction is to begin as soon as Asheville City Council provides the remaining up-front funding for the project, said Elizabeth Russell, the corporation's executive director.

But Ellison, McGlohon and Plaster said they had not been adequately consulted. They claimed the proposed building violates the South Pack Square Redevelopment Plan passed by council in June 1993 and amended in September 1996. The plan provides the framework for the area's redevelopment.

What is at stake is not only the money but also whether the history of what was once the commercial heart of Asheville's black community is preserved.

The Block thrived because African-American business owners were not allowed to own property next to white-owned businesses. But it fell into blight during the 1960s. It has rebounded in the past 10 years with the opening of small shops, the renovation of the 123-year-old Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church and the growing popularity of the Goombay! festival.

Today, "The Block" is part of a huge development push in the Pack Square area.

At the meeting, a parking lot wedged between the Ritz and Del Cardo buildings became one of the focal points.

"What I'm seeing is a limited self-interest that is not taking in consideration of the interests of broader members of the community," said Craig Justus, a local attorney who attended the commission meeting on behalf of Ellison and McGlohon. Justus said that property owners should have had more input into the plan before it reached the commission.

To Ellison, filling the parking lot means blocking the light and the air circulating through his building. It's a plan he doesn't like and didn't agree to.

"This is a serious deal, and we want to be heard," Ellison said during the meeting, calling the plan "selfish." Ellison has voiced his support of the Grove Park Inn, which is seeking to buy taxpayer-owned property on the fringes of Pack Square to build two multi-story buildings. One would be a 15-story high-rise at the convergence of College and Market streets, and the other would be a three- to four- story building next to City Hall on the perimeter of "The Block."

He said he supports the Grove Park plan because it is privately funded and is not in a historic area.

McGlohon said the development corporation's plans have slipped through without public scrutiny.

"No one has ever met with me or said anything to me about a building being placed in this particular place until I saw this particular plan," McGlohon said.

"I think the issue is whether the building should be there at all," he said.

Carol King, commission chairman, said it had no authority in making sure everyone's interests were met in the plan's development. That, she said, is the developer's responsibility.

Scott Shuford, the city's planning and development director, said the proposal doesn't violate redevelopment requirements.

"All we can do is respond when it comes to us," King said.

Russell, the corporation's executive director, said the organization bought the parking lot property in February.

She said they started informing property owners about plans for the new four-story building in October.

Today, City Council is scheduled to discuss $1.14 million in new federal grants and loans for the Eagle/Market Streets Development Corp. Council meets at 3 p.m. at City Hall.

Standing on the top floor of the Ritz after the meeting, Ellison pointed out a 12-pane window lining the former Black Masonic Temple. Unlike the bottom two floors he and McGlohon made into a restaurant and meeting space, the top floor is still dusty, the plaster still broken. Just like the building constructed by the Masons in 1906, he said the community has a history that should be preserved.

"Just imagine this room with a wall up against it," he said, looking out on the view.

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


*hauntedheadnc sez, "NIMBY's are upset about plans for a new building in an historic district. In Asheville. I'm just shocked. Aren't you shocked? I'm shocked."*

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From the Asheville Citizen-Times (11/05/03)


By Jennifer Brevorka, STAFF WRITER

ASHEVILLE - Even by electing two newcomers Tuesday, voters likely did little to change the political direction of Asheville City Council.

Brownie Newman and Jan Davis gained seats on the seven- member council, and Vice Mayor Terry Bellamy won a second term. Newman, a 31-year-old Montford resident, won in his third attempt for a council seat. Davis, a tire store owner, was making his first bid.

Davis and Newman represent two politically different camps in Asheville. The two men will replace Councilmen Jim Ellis and Brian Peterson, whose stances many see mirroring those of Davis and Newman. Ellis finished fifth in Tuesday's balloting, while Peterson didn't seek re-election.

Newman ran a campaign emphasizing quality-of-life issues and opposed the location of one of the most controversial development projects in downtown Asheville. Newman said the proposed location of the Grove Park Inn's 10-story building for luxury condominiums and stores adjacent to City-County Plaza didn't suit downtown.

Davis campaigned on his business experience and his record as city Planning and Zoning Commission chair. On the campaign trail, Davis told voters he favored the Grove Park Inn's development plans, the city's changes to the minimum housing code and making the process easier for developers seeking to build affordable housing.

Moving toward a complaint- driven inspection process, council earlier this year voted 4-3 to repeal mandatory inspections on rental properties and privately owned homes, which had been required under the city's housing code. Under the new code, inspections are done when complaints are filed

Former councilman Edward Hay, who served for six years, agreed that overall, the council's direction would not dramatically shift. "I think that the minimum housing code may resurface," Hay said. "And that issue could be a real litmus test of how things proceed in the future."

Ellis voted to repeal the old housing code, while Peterson voted to keep it. Peterson and Ellis voted to allow the Grove Park Inn to bid on the downtown property.

Both Newman and Bellamy have said they would reinstate mandatory inspections of rental property, a clause recently removed from the code. Davis has said that he supported the changes enacted by council in September, but wants to revisit the issue again in about a year.

On Tuesday, the housing code and commercial development were two of the most commonly cited issues by voters.

"I'm concerned about the rate of development in Asheville," said Stephanie Johnson outside a polling place in West Asheville. "And with the number of unused spaces in downtown."

Contact Brevorka at 232-2938 or [email protected].


*hauntedheadnc sez, "Even though Asheville's City Council has now tilted back toward the left just the tiniest bit, I don't see this having much of an effect on the Grove Park Inn's plans for high-rises downtown."*

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Will the Grove Park Inn's proposed buildings actually get built? I believe so, yes. If anything does happen to change, the buildings will get built in a location other than the currently proposed plot of land in the Midpark. However, I feel pretty confident that the buildings will be contructed where the Grove park Inn wants to build them -- in the Midpark, and on a parking lot next to city hall.

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