Asheville City Council: A rather curious community meeting

All ears: Council members listen as east Asheville residents voice concerns about the fate of the city’s water system during a Jan. 31 community meeting. photo by Bill Rhodes
All ears: Council members listen as east Asheville residents voice concerns about the fate of the city’s water system during a Jan. 31 community meeting. photo by Bill Rhodes

The water system wasn’t on the agenda, but east Asheville residents flooded City Council members with concerns and comments about it during a Jan. 31 community meeting. About 50 people showed up for the meeting, held in the theater at Haw Creek Elementary. All Council members were present except Gordon Smith, who was sick.

It started innocently enough when, during public comment, someone said he was “curious about this water issue.”

Pouring out ideas

About a week earlier, the state Legislature’s Metropolitan Sewerage/Water System Committee had begun meeting in Raleigh. Chaired by Buncombe County Rep. Tim Moffitt, the committee will make a recommendation concerning who should control the city’s water system.

Vice Mayor Esther Manheimer, one of Council’s two liaisons to the study committee (along with Council member Jan Davis), urged concerned residents to attend the group’s next meeting, which will be held in Buncombe County. “That’s the moment where the citizens of Asheville can come speak to the study committee and let them know your thoughts and concerns,” she said.

Manheimer also encouraged residents to attend the League of Women Voters’ Feb. 13 public forum on the issue. “We’re really working hard to make sure that we have a stake in … what happens to our system,” she declared.

How many of you all think we should privatize the water system?” asked Mayor Terry Bellamy. No hands went up, and several people shouted “No!”

Bellamy then asked, “What about combining with MSD?” Again, no hands were raised. “Keep it as a city utility?” the mayor said, and many people nodded in agreement, raising their hands. After the meeting, Council member Chris Pelly, who is president of the Haw Creek Community Association, said this was the first time he’d seen such unanimity concerning the fate of the water system.

“Please, for God’s sake,” one resident exclaimed, “Tell your neighbors, grab them by their chinny-chin-chin and let them know what’s going on with this, because it affects all of us!”

Where the sidewalk ends

But the water system wasn’t the only thing on residents’ minds. Transportation Director Ken Putnam gave an update on completed, current and future sidewalk projects. The city, he noted, has recently completed 1.93 miles of sidewalk costing $641,090, about $63 per linear foot (see sidebar, “Down the Road(s)”).

After Putnam spoke, resident Kim Engel talked about the East Asheville Sidewalk Initiative. EASI, she said, is "'just a bunch of regular people. We've been getting together for years, and we really helped get the sidewalks here in east Asheville." The group's current focus, noted Engel, is getting better sidewalks in the Tunnel Road corridor; a broader goal is getting the city to conduct a corridor study for the area. "We want to create more of a neighborhood feel here in east Asheville,” she explained, adding, “There still is a lack of connectivity.”

Public Works Director Cathy Ball said there’s no question that Azalea Road needs attention. She discussed plans for the Lake Craig Flood Management — Azalea Road Project, which include: repaving Azalea Road and reconfiguring the entrance, diverting the Swannanoa River away from the road, stabilizing the banks, extending a water line to the soccer complex and renovating the Lake Craig Dam.

Teed off

During the public-comment portion of the meeting, several speakers raised concerns about the Municipal Golf Course, which has lost money for the last four years.

“They’ve got a great staff that are up at dawn. You’ll see them out working hard, but numbers are just not adding up,” noted Robert Green, who owns a golf store on Fairview Road. “To fix it is simple: It just requires some basic mathematics that my daughter here at Haw Creek Elementary can do. I would implore you to make those simple but hard choices. You can do it, and you should do it,” Green said passionately.

Other business

City Manager Gary Jackson talked about the city’s Strategic Operating Plan. Asheville's tax rate, he said, is lower than those of High Point, Greensboro, Durham, Greenville, Chapel Hill, Winston-Salem and Concord but higher than what residents of Raleigh, Wilmington and Cary pay.

— Caitlin Byrd can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 140, or at cbyrd@mountainx.com.

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