Asheville City Council

Asheville City Council agreed at its May 15 session to begin the process of annexing three areas abutting city limits.

The law won: Asheville City Council may boost the police budget by $1 million, providing for more personnel and additional tools to combat drugs and other crimes. photo by Jonathan Welch

Unlike recent Council meetings when annexations brought several protestors to the mike, Council’s decision met with no resistance this time. Only one opponent, Biltmore Lake resident Sarah Garr, attended, and she declined to speak. Council’s action, she told reporters, only signaled the city’s intent. The real battle will come later when those residents affected by the possible annexations have their chance to speak out at a public hearing.

With Mayor Terry Bellamy absent, Council decided in three separate 5-1 votes to move toward annexing the Sardis Road area, the Schenck Gateway, and a portion of Biltmore Lake. Council Member Carl Mumpower, who has consistently opposed involuntary annexations, cast the lone dissenting vote each time.

The areas comprise approximately 854 acres. City staff pegged them as annexation targets because of their urban nature and proximity to city limits, noted city planner Julia Cogburn.

The annexations are by no means a done deal. Council’s votes merely set the stage for it to consider annexing those areas under a schedule dictated by state law. If Council ends up deciding to proceed with the annexations, however, all three areas could be part of the city by the end of the year. First, said Cogburn, Council would have to adopt a plan for providing water, fire, police and other services at its May 22 meeting. A public information meeting, scheduled for July 2, would follow. Then a public hearing on the annexations would need to be held July 24. If Council decided to follow through, it would have to adopt the ordinances on Aug. 14. The effective dates of the annexations would be Dec. 31.

In recent years the city has pursued few involuntary annexations, but under state law it can annex areas even if residents object. If that were to happen, residents’ only recourse would be to sue.

Cogburn noted that the information meeting was perilously close to the July 4 holiday, which “could open us up to criticism,” she said. City Manager Gary Jackson agreed that July 2 was “not an ideal date” but said the city would “go above and beyond” to make sure that affected residents have access to all the information they need. Jackson said information could be made available on the city’s Web site (wwww.ashevillenc.gov), and that videotapes of the public information meeting could be shown on the city government’s TV channel (Charter Cable channel 10).

Council member Brownie Newman commented that it’s “certainly not a fun process” for either the city or those targeted for annexation, many of whom might at least be initially opposed to it, but added, “I do think it’s a fair and democratic process.”

Biltmore Lake boom

While setting its sights on annexing part of Biltmore Lake, the Council also approved a conditional use permit for the next phase of development there: a 103-unit, single-family-home development off Enka Lake Road and Orvis Stone Circle. Although within the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction, the site is not part of the proposed Biltmore Lake annexation.

Council members lauded the development plan for preserving open space, including an uninterrupted lakeshore buffer. Based on the number of units in the planned development, developer Biltmore Farms is required to retain at least 1.18 acres as open space. The plans, however, call for the development to retain 12.39 acres.

While praising the retention of green space, Council member Robin Cape asked if the developer planned to open some of the area to public use. She noted that privately owned Beaver Lake, which is open to the public, has become a cherished community asset in north Asheville. Will Buie, representing Biltmore Farms, explained that Enka Lake’s previous owner, the manufacturer BASF, had long barred public entry. Noting that homeowners at the lake have complained about littering and acts of vandalism committed by trespassers, Buie observed that they weren’t likely to support a move toward open access.

Paying for the park

Although the public may never get access to Enka Lake, Council did take a step toward creating a public park (Overlook) on a 30-acre site on Beaucatcher Mountain near downtown.

In a 5-1 vote (with Mumpower against), Council agreed to undertake a lease-purchase agreement with the Trust for Public Land, which had originally said it would assemble the funds to buy the land and then convey it to the city. Mumpower balked after City Attorney Bob Oast explained that the agreement would make the city liable if the trust weren’t able to raise expected funds from the state and private donors. Although Mumpower had earlier voted for the city to pitch in $575,000 for the land acquisition, calling the deal an outstanding bargain, he said he was uncomfortable with the sudden increase in liability.

Oast said the agreement was necessary because only $1.4 million of the purchase money would be in hand by the closing. The three-year lease-purchase agreement between the Trust and the city, which would eventually hold title to the park and be responsible for its upkeep, would equal the purchase money not yet in hand by the Trust.

Oast and Cape, however, tried to assure Mumpower that the total $2.6 million needed to buy the land could pretty much be counted on. And Oast added that even in the worst-case scenario, the city would still be buying a prime piece of land at a considerable discount.

A Council member scorned?

In a budget session held before the Council’s formal meeting, a majority of Council members signaled their intent to raise funding for the Asheville Police Department by more than $1 million next fiscal year to $17.9 million, mainly to help combat drug trafficking. The increase is a compromise from a recent $2 million request from Chief William Hogan.

The move didn’t sit well with Mumpower, who has signaled recently that he might push for more money to battle drugs in the upcoming fiscal year if there were benchmarks to measure the success of new drug eradication efforts. The mood turned decidedly sour when Vice Mayor Holly Jones told Mumpower that his comment period was over. Declaring that he was being censored, Mumpower walked out of Council chambers in protest.

In an e-mail sent to Council members and the media the following day, Mumpower railed against the treatment he received and said that the Council seemed to be reneging upon a commitment it had made in January to eliminate open-air drug markets.

“Last night, when I attempted to raise this concern, I was repeatedly interrupted by the Vice-Mayor and other members of Council,” Mumpower wrote. “This censorship of an individual Council member’s efforts to raise concerns regarding Council and city staff accountability for upholding established policy was ill advised. It is my intention to seek further guidance on the legal limits that may be placed on a Council member’s ability to raise policy concerns. Should future efforts be made to mute open Council deliberation during budget discussions, I will, again, leave the chambers and/or take other actions as advised by counsel.

“The core issue centers on an established policy that has been given to city and police administration for implementation,” Mumpower continued. “It is their responsibility to ask for the resources necessary to fulfill that policy. It is our responsibility to, in turn, arrange for provision of those resources. Both actions are a key to a formula for accountability and success in eliminating our open-air drug market in all Asheville neighborhoods.

“Both the staff and Council are stepping away from the equation of accountability,” he added. “I actively resist the contention that an open-air drug market is inevitable reality in Asheville, and that we are powerless to eliminate it. In January, the Council majority evidently shared this view. Once again, however, you are contemplating a course of continued failure at the expense of those vulnerable to the impacts of hard drugs.”

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