Vladikavkaz, Russia, has a population of just over 309,000. // Photo credit: ashevillesistercities.org

Today’s round of questions, my smart-aleck replies and the real answers:

Question: I love to stir the pot. Why does Asheville maintain its relationship with the Russian sister city? Did not the Ukrainian flag fly on city hall?

My answer: Pot stirring is a side hobby of mine, too, although I’m more into creating a ruckus or occasionally sowing discontent. I’m also not opposed to occasional riling of an audience or agitating the masses.

Real answer: First off, let’s clear up a little confusion.

“Asheville doesn’t maintain a relationship, but Sister Cities does,” city of Asheville spokesperson Sam Parada said via email.

Sister Cities is a nonprofit partner organization with the city. More about it in a second, but Parada had one more misconception to clear up.

“As for the flag comment, our City Hall Operations Manager, Amanda van Roekel, has stated that she hasn’t had her crew raise a flag other than the U.S. and North Carolina flags,” Parada said.

I will note that when the Supreme Court approved gay marriage a few years back, a rainbow flag was draped from City Hall.

Now, about Sister Cities and that Russian friend city. On its website, Asheville Sister Cities notes that, “Vladikavkaz became our first sister city in 1990 and is located in the Caucasus Mountains of Southern Russia.” The city has a population of 309,173.

Sister Cities has issued a detailed position statement about the Russian city and maintaining a relationship.

Google Maps pinpoints the location of Asheville’s sister city Vladikavkaz, Russia.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the national Sister Cities program in 1956.

“In times of conflict and political discord, these relationships foster hope,” Asheville Sister Cities’ statement reads. “As peace emerges, these relationships promote healing. In times of stability, these relationships invite understanding and cooperation through the exchange of ideas based on arts, culture, education, and community development.”

Asheville Sister Cities says it focuses on “citizen diplomacy,” or person-to-person relationships.

“Municipality to municipality, cities could exchange information and ideas in order to develop friendships and deepen cultural understanding,” the organization states. “Asheville Sister Cities’ mission is to promote peace, understanding, cooperation and sustainable partnerships through formalized agreements between international cities and the City of Asheville, North Carolina.”

“Since 1990, the City of Asheville has had a friendly relationship with our Russian Sister City, Vladikavkaz, Russia, which has focused on sharing educational opportunities in arts and culture from each city,” it continues, noting Vladikavkaz is in North Ossetia. “Similar to Asheville, Vladikavkaz is located in a diverse area with a history of its own that boasts excellent access to the arts.”

This is all nicely worded, but it left me looking for an actual reference to the war, precipitated by Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Not surprisingly, Asheville Sister Cities, is quite diplomatic in this regard.

The statement does provide this quote from Leroy Alala, CEO of Sister Cities International: “While suspending or ending a sister city relationship to register disapproval of a foreign government’s actions may seem, on the surface, like a positive policy protest action, it has the complete opposite effect — closing a vital and, ofttimes, last channel of communication with vulnerable or isolated populations.”

Asheville Sister Cities also cited Gov. Roy Cooper’s position in “standing with the brave Russian citizens who are risking their own safety under an oppressive regime to protest the war crimes of their own government.”

Asheville Sister Cities has a volunteer board of directors, and it “would like to show its support to all citizens who are standing up for peace,” according to the statement.

“In the spirit of the charter of Sister Cities International and our cities’ sisterhood, our hope is that citizens of the world will try to uphold our mission of promoting ‘peace through mutual respect, understanding and cooperation…one individual, one community at a time.”

Further, the local board says it is committed to “offering worldwide exchanges in arts and culture, youth and education, and community development not only to strengthen our friendships, but also help us tackle the world’s most pressing problems.

“We are hopeful that diplomacy will prevail in resolving the situation underway between Russia and the Ukraine; we grieve for those who have suffered loss and we will support those whose lives have been upended by this tragedy in the Ukraine,” the board states.

Question: Recently, my wife was perusing property transfers listed in the Citizen-Times and noticed something strange: about forty listings of mostly small lots, reading like this one:  0.1 acres on Bay Street, $6,500,000, Duke Energy Progress LLC to Blue Ridge Views NC LLC.

All forty list the selling price at the same figure, $6,500,000. Pretty high for 0.1 acres, even for Asheville! Is something nefarious going on here, or is this business as usual (not that the two are not mutually exclusive)? If you can shed any light on this, we’d appreciate it.

My answer: I often default to blaming nefariousness, mostly because I have a suspicious mind. But sometimes folks are just selling a fraction of an acre for $6.5 million. I jest. It was more like in the ballpark of 9 acres, which seems perfectly reasonable in Asheville.

Real answer: Having fielded a few similar questions over the years, I can tell you that these kinds of deals always represent the totality of the land, but they’re broken into individual parcels for the legal requirements.

Duke Energy recently sold 38 parcels off of Hill Street near downtown that it had planned to use for an electrical substation. // Watchdog photo by John Boyle

Jeff Brooks, a spokesperson for Duke Energy, had the official explanation.

“These parcels, collectively, made up the company’s holding along Hill Street in downtown Asheville where we had planned to build a substation adjacent to Isaac Dickson Elementary School,” Brooks told me via email. “That station was moved to the Patton Avenue location.”

As I noted in a July 20 Answer Man column, Brooks said then that Duke and the city of Asheville “are exploring rebuilding the existing substation on the parcel adjacent to the substation located at Rankin Avenue and Hiawassee Street.”

Construction should start in August 2024, pending permitting and zoning approvals from the city, Brooks said.

As far as the site at Patton and Clingman, formerly home to a car dealership, Duke plans to install a temporary mobile substation during the construction of the Rankin Avenue substation.

Back on Hill Street, Brooks said, “The properties were no longer needed for company purposes and sold at market rate to Blue Ridge Views NC LLC. The $6.5 million was for all 38 accumulated parcels.”

Blue Ridge Views NC LLC was incorporated in Florida and lists Barbara G. Salk as its registered agent. I was unable to reach Salk for comment about any plans for the property.

According to her website, “”Ms. Salk established her own company, BSmart Development, LLC, in 2013 to assemble deals to possibly develop for her own accord as well as provide full-service project management and executive support to other Developers.  She is currently overseeing the operations and development of a 2,200 acre resort community in Western North Carolina as part of a joint venture in addition to projects at various stages of development in Asheville, North Carolina.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023, with additional information about Barbara G. Salk.

Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and Buncombe County. Got a question? Send it to John Boyle at  jboyle@avlwatchdog.org or 828-337-0941. To show your support for this vital public service go to avlwatchdog.org/donate.