It at first appeared just to be something drummed up for an election issue. Progressive candidates for the 2005 city council elections needed something with community buy-in, rally points to show they could protect the people from big business. And so two changes downtown were hyped into real juggernauts.
One was a bad design that put a huge, brick retaining wall against the sidewalk. The design was dictated by city codes which require parking in the back of buildings, and, well, the lot sloped considerably toward the sidewalk. The developers were compliant, but that argument has never sunk in with Progressives. The city also approved a sign for Staples which the citizens said was too big.
Another issue was Greenlife. Reid Thompson, a man who owns several rental properties on one of the access streets, has persistently pestered the city about truck traffic at this neighborhood grocery store. Greenlife has redesigned its parking lot, rebuffered its property, provided driving instructions to truckers and sent managers to the parking lot to direct traffic, and spent hundreds of thousands to appease Thompson.
Things got so out-of-hand, the city commissioned a study. David Owens from the School of Government at UNC-Chapel Hill was asked to provide a third-party assessment of the legality of the points of controversy. Owens found no evidence of wrongdoing, even though city staff tended to settle disputes in favor of the property owners. He also found that in just about all cases the developers were acting within the law. What the citizens wanted the law to say was another issue.
Logically, with their lawyers saying the same thing, Staples did not want to fly executives to Asheville to negotiate. Greenlife keeps trying to appease the neighbors. But, now that statutes of limitations have run out, the community activists are launching law suits to control what the developers can do on their own property. One case was thrown out for lack of standing.
City council was scheduled to hear updates on these issues Tuesday. Among other topics of discussion was how soon council could force compliance if it revised its ordinances to disallow the offending structures. Council also toyed around with the idea of issuing notices of violation (NOV), but City Attorney Bob Oast advised against that.
Mayor Terry Bellamy asked Joe Minicozzi, who was speaking on behalf of the community activists, â€œWhen does it stop?â€ She clarified. If the developers were to give them all theyâ€™re asking this round, how many more rounds can be expected?
Council also voted on directing staff to draft ordinances or give recommendations on other ordinances that could restrict property use. Proposed by Councilman Brownie Newman, these were aimed largely against big business. Then, council stopped voting on the issues after Mayor Terry Bellamy said something about staff not wanting them to.