Thursday, August 28, 2008

Judge to rule parkland must stay public, attorney says

Mark • STAFF WRITER • published August 28, 2008 12:48 pm

ASHEVILLE – Superior Court Judge Marlene Hyatt has asked attorney Joe Ferikes, who represents members of the family of the man who gave the land to the county more than 100 years ago, to prepare a draft order granting his clients’ request for judgment in their favor, Ferikes said at mid-day today.

Hyatt will rule that the property must remain available to the public, thus blocking plans by local developer Stewart Coleman to build a nine-story condominium building on the parcel, Ferikes said.

“It means the case is over and we’ve won,” Ferikes said.

The outcome won’t become official until Hyatt signs an order and it is filed, Ferikes said, and it is possible that the details of the order will not become known until then. It is common for judges in civil cases to have attorneys for the winning side prepare a draft order that becomes the basis for the judge’s order.

Ferikes said it will be possible for Coleman to continue to own the land but that Hyatt’s ruling would not allow Coleman to carry through with plans to put a condominium building on the property.

Hyatt’s action will mean that the land “can only be used for public purposes” but does not necessarily invalidate Buncombe County’s 2006 sale of the property to a Coleman company, Ferikes said.

However, he said, “I’m hoping the county does the right thing here. Give him his money back and take the title back and tell the public and all of us that they are never going to do this again and execute documents” to that effect.

Relatives of George Willis Pack, a wealthy lumberman who donated downtown parkland to Buncombe County in 1901, brought the suit last year.

Buncombe County commissioners voted in November 2006 to sell a small corner of City-County Plaza that contains a large magnolia to a Coleman company along with an adjoining alley and an old building. Coleman wants to combine that property with the Hayes & Hopson building at the corner of Marjorie and Spruce streets to build a nine-story condominium building.

Louise Pack Metcalf, an East Asheville resident who was one of the plaintiffs, could hardly contain her emotion shortly after hearing the news.

“I am so thankful. I just thank God that they left it as parkland,” she said. “I’m thankful that just one time the system worked for the people and not for the big man.”

The Packs were seeking simply to keep the land available to the public, Ferikes has said, not to have the land return to the Pack family.

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