Tuesday, September 11, 2012

An open letter to the Asheville City Council

Honorable Mayor, Distinguished Councilors,

I am a citizen of Asheville, a city that I dearly love, and a member of the parish of St Lawrence. Due to work, I will not be able to attend tonight's meeting of the Council that determines the fate of the Haywood St lot whose destiny rests in your hands by the providential hand of God, but I wanted to make sure that I shared my voice concerning the hopes for the Haywood St development. I have looked at the various proposed plans, and I see merit in them all. But I urge you to consider with favor the Diocese of Charlotte and the Basilica of St. Lawrence's proposal for the St. Lawrence Plaza. Being so close to the issue, it is hard to be objective, but I have given over my heart in prayer and while I do not think that any issue of such importance should be dealt with objectively, I have tried to consider this with the eyes of reason, as well as those of heart.

In many ways, for me the issue is not one of aesthetics—I actually think the McKibbon Hotel Group did a nice job of conforming their proposed architecture to match the Vanderbilt Apartments—or of finance—of COURSE Asheville could use the taxes—but one of family

Our city thrives on tourism, and I'm elated that so many people find our city interesting and beautiful enough to be worthy of their time, interest, and yes, money. But Downtown is the heart of the city, and with Haywood St the site of Malaprops Bookstore, Earth Guild, the Woolworth Art Gallery, the Chocolate Fetish and many many other fine business ... it is the heart of Asheville's renewal from a listless old resort town. And yes, with the Basilica at one "end" and Church St essentially at the other, it is a spiritual heart of the city as well. It is a street of cherished family memories. What brings tourists into the city and into Downtown are not the amenities or the nearness of the hotels to our city's heart and soul, because those amenities and spirit were there before the hotels. Tourists love the purity of our city, that it is a place that we lovingly care for and make our own. We gladly share with open and charitable arms to any who visit, but Asheville is home first, which is why it's so inviting to visitors.

Every home has a guest room, but it's never smack dab in the middle of the Family Room. When houses become so filled with guests that you have to set up people on the couch ... people notice, and then what should be a fun visit, becomes a cramped and awkward situation. Putting up a hotel on Haywood St is filing up the family room with guests (and we all know what Mark Twain said about guests and fish). We don't want that; they don't want that.

Haywood St has a nice symmetry to it: I already mentioned the spiritual houses that cap both ends; there's an even number of eateries and shops, county and city services; architecture of historical interest, particularly in the S&W building and, again, the Basilica. Why not achieve greater balance of Haywood St, with public spaces at both ends, Pritchard Park to the North and the St Lawrence Plaza to the south. In fact, I have often thought that the particular curve of Haywood St at that location, creates something of a dead-end for tourist traffic. Opening up that space with a Plaza opens up that end of the city, so that more people flow toward the Grove Arcade and the other wonderful shops that border it. Some of you have shown an interest in whatever funds become available to the city related to this development  being available for affordable housing. Homes should be at the heart of this matter, and it is wonderful that the Basilica's proposal includes such homes in its design.

You have heard all these arguments, but it boils down to this: our city, our community, should consider family first, always. The St Lawrence Plaza is a good idea, and it's one proposed by your friends and your family at St Lawrence Basilica. Thus, the St Lawrence Plaza is in the best interest of the city; it is in the best interest of Family.

Thank you,
David Mayeux

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