For the second Asheville City Council meeting in a row, the issue of the city’s possible involvement in a lawsuit against new rules allowing more clear-cutting around billboards was a major topic. This time, Council went into closed session to discuss its legal options for joining the fray.
City Attorney Bob Oast laid out the situation, quipping that the state legislation behind the new rules “an impenetrable statute” with “very little deference to city codes,” and noted that the city’s options ranged from filing an amicus brief to joining the lawsuit. The lawyer currently representing the plaintiffs, Scenic NC, has asked for a response from the city by the end of the week.
Vice Mayor Esther Manheimer recused herself from the discussion, as her law firm is representing one of the billboard companies. Council member Cecil Bothwell was absent from the meeting due to family tragedy.
In other action, Council:
• Approved 6-0 lowering the threshold for design review in the River District to 1500 feet. The design commission for the area also wants a geographic boundary for its jurisdiction — right now a property has to be zoned specifically to fall under its watch — but that will be dealt with at a separate meeting. The commission’s reviews are mandatory, but compliance with its recommendations is voluntary.
• Heard a number of reports about the state of the city, including a quarterly financial report. Revenues are slightly down from projections, with sluggish growth in the property tax base offsetting recovering sales tax revenues.
• Heard a report about the state of the transit system, which has brought a number of new, energy-efficient buses online and rolled out a marketing campaign. Transit Planning Manager Mariatte Echeverry asserted the system had made real improvements, and could use more efficient vehicles and route changes to cope with rising fuel costs. However, she added that unless more funds from the federal or state governments are forthcoming, meeting other goals such as Sunday bus service remain out of reach.
• Carl Silverstein, executive director of the Southern Appalachians Highlands Conservancy, suggested the city review rules on its conservation easement surrounding its reservoir, especially how much commercial logging is potentially allowed. Logging in local watersheds is again an issue as disputes over the fate of the water system continue.
The compiled Twitter dispatches from the March 13 Asheville City Council meeting; all tweets by Senior Reporter David Forbes.
12:42 PM RT @mxnews: Asheville City Council preview: reporting for duty http://t.co/82W8PApo #avlnews
12:42 PM Asheville City Council preview: reporting for duty http://t.co/w7NQqW2A #avlnews
2:33 PM It’s easy to get a distorted perspective when such requests are part of what you do for a living, so I’m interested in other views
2:33 PM Pulling together perspectives on the city of Asheville’s handling of open records requests for an upcoming column.
2:35 PM So, Ashevilleans, what’s been your experience getting records from the city? Let me know here or by DM
4:49 PM Heading to Asheville City Council. Meeting begins at 5. Follow along at . #avlnews
5:02 PM Council meeting about to begin.
5:07 PM Consent agenda. Council mem Chris Pelly praising item for sidewalks on Pack Ave.
5:08 PM Council mem Marc Hunt praising greenway improvements
5:10 PM Davis concerned clean energy assessment for commercial biz hasn’t been sufficiently studied.
5:10 PM Council mem Jan Davis asking to pull move supporting PACE protection act for sep vote.
5:11 PM Davis always wants to pull matter of leasing McCormick Field to Asheville Tourists to discuss further
5:12 PM Yeah, non-Ashevilleans (and local gov wonks) it’s that time again. You might want to go grab a drink.
5:13 PM Council mem Cecil Bothwell is absent.
5:13 PM Vice Mayor Esther Manheimer: Tourists taking on some recurring costs, city making improvements, but won’t change costs
5:15 PM Consent agenda passes.
5:15 PM Hunt praising PACE energy efficient legislation, just directing staff to research it further.
5:20 PM Asheville-Buncombe Comm Relations Council presentation, planning listening tour, more board members
5:23 PM Mayor Terry Bellamy: Liaison to Comm Relations Council. Meeting regularly, working hard.
5:26 PM New efforts for CRC include English as a 2nd language programs.
5:31 PM CRC plans cooperations with Pisgah Legal, other nonprofits.
5:31 PM Pelly asking CRC reps their perception of needs. They cite support for non-English speakers, pub housing residents.
5:33 PM Council mem Gordon Smith asking about fighting discrimination. CRC reps say they can provide “someone to talk to”
5:35 PM It’s a presentation-full Council meeting. That was the first of eight. Next one’s on Eblen Toy Run
5:37 PM Eblen reps thanking city for help. Bellamy thanking APD, Bldg Safety staff.
5:38 PM Next up: finance committee report
5:39 PM Manheimer talking about right-of-way acquisition for future sidewalks.
5:41 PM Onto Public Safety Com. Bellamy asking about looking for a local step after DoT refuses to rename Smoky Park Bridge after Jeff Bowen
5:42 PM Davis: Our citizens can still go online and sign a petition to rename bridge after AFD Capt. Bowen.
5:43 PM Strategic Operating Plan update from Asst City Mgr Jeff Richardson.
5:45 PM Richardson: On affordability front giving rebates for improvements to elderly’s homes.
