Swannanoa’s march to become an incorporated town will have to wait a little longer after City Council on May 13 postponed its approval of the controversial proposal.
State law allows certain municipalities that lie adjacent to proposed incorporated areas to weigh in on such plans, based on the fact that a new incorporation next door could have a negative impact. Asheville’s approval is not necessary for incorporation proponents to succeed in their quest, but disapproval would mean that a three-fifth’s supermajority of both the state House and Senate would be required for the incorporation, said Dave Alexander, who leads the Swannanoa Incorporation Task Force.
After considerable discussion and a bit of confusion on legal issues stemming from the absence of City Attorney Bob Oast, Council unanimously agreed to take up the matter again at its May 27 meeting. The delay is aimed to give city staff and incorporation proponents time to reach consensus on where the proposed town’s western boundary with Asheville would lie. The city wants that boundary to stop at the edge of the 28805 zip code, while proponents argue that would exclude certain homes and gravesites inextricably linked to Swannanoa, most notably the gravesite and Bee Tree Creek homestead of Samuel Davidson, the first European settler in the area.
The city proposed the zip-code boundary because, said Interim Planning Director Shannon Tuch, it represented a service-delivery boundary, was likely to already have a surveyed boundary, and would better protect Asheville’s interests by creating an added buffer. Plus, she added, “the 28805 zip code is identified as an Asheville zip code.” The city’s proposed boundary would decrease the proposed 22.05-square-mile town’s size by approximately a half-square mile, she said
Council also expressed concern that several large tracts of undeveloped land included within the proposed town are too rural to be included in a municipality, and therefore it would like such areas to have the right to opt out of incorporation. Council member Brownie Newman worried that owners of the tracts would likely face pressure to develop the land if faced with double taxation. In addition to county taxes, the new town’s tax rate would be five cents per $100 valuation.
Another sticking point for Council is whether it can condition its approval on a promise by proponents to hold a voter referendum on incorporation, given the rancor it has caused in the affected area. Afraid to overstep its authority, Council said it preferred an opinion by Oast before going further, since state law doesn’t proscribe a referendum, though it does require a successful petition of a majority of property owners.
“Can we lock in a referendum? If not, then this is nothing but a forced annexation and I can’t support [the incorporation approval],” said Council member Carl Mumpower.
For a complete report from City Council’s May 13 meeting, check out the May 21 edition of Xpress.
— Hal L. Millard, staff writer