Leicester residents again failed to win the Asheville City Council’s endorsement of their attempt to incorporate. But the closeness of the vote at Council’s Jan. 8 meeting and a subsequent discussion by Council members made it clear that the campaign has gained support in recent months and will most likely be heard from again.
When the issue last came before Council in June, it didn’t even find enough support to proceed to a vote. This time, the resolution narrowly missed on a 3-4 vote, with Council members Bill Russell and Carl Mumpower and Mayor Terry Bellamy giving Leicester the nod.
Besides fending off future annexation, supporters say incorporation would enable Leicester residents to elect their own government and steer the future of development in the community. But at 68 square miles—compared with about 44 square miles for Asheville—the proposed area is too big to sit well with some on Council. In any case, Council approval wouldn’t settle the matter: The North Carolina General Assembly will make the final decision. But Asheville’s support would be taken into consideration when the issue comes up in Raleigh.
“A small but important part,” said Leicester resident Pat Cothran, “is to supply a resolution by Asheville City Council.”
Cothran, who appeared in the place of interim Leicester Town Council member Randy Teague, said the new town would take over four services now handled by Buncombe County: street lighting, law enforcement, fire services, and planning and zoning. Additionally, she said, Leicester would include in its charter a promise not to forcibly annex surrounding areas. But Cothran cited two key reasons for incorporation: the close proximity of Asheville and the “commercial explosion” taking place in parts of Leicester.
In his report to Council, City Attorney Bob Oast noted that the proposed town boundaries exclude a portion of the present Leicester Township that lies within Asheville’s extraterritorial jurisdiction (a one-mile-deep ring around Asheville that is partly under city control because of the potential for future annexation).
Council member Brownie Newman said, “I am in favor of Leicester being incorporated if that’s the desire of the people.” But he added that he’d like to see further discussion about “which areas are logically part of the future of Leicester and which are logically part of the future of Asheville.”
Council member Robin Cape seemed to agree, saying, “I do want to support Leicester making their move forward, but [I want] to encourage Leicester to reconsider their boundaries.”
Bellamy, meanwhile, said she’d spoken with those pushing for incorporation and was prepared to support a resolution endorsing it. “I do look forward to working with you if you are incorporated,” she said. “But it’s not Asheville that is going to determine your future—it is Raleigh.
And although Mumpower made a motion to support the effort, he also offered words of caution, saying, “I understand why you are afraid of Asheville. I would suggest to you that being a city is not easy.”
Russell, who seconded Mumpower’s motion, also worried about the cost of developing a government for “an area the size of Washington, D.C.”
For Vice Mayor Jan Davis, the main issue was protecting Asheville’s interests. “My concern is what this does to the city I represent,” he said. Davis added that Leicester could probably get unanimous approval from the city if it reconsidered its proposed boundaries. Fear of a growing Asheville, he maintained, is not a sound reason for forming a government. “The right reason is to provide services for your citizens, not for protection.”
And though Mumpower’s motion failed by a slim margin, Council members unanimously agreed to meet with Leicester representatives and discuss the proposed boundaries.
Near the end of the meeting, however, some confusion arose as to whether the whole Council or only a committee would attend those meetings.
Obviously frustrated by the confusion, Bellamy argued that the entire Council was obliged to participate in order to fulfill its commitment to Leicester residents. “I feel like we represented that the Council as a whole would sit down with them,” she said. Her colleagues, however, preferred to appoint an ad hoc group; that motion was approved 6-1, with Bellamy opposed.
Code of honor
A change in the city’s sign ordinance will require businesses flying American flags to follow federal guidelines.
On July 4 last year, TNT Fireworks was cited for flying flags over two temporarily erected tents (see “Handle With Care,” Sept. 19, 2007 Xpress). Although the sign ordinance already prohibited using flags as promotional devices—as does the nonbinding U.S. Flag Code—the incident caused an uproar in the community. That prompted city staff to propose that flags flown in accordance with the federal code be exempted from the city’s ordinance, but that those violating the code would be considered advertisements rather than patriotic displays.
The Mayor’s Committee for Veterans Affairs unanimously supported the change, according to the staff report But some in attendance spoke against the measure.
“I don’t think we should be in the flag business,” Mumpower declared. “I don’t think we should be doing the federal government’s work.” The argument, he noted, is the same one used in the past by those who refused to support his proposals to crack down on illegal immigrants.
Leicester resident Alan Ditmore questioned the constitutionality of the rule. “I’m not sure it’s consistent with the First Amendment to single out the American flag,” he said. “How are we going to exempt one flag and disregard the others?”
Nonetheless, Newman’s motion (seconded by Council member Holly Jones) was approved on a 6-1 vote, with Mumpower opposed.
Preservation Society’s new home
The Preservation Society of Asheville & Buncombe County will be moving into new digs, but the location—Grove Park on Charlotte Street—has some residents worried about the long-term impact of rezoning the city-owned property.
The group plans to renovate a small structure at the southeast corner of the park, but this requires rezoning it from “residential” to “neighborhood business.” The rezoning had been approved in 2001, but the Preservation Society was unable to make the move at that time and the zoning reverted to residential, city Planner Julie Cogburn explained.
Jim Coman, the group’s president, said the building would be used primarily for meetings, though he noted that trucks would need to access the property during the renovation.
Most members of the public who spoke supported having the Preservation Society as a neighbor, but they worried that rezoning the entire parcel could expose the property to more development.
“The park may become more vulnerable in the future,” warned Grace Curry, president of the Grove Park-Sunset Mountain Neighborhood Association.
Others raised concerns about parking and traffic; Macon Avenue, the main access road to the Grove Park Inn, intersects Charlotte Street directly across from the park. But Coman, who works in the county Planning Department, assured Council that the group would have very little impact on the area.
“We want to be the quietest neighbors anyone could possibly have,” he said.
The rezoning passed unanimously.
Despite uncertainty about the future of Asheville’s holiday parade, Council members unanimously voted to continue supporting the annual event. The city contributes about $20,000 worth of in-kind services, such as parking and police protection, but a proposal to hand off the parade to Asheville has prompted new concerns (see “Parade Rest” elsewhere in this issue).
The following boards and commissions have vacancies: Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, Board of Adjustment, Citizens/Police Advisory Committee, Civic Center Commission, the Community Relations Council, Sustainability Advisory Committee on Energy & the Environment, Fair Housing Commission, Film Commission, Firemen’s Relief Fund, Greenway Commission, Metropolitan Sewerage District Board, Public Art Board, Transit Commission and Tree Commission. Call 259-5601 for an application form.