- Airport Road zoning hits snag
City Council amended Asheville's animal ordinance to facilitate keeping chickens in the city but held off on a proposed ban on tethering dogs.
Both issues have attracted public attention in the past year or so, as evidenced by the formation of two activist groups: Asheville City Chickens and ChainFree Asheville, both of which were well represented at Council's April 28 session.
The approved changes include reducing the buffer zone between chicken coops and property lines from 100 feet down to 10 feet from the property line or 50 feet from the nearest house (whichever is less).
Scott Barnwell of Asheville City Chickens told Council that the move would encourage local food production and expand private-property rights.
Brad Brock agreed. "We are a progressive community," he said, "and sometimes being a progressive community means looking into the past for sustainable practices."
The retooled ordinance prohibits keeping roosters due to noise concerns, a restriction supported by the chicken activists. But while the poultry discussion remained generally high-spirited, dog advocates came armed with grim stories and grisly pictures to support their plea that the city prohibit attaching canines to chains, ropes or even runners (which staff had recommended exempting).
Dogs kept tied up, asserted ChainFree Asheville founder Peggy Irwin, are at risk of injury, are often neglected to the point of dehydration, and are more aggressive.
"The worst problem is the dog's psychological state," she said. "When you adopt a dog, you are not just buying something like a lawn mower."
"I don't know what these dogs are, but I don't think we can call them pets if they are on chains 24/7," added group member Walt Sinclair. For some time, ChainFree Asheville has had a standing offer to build fences for people with tethered dogs, at no cost to the pet owner. The organization has built several such fences and plans to continue the service.
The ordinance also allows the temporary use of livestock, particularly goats, to thin grass, ivy and kudzu. In addition, beehives are now allowed within 100 feet of a neighboring property (down from 150 feet). City permits would be required in both cases.
Another provision prohibits residents from "knowingly or willingly" leaving food waste, pet food or grain where it could attract threatening wild animals, such as bears. But some, including Wild Birds Unlimited co-owner Chris Jaquette, read that change as prohibiting bird feeders, which sometimes lure bears. "This is going to hurt my business," he predicted. "It puts out the idea that this is something that is going to get you cited."
Coexisting with wildlife, said Jaquette, is part of living in the Appalachian region. "A lot of folks come here because nature is at your doorstep," he noted. Jaquette was one of several speakers who argued that new developments intruding into forested areas are a more likely contributor to bear problems.
Staff, however, clarified that the provision would be triggered only if a resident disregarded a notice from the Animal Services Unit that a bear had been sighted in the area, and even then, the restrictions would apply for only a limited period of time.
The discussion got some Council members talking about their own associations with animals.
"I've gotta come clean: I've had chickens," confessed Council member Robin Cape, adding that in her experience, hens are generally tame and quiet.
Council member Carl Mumpower said he raises bees (which can also attract bears, he noted), and Vice Mayor Jan Davis admitted: "We always had a hound or two we kept chained up. I know it's not the thing to do now -- now we have a pen."
Nonetheless, Davis said he would probably be among "the minority at the table" who would not support the proposed changes, citing enforcement problems compounded by budget issues. And keeping chickens, he emphasized, is more work than some residents might imagine. "We're a progressive community, and that's the thing to do right now, so we're going to keep chickens. But neglected chickens is something I think we're going to have a big problem with."
Council member Kelly Miller, meanwhile, emphasized that while he supported the changes regarding chickens, he was "100 percent against tethering."
Cape agreed, saying, "I have become convinced by the conversation tonight that we might be liable if we, as a city, are part of training animals to be vicious." But her proposed amendment banning all tethering unless the pet is within sight of its owner prompted some on Council to back off.
Brownie Newman noted that approving the ban would suddenly put anyone tethering their dog on the wrong side of the law. "We are going to make them criminals," he said. "I would want to make sure the resources are there to support them" in correcting the situation.
Mayor Terry Bellamy asked to have the tethering language pulled for the time being. Police Chief Bill Hogan endorsed the move, noting that the city's animal-control enforcement staff is down from four to two, with the vacant positions frozen due to budget cuts. And despite Chain Free Asheville's offer to provide fences, said Hogan, some neighborhood associations have restrictions on such structures.
In the end, Davis' prediction proved correct, as only he and Mumpower voted against the other proposed changes. Staff are to report back in six months on the effectiveness of the rules regarding leaving food out when bears have been sighted. Staffers will also continue to explore options for addressing the tethering question and report back to Council in 30 to 60 days.
Property owners still fighting
Owners of property in a recently annexed area near Airport Road resisted city staff's request to apply residential zoning.
After a lengthy legal battle, the involuntary annexation took effect at the end of March. The N.C. Court of Appeals ruled in Asheville's favor last year, and in February, the state Supreme Court dismissed the case. The ruling gave Asheville 60 days from March 1 to implement zoning, and city staff has recommended a variety of uses, including residential, mixed, commercial and industrial.
But some property owners maintained that one particular area proposed for residential zoning should really be commercial. Jim Diaz, one of several people owning affected parcels along Bradley Branch Road, noted that despite the sector's proposed RS-8 (residential, single-family, eight units per acre) designation, it is sandwiched between two areas to be zoned Commercial/Industrial. Diaz presented a petition asking the city to reconsider the zoning.
Robert Coxe argued that the area is commercial in nature, noting that there are group homes on two of the parcels in question and a small landscaping business on another one.
The property owners say an RS-8 designation would limit both the ways they could use their property and its market value. But Urban Planner Blake Esselstyn explained that the residential designation was intended to preserve potential affordable housing, saying the property owners' petition was news to him.
Council members unanimously approved all the zoning designations except the Bradley Branch cluster, opting to hold off while city staff re-examines the suitability of Commercial/Industrial zoning there.