The Finance Committee of Asheville City Council decided Monday not to spend about $340,000 in taxpayers’ money on a contract for a consultant to develop designs for how the small city-owned lot could be used. The decision comes as City Council faces a budget deficit, and arrives a year after a citizen task force worked for months on a recommendation that called for some limited development on the prime lot, as well as some park space.
For more than 15 years, city officials have argued over what to do with the property at the corner of Haywood Street and Page Avenue, which sits across the street from Asheville’s biggest entertainment venue, the US Cellular Center, and the historic Basilica of St. Lawrence. City Council has spent about $2 million over the years on the proposals and property. A building on the site was demolished about a year ago, while a small parking structure on the site was demolished several years back.
The property now is being used as a food truck lot on the Haywood Street side and a community garden on the Page Avenue side. Those have been designated as temporary uses and will continue.
“Goodness knows I think we all want things to move forward” at the site, Finance Committee member Julie Mayfield said, but “that’s a big chunk of change” as City Council looks to close a $1.7 million budget gap in its 2018-19 fiscal year budget. Mayfield urged city staff to see grants for “projects like this.”
When Finance Committee member and Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler asked for public comment, Asheville resident David Nutter rose to speak, calling himself a “battle-scarred veteran for the last 12 years” regarding discussion of the property.
“I’d just like to say that if it’s your wisdom to take this course of action, I hope and pray that somebody will continue to think about the design and development of this critical site,” Nutter said.
“It is a scar on the city of Asheville and needs to heal,” he added.
Wisler said she “definitely” wants to see something happen on the site. “What it’s doing right now is not optimal, although that little garden is fun,” she said, adding that “I can’t in good conscience go forward” with spending the money to develop it.
Please put a highrise parking garage on the Basilica site. Asheville needs more parking, and more affordable parking. If the council takes some of the money that it is extravagantly paying the city manager, they might start such a project.