5:48 PM Richardson touting Linamar, SoCon as examples of econ development
5:51 PM Richardson: Healthcare clinic efforts improving conditions for city employees
5:53 PM Richardson: “Cautiously optimistic” on insurance. Amount of claims staying flat.
5:54 PM Richardson: installation of LED street lights 75% complete, changes in IT should save further energy
5:59 PM Bellamy: getting a lot of e-mails, calls about graffiti, need to inform prop owners about our efforts.
6:00 PM City Mgr Gary Jackson: Still gridlock in DC, help w transit infrastructure unlikely.
6:02 PM Jackson: Asheville should be proud of setting goals other cities just getting to.
6:03 PM Jackson: Seeing signs of recovery, job creation in Asheville.
6:06 PM Financial report: tax base growing by 1.3%, compared to 3%+ pre-recession, but sales tax growing much faster
6:07 PM But city’s fuel expenditures are up, need more next year in fuel budget
6:10 PM Parking fund did better than expected. City turning $ back over to reduce debt. Hunt’s happy about this.
6:10 PM New city infrastructure projects, incl City Hall exterior, sidewalk updates moving forward.
6:12 PM Jackson: Anticipate using parking funds to also help subsidize transit, increasing fuel costs
6:14 PM Smith praising city’s “easel rider” mobile art bus.
6:16 PM Transit Mgr Mariate Echeverry: Projected to use 200,000 gallons of fuel this fiscal year, continue downward trend
6:17 PM Echeverry: Seeing 4% increase in transit ridership
6:19 PM Echeverry: To meet fuel costs, looking to get more efficient buses, consolidate routes.
6:22 PM Echeverry: More efforts to inform community about other transit options.
6:26 PM Smith asks Echeverry where new, more energy efficient buses come from. Combination of state, stimulus $
6:28 PM Smith: Until we get more $ from feds or state, won’t be able to do some of what we want w Sunday service
6:29 PM Onto tonight’s sole public hearing, on threshold for design reviews in River District.
6:33 PM Terry Meek, chair of River District design review committee: our boundaries based on zoning, not geography.
6:34 PM Review a requirement for river-zoned properties above certain amount, Meek wants threshold lowered.
6:35 PM Review’s reccs aren’t mandatory though. Meek: want to preserve “look of river district as a unified whole”
6:37 PM Meek: Not our intent to impede development, view as collaborative process
6:40 PM Meek sketching out geographic boundaries of River District
6:42 PM Meek: Want to see Council implement both lower threshold and new boundary. Bellamy: Just dealing w threshold tonight
6:43 PM Rev. Chris Chiaromonte: This is about control, trying to turn River District into “perfect little ant farm”
6:45 PM Public hearing’s over. Smith: want to emphasize that the review is mandatory, but compliance voluntary
6:46 PM Council approves lower threshold for River District review 6-0
6:49 PM Manheimer recused due to law firm representing one of the litigants
6:49 PM City Attorney Bob Oast coming up to discuss legislation (and lawsuits) on clear-cutting around billboards.
6:51 PM But Council’s discussing who to interview for several boards before getting to clear-cutting issue, so Manheimer can depart after
6:58 PM Oast: New rules expand cutting zone for billboards, “very little deference for city codes”
6:58 PM Manheimer’s recused. Oast: New state legislation on cutting around billboards “an impenetrable statute”
7:01 PM Oast: Scenic NC has filed a lawsuit against NCDoT, several billboard companies joined in.
7:03 PM Oast: “about all I feel comfortable discussing in open session”
7:03 PM Asheville’s been requested to assist, perhaps intervening or w amicus brief.
7:05 PM Judy Mattox, chair of local Sierra Club: Do ask you to intervene, need letter by late Thurs, minimal cost.
7:07 PM Public comment. David Garber commending city on studying Asheville’s values.
7:10 PM Garber wants to bring together “groups of concerned citizens” to talk about sustainability
7:13 PM Chiaromonte: City must repent in way it treats homeless.
7:14 PM Chiaromonte: If I sold things in Pritchard Park, get a ticket. But girl scouts are allowed to sell, and were rude to me.
7:15 PM Carl Silverstein, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy: City needs to review easement rules near watershed.
7:17 PM Silverstein: Suggest more extensive guidelines on forestry, other issues. Bellamy suggests PED committee review
7:22 PM Clarification: Judy Strong
7:22 PM Judy Strom upset city involved in McCormick field, golf course.
7:23 PM Correction: Judy Strong
7:25 PM Council has closed session, after Davis says how proud he is of Asheville hosting SoCon, UNCA’s Big South win.
7:26 PM Davis: Sold 31,000 tickets, biggest for SoCon since 2000
7:28 PM Smith: On less celebratory note, Asheville area 3rd in food hardship
7:30 PM Smith: Asheville-Buncombe Food Policy Council meeting, looking for ways to get us off list, alter way food dealt with
7:31 PM Council going into closed session to discuss billboard lawsuit, unspecified economic incentives
7:31 PM Bellamy asking people to keep Bothwell in thoughts, prayers due to family tragedy.
7:32 PM Council will adjourn from closed session