Tuesday, September 18, 2007

ASU SGA Continues Disinformation Campaign

Several have forwarded to us the piece of propaganda that the Appalachian State University Student Government Association has posted on its website, "The Truth about the College of Education." The piece falls somewhat short of the truth. In fact, it continues to spout talking points that have been long debunked.

1. The SGA site claims, "The Town Council can grant Conditional District Zoning, which would change the zoning for the property to the University classification, clearing the way for construction of the building. The Town Council voted during spring break, while students were out of town and not paying attention, to cancel a scheduled public hearing on the matter, effectively prohibiting the building on the site."

THE TRUTH: The writer of that passage does not understand the rule of law under North Carolina zoning authority. A property/building project must meet certain standards and requirements to qualify for Conditional District Zoning. The proposed College of Education building that ASU submitted to TOB Development Services did not meet those standards and requirements. That failure to meet the requirements was explained in the TOB Development Services staff report (dated Feb. 8, 2007): "As proposed, this application fails to meet established UDO minimum standards and therefore fails to comply with the requirements established in the UDO for Conditional Zoning Districts."

The staff report found that the university's proposal, as submitted...

exceeded the maximum allowable floor area by over 100,000 square feet

exceeded the maximum building height by 47 feet

was deficient in required open space by over 15,000 square feet

encroached 97 feet into the required 110-ft. building setback

In addition, traffic and stormwater management were not addressed in the proposal AT ALL.

The SGA claim above deliberately misleads students, suggesting that Town Council sneaked around -- "while students were out of town" on spring break -- and voted to cancel a public hearing that dealt with the College of Education. The matter that was to come before the Town Council in the public hearing had nothing to do with the College of Education directly. Rather, the hearing was to deal with a proposal (first suggested by ASU at the Town Council's annual retreat) to amend the Conditional Zoning District process to allow the Town Council to exercise "super powers," that is, to suspend any regulations that might get in someone's way. Thank goodness, four members of the Council (Dempsey Wilcox, alone excepted) decided not to adopt these proposed super powers, since they would have totally undermined the planning process and made a dangerous precedent (special customers can get special treatment, outside the four corners of the law).

The Town Council is not responsible for scheduling the university's spring breaks, but it is responsible for upholding fair and just planning laws for everyone.

2. The SGA site claims, "Early in the fall of 2006, university officials met with the Mayor and the Town Manager to discuss purchasing the Howard Street property as well as property closer to King Street. During these meetings, no zoning concerns were mentioned by any town official and no concerns of campus encroachment on King Street were expressed."

THE TRUTH: ASU Director of Design & Construction Clyde Robbins knows very well that the proper town officials to approach about a building project is Development Services. John Spear, Director of Development Services, says that the first contact ASU made with his office about the College of Education was January 5, 2007, not the fall of 2006. Town Council members were unaware of the proposed project until they received their packets for the Winter Public Hearing (Feb. 8, 2007), which contained an application from ASU for a Conditional Zoning District for the College of Education. That application was withdrawn by ASU the day before the public hearing. Since then, there has been no further application made to develop the Howard Street property. (In other words, all this argument is about a proposal that ASU has not formally made to the town.)

Furthermore, ASU continued to buy the Howard Street property AFTER it knew that the zoning requirements could not be met for the College of Education building. The purchase of the first parcel was finalized January 17, 2007, prior to the staff report. AFTER receiving the staff report that outlined the specific problems with the project on that site, ASU finalized purchases of three more parcels on Howard St.

Although he meets regularly with university officials, the Town Manager says he has no memory of the specific meeting alleged on the SGA site, certainly no meeting when the Mayor was present and no meeting when the pros and cons of rezoning that property came up. Zoning and rezoning issues are properly addressed by the Development Services department anyway. The Town Manager does recall specific conversations with ASU about the possibility of closing Hamby Alley, but he also adds that no application to close Hamby Alley has ever been received from the university.

