Asheville City Council: one for the record books

Despite the snow and with much of the city shutting down due to winter weather, Asheville City Council met early Jan. 28, wrapping up its business in an extraordinarily short 19 minutes.

Mayor Esther Manheimer noted that the last time Council postponed a meeting due to bad weather was during the 1998 blizzard, so “we’re not going to cancel because of a few inches.” However, Council member Cecil Bothwell was absent due to the weather.

Aiding the short length of the meeting, the major item on the agenda — a controversial development proposed for East Chestnut Street near downtown — was withdrawn early last week. That left Council to consider changes to the city’s lighting ordinance, a move to bring the Board of Adjustment in line with state rules, and a vote on adding documents on conditional zoning to what’s recorded in the Register of Deeds.

On that last item, Manheimer, a property attorney, noted that the Coalition of Asheville Neighborhoods endorsed the measure as providing greater transparency. She said, “I’m excited anyone’s excited about recording things with the Register of Deeds.”

But at the same time, the changes to the Board of Adjustment rules make it harder to halt a project. The Board of Adjustment decides whether a particular development proposal or variance meets the technical city rules. Now, to bring the board’s rules into line with new state laws, Council changed the rules so that conditional zoning only needs majority support to proceed, not a supermajority as before, and makes it easier to request variances, reflecting changes the legislature made to the operating rules of boards of adjustment across the state.

The lighting amendments encourage a shift to more sustainable lights that use less energy and create less glare. When the topic came up, Development Services Director Shannon Tuch noted that staff originally wanted stricter rules but are hampered by the technology and infrastructure commonly available in the area. Jason Walls, of Duke Energy, praised the new rules, asserting the city struck a good balance between a push for sustainability and the realities of the current lighting situation.

Council recessed the meeting until 10 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 30, when they’ll go into closed session to interview candidates for the City Attorney position. According to the city clerk, no action is expected.

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