Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Big Cookies

Yesterday the Appalachian State University Trustees and top administrators help an elaborate public forum about their proposed College of Education at the corner of Howard and College streets. The building they showed us and touted was the exact same one we’ve all seen now for months.

Vice Chancellor for Business Affairs Greg Lovins went through the multitude of sites that ASU says it considered for the College of Education. Each possible other site was thrown up on a big screen with “Pros” and “Cons” delineated side by side. Naturally, the Cons always out-weighed the Pros for every other site. Then he got to the Howard & College street corner, where the Pros were stacked up high and the Cons, very few. This presentation seemed like special pleading, as in, “Gosh, since I don’t want to do x, y or z, I can think of many good reasons not to.” Nonetheless, Board of Trustees Chair Jim Deal admitted that the building was indeed “massive” and that there would be serious traffic impacts associated with it (neither of which made Mr. Lovins’ list of Cons).

The lopsided and carefully massaged run-down of why the building couldn’t go anywhere else but on that corner was in fact called out as special pleading by a member of the audience, a decades-long veteran of the Boone Area Planning Commission, who scolded the university for its willful failure to plan in cooperation with the town. She said that if that huge building is simply plopped on that site, without long-range and cooperative planning with the town for the future of Howard Street and for traffic impacts, not to mention storm-water mitigation and other issues, the Town of Boone would be forced to deal for decades with the failure to plan. She reminded all present that years ago the university had in fact promised the Town it would leave Howard Street as a through street and then without consulting the town put a parking deck across it.

What went unsaid was ASU’s need to justify the spending of $5 1/2 million for less than an acre of land, which would appear to be the main driving force behind locating that building on that site, though that financial consideration also didn’t qualify for Mr. Lovins’ chart of Pros and Cons.

Insofar as ASU set up this public meeting, when it has never felt compelled to explain its actions to the Boone community before, and put out a sizable platter of very large cookies for the taking, may in itself be a sign of a new post-election willingness to cooperate (or at least to boost our calorie intake). There was an admission that, yes, the university would be submitting plans for approval to the town (significant in itself, since through all the debate there has never been a formal submission of development plans to the TOB) and that “some modifications” might be made to the proposed building to bring it “more into compliance” with town regulations (though all the displays set up on easels and flashed on the big screen were of the original plan, without modifications).

Everyone wonders what “some modifications” might mean: a building that can actually meet zoning requirements? Or essentially the same building with a few tweaks meant to create the impression of compromise while continuing to violate the long-range planning requirements that the town has in force?

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