Asheville City Council is set to consider whether to spend $290,000 in taxpayers’ money to hire a consult to develop plans for how to develop a controversial plot of city-owned land at 68 Haywood Street known as the “pit of despair.”

Steph Monson Dahl, strategic development office director for the city, told the Asheville Downtown Commission last week that the proposal is to contract with landscape architects Nelson Byrd Woltz based out of New York Charlottesville, Va. (The company is familiar with Asheville: the Asheville nonprofit RiverLink announced last year that it had hired the landscape architects to design a 5-acre park along Amboy Road.)

The consultant would work over nine months to develop three proposals for how to implement the community’s vision for city-owned property at the corner of Haywood Street and Page Avenue, Monson Dahl said. The land sits across the street from Asheville’s biggest entertainment venue, the US Cellular Center, and the historic Basilica of St. Lawrence.

That vision was developed by a volunteer advisory group, the Haywood Street Advisory Team, that worked together for about a year before City Council voted in spring 2017 on a development plan that calls for a mix of green space and buildings. The City Council vote was unanimous.

City Council is scheduled to consider the consultant’s hiring at its Aug. 27 meeting, Monson Dahl said. If City Council approves the deal, the volunteer group that worked together in 2016 would be invited back to champion the vision that takes shape, Monson Dahl said. City Council would also likely look for partners interested in collaborating on any development plan.

The finance committee of Asheville City Council decided last year not to spend a proposed $340,000 to hire a consultant to develop designs for the property.

“Goodness knows I think we all want things to move forward” at the site, committee member Julie Mayfield said at the time, but “that’s a big chunk of change” as City Council looked to close a budget gap in its 2018-19 fiscal year budget. Mayfield urged city staff to see if any grants were available.

Discussions about what to do with the land have been contentious for more than 15 years, with the debate in recent years boiling down to a park versus some sort of development, a vision that the community advisory group didn’t share in recommending a mix of uses. The property is now often referred to by the nickname “pit of despair.”

A couple of downtown business owners have raised concerns about the vacant site after a man was stabbed there, WLOS reported. The man’s injuries were non-life threatening.

3 Comments

  1. So $186/hr to act as a “consultant” on something so non-emergent as a piece of city property??

    I’m in the wrong line of work.

  2. I’d love to see the plans move forward along the lines of what came out of the very thoughtful community dialogue about the property… create a beautiful park space while reclaiming some of the duplicate road space with a mixed use structure along the southern edge facing the park. Preferably with workforce housing on the top floors…

    Can’t we use some of that affordable housing bond money the taxpayers approved to make that happen?

  3. Hey, how about we save the taxpayers money. Take that money and install proper electrical, lighting, and picnic tables, and let all the food trucks park here. Everybody wins.

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