"We need to enforce the ordinances and get the trucks off the street, not micromanage how they do it."
-- Council member Robin Cape
It's been several months since David Owens of the UNC School of Government told the Asheville City Council that Maxwell Street qualifies as residential under the city's Unified Development Ordinance and should therefore be off-limits to commercial traffic. Trucks making deliveries to Greenlife Grocery routinely use the street to access the store's loading dock. Owens' report also stated that the dock had been improperly grandfathered, that signs on the Staples office-supply store on Merrimon Avenue were out of compliance, and that the placement of the latter building violates both traffic and setback rules.
When a violation is discovered, the UDO stipulates that violators be notified immediately via certified letter; if the problem isn't corrected within 30 days, daily fines are incurred. The city's handling of these and other cases appears to ignore the law's explicit enforcement requirements.
At the city's request, Greenlife co-owner John Swann appeared before Council Nov. 14 and presented several suggestions for dealing with the Maxwell Street situation. In the ensuing discussion, Council members Brownie Newman and Bryan Freeborn volunteered to serve as Council liaisons in seeking a mutually acceptable alternative.
Council members also agreed that at some point, the city will give Staples' management a deadline for responding to the city's request to discuss the store's violations.
"It is my understanding that the City Council itself is not authorized to directly issue a notice of violation to anyone," Newman told Xpress. "According to our codes, the authority to issue notices of violation resides with the Planning Department, not with City Council."
In a later e-mail to Xpress, Owens wrote: "It is generally the [city] manager's ultimate responsibility for supervision of the staff. ... For example, it would be entirely appropriate for the council to say (1) we want careful monitoring of compliance with our landscaping requirements for commercial development, (2) direct the manager to compile a list of all projects deemed to be in noncompliance, (3) have the [manager] provide a regular status report to Council on actions under way to secure compliance, and (4) to take the adequacy of staff response into account in their evaluations of the manager (as opposed to telling the zoning administrator to direct the McDonald's on Main Street to replant the shrubs that died out front and fine them $50 a day until it is done)."
Signs of the season
Far from restricting commercial use of Maxwell Street, the city has actually facilitated such traffic by eliminating an on-street parking space (others had already been removed when the loading dock was built), Greenlife neighbor Reid Thompson maintains.
In September, Traffic Engineer Anthony Butzek removed a parking space on the residential side of Maxwell Street, across from the loading dock, and installed a post in an attempt to determine whether tractor-trailer traffic could be kept off the adjacent sidewalk.
In an Oct. 4 e-mail to Thompson, Butzek explained: "Trucks routinely damage the curb and sidewalk at the bend of Maxwell Street. Greenlife has committed to repairing this, but there is no point in repairing it until the situation is rectified. ...
"You will notice that we also placed a wooden bollard at the corner. If this bollard survives, we will know that the [reconfiguration of the parking] was successful in keeping trucks off the curb and sidewalk, and Greenlife will then be expected to proceed with its replacement. If the bollard does not survive and trucks continue to overrun this ... sidewalk, I have informed Greenlife that the [parking space] would be returned."
Thompson, however, has refused to move his truck from the decommissioned parking spot, and city police have begun issuing tickets -- as often as every two hours, he says -- which he presented as evidence at the Nov. 14 Council meeting. As part of his ongoing protest against the commercial use of Maxwell Street, Thompson parked his truck in the contested spot well over a year ago and just left it there. Neither the truck nor the bollard has deterred the commercial traffic, he maintains -- and in their current locations, they couldn't hope to.
In a Nov. 10 e-mail to Butzek, other city staffers and Council members, Thompson wrote: "Please take notice [that the bollard] placed to protect the sidewalk is not working. It was put in the wrong place. If you look, you can see the fresh tracks through the leaves across the curb and sidewalk. It's obvious the [removal of] additional residential parking has nothing to do with this problem." He continued: "Can anyone produce a turning radius where 18-wheelers go through my truck and stay off the sidewalk? It's not even possible. ... Anthony, you are an engineer: Why don't you try it on paper? It's not possible."
Thompson is particularly peeved because, in a July 8, 2004, e-mail, Butzek had stated: "I did look into the new (angled) loading driveway they have added, and Mr. Plancer [of the Planning Department] did indeed permit that driveway with the condition that no changes to the on-street parking would be made other than along Greenlife's frontage. So your on-street parking will remain as is."
Thompson has posted numerous videos about the issue online (see http://youtube.com/watch?v=jCogmnxJuV4).
Absence of mallet
Although the violations outlined by Owens have been discussed repeatedly at Council meetings, the only one that's been corrected is the out-of-compliance sign at Prudential Lifestyle Realty on College Place (see "Full Docket," Nov. 22 Xpress).
"We need to enforce the ordinances and get the trucks off the street, not micromanage how they do it," Council member Robin Cape told Xpress.
Newman, meanwhile, said: "I am committed to getting the sign changed on the Staples building and to get truck traffic off of Maxwell Street. I think that both of those things are necessary to achieve compliance with the city's ordinances and to do what is right for the community. I have heard a majority of City Council have endorsed those goals and gave direction to our city manager and city attorney to identify ways we can get those goals accomplished."
He added: "If Staples responds and states that they will not change their sign, I do support taking action to require the sign to be changed. If a majority of Council also supports [this] ... it would be my hope that our staff will be as supportive as possible in pursuing effective enforcement actions."