Since 1965, skateboarding (and rollerskating) in downtown Asheville has been illegal. But that long ban might soon come to an end. At its April 24 meeting, City Council voted 5-1 to direct staff to draft rules for legal skateboarding on downtown roadways. (Mayor Terry Bellamy, who's running for Congress, was absent for a third-straight meeting.)
Under the proposal, skateboarders would have to abide by a “four wheels down” rule and restrictions similar to those applying to cyclists.
The move came after numerous skateboarders packed the Council chambers, asserting that the rules unfairly target as sustainable method of transportation.
“What we're doing has nothing to do with recreational skateboarding,” Rob Sebrell, owner of PUSH skateshop, told Council. “We're just trying to get from point A to point B. We're just asking for the same rights a bicyclist would have, and we're willing to follow the same rules in return for that.”
In an unusual situation, instead of a definite, single recommendation from staff or a committee, Council was faced with these two options: strengthen the ban on skateboarding downtown or start the ball rolling on new rules allowing it. “We're making sausage in front of everyone,” Vice Mayor Esther Manheimer noted of the process.
City staff backed the former option, citing concerns about safety.
“It's difficult for city staff to recommend skateboarding on the roadways,” Assistant City Manager Jeff Richardson told Council. “Just because of the dangers that are associated with that.”
Skateboarding is prohibited on roadways and sidewalks throughout the Central Business District and on roadways in the rest of the city.
However, Council member Gordon Smith said he thought the skateboarders' complaints had some validity and noted that “there was no data presented to suggest that this form of transportation, skateboarding, was any more dangerous than bicycling.” He added that there “are models for using skateboards as transportation.”
The point was echoed by many of the speakers, who added that they feel the police often unfairly ticket them, and confiscate their boards, measures that city staff noted are not in the ordinance.
“It's not the city's job to protect us from ourselves,” Chad McClure told Council.
Not everyone was so sure. Manheimer, recalling problems caused by groups of skateboarders in the days when downtown was mostly abandoned, noted that “I don't want to go back to that.” Council member Jan Davis, who cast the lone dissenting vote, said that he felt the number of pedestrians downtown, especially on weekends, could lead to safety concerns if skateboarding is allowed.
Council also held a public hearing on a proposal from a state General Assembly study committee that the city of Asheville turn over its water system to the Metropolitan Sewerage District.
The reason for the hearing, as articulated by Council member Chris Pelly, was that the study committee hadn't held a single hearing within city limits (one was held at the WNC Agricultural Center while the rest were in Raleigh).
During the hearing, the vast majority of the speakers sharply criticized the committee's recommendation, especially singling out the actions of its chair, Rep. Tim Moffitt.
“I urge City Council to strongly resolve now to save our water system and to plan to mount a strong legal defense,” resident Peter Gentling told Council.
“They imply that no water system in the state that built its own system with user fees can ever have an assurance that they permanently have ownership of that system,” Barry Summers said. “You're going to be getting more support as this goes on from other communities, other entities,” he told Council. “I urge you not to give in to this blackmail.”
Many of the speakers highlighted Moffitt's membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group that has helped craft privatization legislation across the county. They asserted that the main purpose of the move was to use Asheville and Buncombe water users' funds to subsidize growth in Henderson County.
“These are not the words of a statesman, these are the words of a bully,” resident Heather Rayburn said of Moffitt's assertions. She compared him and other legislators to characters from the novel A Game of Thrones, “nursing personal vendettas and living in the past.”
In other action, Council:
• Approved 6-0 the formation of a nine-member Neighborhood Advisory Committee, with one member from each of the city's five major zip codes and four selected from the city at-large.
• Directed the city's sustainability advisory committee to study the recommendations of the Asheville-Buncombe Food Policy Council to strengthen the city's food-security situation. (See “Asheville-Buncombe Food Policy Council Moves Forward,” in this issue's Food section.)
• Heard a proposal from the Rev. Amy Cantrell of Be Loved House to cooperate on creating a legal camping site for Asheville's homeless. Cantrell and about 20 other people had rallied outside City Hall before the meeting to press their case.
“It's a crime to be homeless when the shelters are full, and you have no safe place to lay your head,” she said. “We need safe, legal space for people to camp.”
She added that she hoped to cooperate with the city and other organizations to make a workable camp space a reality.
• Agreed to give the Mountain Area Information Network 30 days to try to work out a deal to preserve its use of a city-owned broadcasting tower. MAIN currently owes the city $37,000 on its lease, and was asking for a 60-day extension, hoping to craft a deal where its current debt is forgiven and the local media nonprofit is given rent-free use of the tower in the future.
During those 30 days, City Manager Gary Jackson said, staff can determine if MAIN is still “a viable organization we can contract with.” He noted that the city has made attempts to work out a payment plan with MAIN for months.
— David Forbes can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 137, or email@example.com.