Commissioners approve African-American Heritage Commission, water for CTS residents

On Feb. 4, the Buncombe County Commissioners had a varied agenda, their chambers bustling with groups of citizens there to make their feelings heard on matters ranging from heritage to economic growth.

The major item was the approval of the joint city-county African-American Heritage Commission. Asheville City Council gave its endorsement last month.

Marvin Chambers, one of the leaders of the effort and an activist in Asheville’s civil rights struggles, pointed out that many don’t know the history of the area’s African-American community, a history he said is “beyond reproach” compared to any city in the state. Many stories, he emphasized, were passed down through families that were scattered during the urban renewal projects of the 1970s, when neighborhoods were razed or split, making it more important than ever to protect that history for future generations.

Many other members of the effort and supporters from the public spoke, and organizations like the YMI, the NAACP, and the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources have all endorsed the new commission, which aims to help coordinate and support efforts to preserve and celebrate the area’s heritage. Other benefits include improved economic development, especially through increased connections to Atlanta and Charlotte, and showing the truly diverse history of Asheville in a way that hasn’t been displayed before, supporters mentioned.

Buncombe commissioners all voiced their support for the move; their approval was unanimous.

The board also:

• Voted unanimously, as part of the consent agenda, to bring city water to residents living near the contaminated former CTS of Asheville site. Many residents have faced serious issues with groundwater contamination seeping into their wells. Tate MacQueen, who lives about a mile from the site and has been one of the most outspoken advocates for residents who want to see the site cleaned up, thanked the commissioners and said the installation of water marked a major step forward.

• Heard a presentation about Moogfest, scheduled for April 23-27. Moog’s Brand Director Emmy Parker said that the company made the choice to refocus the event more around knowledge and economic development, shift it to the spring and bring in international technology and science companies. They hope that the event will draw visitors to the area during the week and create a $30 million economic impact, increasing Asheville’s profile as an innovative destination, similar to the effect SXSW has had for Austin, Texas.

• Amended the county zoning processes. One change makes it easier for zoning and development requests to pass the Board of Adjustment, which determines whether a project meets the technical rules. The changes were part of an overhaul required by new state laws. Other changes allowed staff to directly propose alterations to rules, something that the commissioners supported as simplifying the existing process. These rules changes passed unanimously.

The commissioners also created the “conference center/resort” zoning designation, which staff claimed will give more flexibility to a number of such businesses operating in the area. Commissioner Mike Fryar, however, said that he was opposed to all expansion of zoning rules. The measure passed 6-1, with Fryar against.

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