3. The SGA site claims, "There have been public statements claiming that the Town of Boone Development Services Report on the proposed building claims there will be an increase of 1,200 cars per day as a result of its construction. The report actually predicted that the Library Deck, which was not open when the report was written, would bring an additional 1,200 cars per day. The report provides no justification for the number, and the actual impact of the library deck has not been as large as the report stated. There is no evidence that a new College of Education will bring additional traffic to College, King, or Howard streets."

THE TRUTH: Only a professional traffic impact analysis, mandated by the town's conditional use zoning process, will answer the question of traffic impacts of a new College of Education on the Howard St. site. The town's staff report estimated increased traffic of 1,200 vehicle trips a day in that neighborhood because of a new College of Education.

4. The SGA site claims, "there has been no pressure on any surrounding property owners to sell their property."

THE TRUTH: The elderly couple, whose home will be precisely 13 feet from the proposed four-story structure, have been under considerable pressure. After an initial telephone contact from the Chancellor's office, and a follow-up letter from ASU, the elderly couple have cut off further communications from the university or its representatives. They have been in a constant state of nervous upset at the thought of a major construction project and a high-rise building taking shape so close to their home. All of this was detailed in the articles written for The Appalachian by student reporter Mike Cooper, articles that were spiked by The Appalachian editor.

5. The SGA site claims, "Is the building going to dwarf other buildings? The building will have four stories above ground and will be no taller than the nearby library (excluding the tower) or Baptist Church."

THE TRUTH: For reference, the building will be slightly taller than THE STEEPLE on First Baptist Church.

6. The SGA site claims, "How do current members of the Town Council feel about the College of Education? Rennie Brantz, Janet Pepin, Lynne Mason, and Bunk Spann voted to cancel a scheduled public hearing to discuss the matter; Mayor Loretta Clawson indicated her support for such a decision. Councilman Dempsey Wilcox was the only member to vote to hold the meeting."

THE TRUTH: As stated above, the canceled public hearing was NOT about the College of Education project but about granting the Town Council super powers to bypass zoning laws at whim. The SGA writer is clearly trying to imply that four members of the Town Council oppose a new College of Education. That is a lie. When Town Council members went to Raleigh to discuss the controversy with state legislators, they made it clear that they fully support the funding for a new building; the only problem is the location.


It seems to please some anonymous posters on this site to allege that I now hate ASU.

That's a strange habit of mind, equating criticism with spite. But it explains why evidently, in the eyes of some Americans, if you criticize Bush's war in Iraq you must want the terrorists to win.

If I criticize the actions and the attitudes of ASU's current administration, I must perforce hate ASU? Some in the local CFC PAC even allege that I hate education itself.

I spent 30 years contributing a good deal more than my mere time to making ASU nationally recognized in the field of Appalachian Studies. My contributions in that field are fairly well known. At the time of my retirement, few universities could compete with ASU in terms of quality research and dedicated classroom instruction in the history of Appalachia and its contemporary reality in the context of 20th and 21st century American progress. Comparisons are odorous (said Dogberry), but I was as hard-working and productive in those endeavors as any faculty member at ASU. When I retired, I deeded a very large collection of research files, hundreds of movies about Appalachia, and other irreplaceable materials to the Eury Appalachian Collection in the University library. I didn't do that, nor dedicate myself to strenuous and focused labor over three decades, out of hatred for the institution. I loved the place and still do.

What I hated and still hate is what happened to the Appalachian Cultural Museum. I hate a growing culture of fealty at ASU that makes it top-down-with-a-vengeance. Some faculty seem very afraid, and with good reason. Faculty morale is about as low as I've witnessed in my 38 years of local residence. I hate that censorship of a promising student reporter is now a fact of life on this college campus -- the result of either excessive zeal to curry favor with the administration by the editor of the campus newspaper or the result of direct intervention on the part of the university administration. Either way, a culture of suppression seems to be growing, and I hate that. I hate that the university administration decided to resort to behind-the-scenes pressure in Raleigh to try to "run a bill" that would subvert and override the Town of Boone's legitimate planning regulations. I hate that the administration has manipulated the Student Government Association and its leaders with half-truths and outright lies. I hate what's happened and is still happening to the place I dedicated my professional life to.

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