Asheville Council ponders sidewalks, Sunday bus service and stormwater

Asheville leaders could vote later this month to spend millions of dollars on sidewalks and greenways as part of a capital improvement program for the coming year. The budget also funds Sunday bus service in the city, starting Jan. 1. Yet some residents, and City Council member Chris Pelly, voiced concern during the June 10 budget hearing that such the sidewalk investment would fail to adequately address what’s needed.

Pellya longtime neighborhood advocate — called the spending plan “inadequate,” noting the poor condition of many sidewalks in the city and the need for new ones. 

City officials propose spending $8.6 million — much of that on sidewalks and greenways — in the 2014-15 fiscal year as part of a capital improvement plan totaling $49 million over the next five years. The budget includes $1.75 million for sidewalks on Hendersonville Road in South Asheville, money for greenways, $100,000 for neighborhood sidewalks and other multimodal transportation projects and improvements. 

The city’s operating budget totals $147.5 million, slightly less than for the fiscal year that ends this month. City leaders are scheduled to adopt the budget on June 24.

While it would hold the line on property taxes, the proposed budget includes an increase in monthly fees property owners pay toward the city’s stormwater management system. Single-family homes currently pay a set rate of $2.34 per month, but the proposed budget would base fees on the square footage of the impervious surface of a residence or business. The proposal caps homeowner fees $5.50 per month.

The increase would generate nearly $1.9 million in revenue for the city, helping fund the installation of more drainage pipes and address backlogs in maintenance and repairs to the aging system.

Former vice mayor Chris Peterson, a local business owner, urged Council not to approve it, saying, “You’re affecting every household out here.” He questioned the rationale for the increase. “I ask that you not pass this on every citizen.”

But the stormwater plan drew support from Council member Cecil Bothwell, who called it an “essential safety matter for city.”

It’s also a federal mandate that municipalities address stormwater issues.

 

The fee increase would take effect July 1, the beginning of the fiscal year. It would coincide with a water rate hike the city approved in April, and it would come a year after the city raised its property tax rate, from 42 cents to 46 cents per $100 of assessed value, to help fund road maintenance and economic development projects.

The proposed budget also includes funding for city buses to start running nine of its 16 bus routes on Sundays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. beginning Jan. 1.

The extra day would cost the city about $220,000, possibly offset by a federal grant. The funding also would help go toward improvements on the C route.

Overall, the proposal has drawn praise from riders and transit advocates who have long called on the city to extend its hours and add Sunday service, with many riders facing difficulties finding or keeping jobs requiring that they work weekends.

The proposal is also part of a broad plan by the city to boost ridership, with bus fares expected to cover only 16 percent of the $5.8 million the city expects to spend on public transit in the 2014-15 fiscal year.

In other actions at the Tuesday meeting:

• At the request of the applicant, local veterinarian Mark Ledyard, City Council tabled a revised proposal to rezone a historic property on Sunset Parkway in North Asheville. Last month, the Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously rejected Ledyard’s proposal to create a canine rehab and day-care center on the less-than-one-acre property, once a church. He revised the plan, dropping the day-care component of the project and making other changes for the project, which include renovating the 1920’s structure, built originally as a women’s club with an auditorium.

• Council also tabled a revision to its Unified Development Ordinance that would permit a greater density of residential development in some commercial districts. The amendment is meant to “consider using housing as part of a mixed-use development, or as the primary use of underutilized commercial property,” a staff report said.

For Council’s full “action agenda” of items approved on June 10, click here: NEWSCouncilActionsaa6-10-14.

Council’s next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, June 24, in the second-floor chambers in City Hall. Public hearings scheduled for that meeting include:

a. Considering a conditional zoning of property located at 573 Fairview Road from Neighborhood Business District to Community Business I District/Conditional Zoning for the use of an existing building as an art instruction facility, and a request for landscaping modifications.

b. A rezoning 226 Hilliard Avenue from Regional Business District and RS-8 Residential Single-Family High Density District to Central Business District.

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