While the meeting wasn’t particularly long, Asheville City Council dealt with several major topics tonight:
• Council approved new rules allowing local agriculture throughout the city, while setting rules for storage and urban farming structures. The changes are the latest in a years-long push to allow more farming in Asheville. In 2009, the city relaxed rules on keeping some animals, like chickens and bees, within city limits. Last year, it also allowed more tailgate markets in more locations.
City staff had originally proposed to restrict selling produce stands to weekends, due to the city’s tradition of limiting commercial activity in residential. However, a representative of the Asheville-Buncombe Food Policy Council requested that in order to increase access to local food, the city remove that restriction and allow produce stands throughout the week. Most of Council agreed, with Council member Gordon Smith, a major proponent of urban agriculture, saying that the city’s issues with hunger and a lack of fresh food outweighed considerations about limiting commerce. Others on Council also said that a city review of the new rules next year should catch any problems. The exception was Mayor Terry Bellamy, who asserted that there hadn’t been enough deliberation, and that allowing produce stalls on weekdays was too drastic a change without more input from neighborhoods.
Council approved the changes unanimously, except for allowing produce stands throughout the week, which passed 6-1, with Bellamy against.
• At Council’s request, Asheville Police Department Chief William Anderson discussed issues about an increase in downtown crime, burglaries, and the department’s treatment of the homeless. Anderson highlighted the APD’s arrest earlier today of suspects they believe responsible for break-ins in Kenilworth and West Asheville, and asserted that despite vacancies in the department, they’re using overtime to make sure there are sufficient patrols.
Bellamy asserted she was concerned about topless women in downtown, and had heard from families who were “livid” at seeing them. She noted that on Oct. 21, city staff will meet with concerned downtown merchants about the topless women.
In recent weeks, the APD has focused on a new approach emphasizing arrests over citations in response to a sharp rise in crime in the city’s core. The approach has seen pushback from some homeless activists and religious leaders, who assert that it runs counter to the city’s generally more service-focused approach on helping the homeless and getting them into housing. But Council member Cecil Bothwell claimed it was driven by an increase in criminal behavior and a need to “maintain civility” rather than any shift on the APD’s part, and that the police must strike a challenging balance between “humanity and crime prevention.”
Not everyone agreed. Speaking during public comment time, Matt Shepley, who runs a local nonprofit for veterans, said he’s seen APD officers take a more zero tolerance approach towards the homeless, including the use of “stop and frisk” on homeless people in Pritchard Park. Amy Cantrell, who heads Beloved House, said 38 “faith leaders” had submitted a petition to Council expressing their concern, but she was still optimistic due to Council’s record and a recent meeting with Anderson.
• City staff will seek information for a summer event to replace the now-defunct Bele Chere. The measure is a “request for information” to see how much interest there is a summer event, with the criteria left intentionally broad to allow some “new, exciting ideas” to come forward, as Vice Mayor Esther Manheimer put it. Most of Council said they wanted an event very different from Bele Chere, which was ended this year due to concerns about budget and impact.
The measure passed 6-1. Bellamy voted against the proposal, asserting that it wasn’t specific enough and hadn’t gone through the proper process.
• Council unanimously passed a development agreement for $3.8 million in funding for the Eagle Market Place project in The Block neighborhood.
Bellamy said the move showed that “progress is slow, but it does happen.” The Block was a thriving African-American commercial and community hub that was devastated by the “urban renewal” programs of the 1970s.