Today’s round of questions, my smart-aleck replies and the real answers:
Question: We live near Glen Arden Elementary in south Buncombe and regularly take walks (with and without my dog) on school grounds. Recently, my son noticed a “no pets allowed” sign on the grounds. I walked over a few days later to check it out. I saw two such signs on the sprawling grounds, and here’s the curious thing: They’re installed in grassy areas about 15-20 feet from the treeline, with signs facing trails through the trees onto the grounds from houses on Covewood Court and Treetop Lane. Who installed these signs, and why are they aimed only at those neighbors? Maybe there are more signs facing other neighborhoods that surround the school. I haven’t walked the entire property.
My answer: I’d bet good money the school has an infestation of feral cats with some serious sign-making abilities.
Real answer: Sadly, we’re not talking about a cat colony at work here.
“Last year, school staff observed off-leash dogs playing on the property during the school day in the vicinity where students were enjoying recess or walking their daily mile walk around campus,” Buncombe County Schools spokesperson Stacia Harris said via email. “In an effort to maintain the safety of our students, the school requested that signs be installed near the path where students walk their daily mile.”
Harris acknowledged that there was a little hiccup with the messaging on the signs.
“The signs should have specified that dogs, especially off-leash dogs, should only be on campus during non-school hours,” Harris said. “The new administrators at the school will work to clarify with those in the Glen Arden community that school hours are from 7 a.m.-3 p.m.”
It’s not like the school system is forbidding folks from using the property.
“We are proud of our beautiful campus and invite our neighbors to enjoy it as well,” Harris said. “But, maintaining a safe and clean space for our students is also a top priority.”
Question: Here’s my question for you, followed by a rant that explains why I’m asking. Is there a plan to do something with the “parking lot” at the corner of Columbine Road, adjacent to the YMCA parking area in Biltmore Park, which has remained blocked off with orange barricades year after year after year? The paved lot (parking spaces painted on it, but cars not permitted there) and the weed-infested super-ugly steep bank that goes down to the concrete sidewalk is an eyesore at the entrance to a fairly high-end residential community. It seems incomprehensible that this prime piece of real estate is vacant and nothing seems to ever happen with it.
The “mystery parking lot” is the subject of conversation and jokes, and some of the explanations are funny – and I have heard many theories about why and even when there might be a change for the better – but there is no consistent idea, so I doubt any of the theories could be verified. It really isn’t a laughing matter. Why in the world would this property sit there when there are so many potential great uses for it — how about a nice playground or a pickleball court or just about anything other than cracking blacktop? I’m perplexed that the Biltmore Park Homeowners Association or someone who cares about the look of Town Square, or the YMCA has not demanded that embankment be improved with some plantings and maybe something done to make the parking lot less ugly. Maybe they could surround it with some tall evergreens? I have lived in Biltmore Park for over 20 years — moved into my house before the YMCA was built when Town Square was a beautiful hilly tree-covered landscape. This is such a mystery, and perhaps the ANSWER MAN has the answer!
My answer: As a regular attendee at the Reuter YMCA, I’ve often wondered about this parking lot, which is real empty and has been for two decades. The lack of a brewpub here is an offense against humanity. For the interim, I’m going to set up a beer tent here, just as a public service. I won’t be selling beers, just sitting there drinking.
Real answer: Biltmore Farms LLC, the development company that built Biltmore Park, does own this chunk of asphalt and perimeter landscaping, which totals .73 of an acre.
The company opened the surrounding Biltmore Park residential neighborhood in 1991, and construction started on Biltmore Park Town Square in 2006. Town Square is a combination of retail shops, the Reuter YMCA, a movie theater, restaurants, and apartments and condominiums.
While most of Town Square has filled in, this parking lot, sort of on the periphery of the commercial operations, has remained vacant. And it’s likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future.
“The parcel you referenced is simply an undeveloped lot at the moment,” Ben Teague, vice president of strategic development at Biltmore Farms, told me via email. “We will certainly let you know when we are ready to make an announcement on that.”
I was a bit underwhelmed with that response, so I asked for a little more information. Teague said Biltmore Farms has “simply been focused on other transformational projects,” which I take as a reference to the location of the 1.1 million-square-foot Pratt & Whitney jet engine parts manufacturing plant located on what was Biltmore Farms property.
Teague said the parking lot near the Y is one of several undeveloped parcels Biltmore Farms owns. County land records show it has an assessed tax value of $188,800.
“We have not explored selling it and do not anticipate selling the parcel,” Teague said. “That said, we do not know of any specific difficulties with developing the property.”
Teague added, “There are no immediate plans for the parcel.”
As far as the Biltmore Park Homeowners Association or the Y taking up some beautification, that’s a stretch, because most entities in this world aren’t going to beautify someone else’s property. That also raises some legal issues.
“While we pay close attention to the landscaping and upkeep of our own facility and grounds, we haven’t considered landscaping adjacent properties,” MaryO Ratcliffe, spokesperson for the YMCA, told me via email. “We have no plans to buy, maintain, or otherwise use the space in question at this time.”
Rick Devereaux, vice president of the Biltmore Park HOA, said, “Even if we desired to do that, it’s very doubtful Biltmore Farms would be willing to allow that.”
“And then there are some legal issues about using homeowners’ funds to do work on something we don’t own,” Devereaux said, adding there could even be something in their bylaws preventing that.
Devereaux was on the HOA Board from 2014-2018 and said he never heard any rumblings about doing something with the vacant lot, nor has he since returning to the board in November.
“The HOA has a few undeveloped areas already that it could use for something like (your reader) references, so I doubt it would be in the market for more land,” Devereaux said. “And I know when Biltmore Farms owns something, they own it. There’s not a lot of partnering.”
Devereaux did allow that the “pickleball idea is intriguing,” but again, it’s not something the HOA or another entity could take on without Biltmore Farms’ cooperation.
“The demand for pickleball courts has just mushroomed, so there might be an opportunity for some entity, including Biltmore Farms, to look into that,” Devereaux said, noting, “There’s not enough pickleball courts to go around.”
Indeed, this has been a hot topic within the city of Asheville, and in Buncombe in general. Biltmore Park is within Asheville city limits.
On another note, Devereaux pointed out that Biltmore Park did stripe two tennis courts off Schenck Parkway for pickleball, and they’ve purchased portable pickleball nets. So the tennis courts are available to pickleball players.
Meanwhile, look for the empty parking lot by the YMCA to remain just that — empty.
Got a question? Send it to John Boyle at firstname.lastname@example.org or (828) 337-0941.