Asheville City Council approves budget

Asheville City Council unanimously approved a $147 million budget June 24, holding the property tax rate steady and committing to major new pedestrian infrastructure projects such as sidewalks, greenways and Sunday bus service.

The final budget, which goes into effect July 1, had only slight modifications since it was initially presented back in May. The property tax rate will remain at 46 cents per $100 of assessed value. However, the city is raising the monthly fees that property owners pay for using the stormwater management system. Single-family homes currently pay a set rate of $2.34 per month, but, under the new budget,  fees would be based on the square footage of the impervious surface of a residence or business. The proposal caps fees at $5.50 per month for owners of homes that are more than 4,000 square feet.

Asheville will spend about $8.6 million this year toward implementation of a five-year capital improvement plan that ultimately calls for a $132 million investment in sidewalks, greenways and road improvements.

Despite some compromises, City Council members said they were happy with the plan. “I’m proud that we’re taking on the five-year capital improvements plan. … There’s a lot of exciting projects ahead,” said Council member Chris Pelly, who based his 2011 campaign largely on improving sidewalks. He successfully pushed for changes in the last couple of weeks: $100,000 that had been planned for Charlotte Street improvements and a Town Branch Greenway project will instead go toward building new sidewalks in areas that don’t currently have them, such as sections of Lakeshore Drive and New Haw Creek Road.

“Some of us would like to see more funding, but it’s a step forward,” Pelly added. “And we can revisit it in future.”

The plan still calls for significant changes along the Charlotte Street corridor, including wider sidewalks and biking space.

Only one member of the public spoke out on June 24 about the spending plan: Former Asheville Mayor Ken Michalove expressed concerns that it doesn’t make any provisions if management of Pack Place changes hands. The city is currently negotiating a new lease agreement with the nonprofit, which is charged with managing the downtown building of the same name. It houses the Asheville Art Museum and Diana Wortham Theatre. Amid the uncertainty, in April, the Colburn Earth Museum announced it was changing locations.

The city has reportedly set a deadline of July 31 to decide on a course forward.

Council members didn’t respond to Michalove’s critique.

In other actions:

• Council unanimously voted to expand the Central Business District to include 1.68 acres of land at the corner of Hilliard and Ashland avenues. The zoning change was recommended by the Downtown Commission and allows buildings up to 145 feet tall. The previous zoning designation limited them to 80 feet. The Downtown Master Plan recommends allowing the kind of higher-density development the change will allow at the site, which is in the fast- growing South Slope neighborhood.

• Council unanimously approved a zoning change that allows Roots & Wings School of Design to turn existing buildings at 573 Fairview Road into offices, instructional services, artist studios and an arts education facility. “It seems like a really great reuse of a building and public space,” said Council member Cecil Bothwell.

• Assistant City Manager Paul Fetherston provided an update about goings-on at the General Assembly in Raleigh. He said lawmakers are considering changing the law to require moped riders to have licenses and ban them from riding on sidewalks. He also noted that lawmakers continue to negotiate over giving economic incentives to filmmakers and other budgetary items. He said he doesn’t expect legislators to hammer out a final state budget until at least July 12.

Here’s Council full “action agenda” of items approved: ActionAgendaAsheville062414

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About Jake Frankel
Jake Frankel is an award-winning writer and reporter who enjoys covering a wide range of topics, from politics and government to business, education and entertainment.

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