Council gets an earful on BID, other issues at community meeting

At a community meeting tonight focusing on the core of the city, Asheville City Council heard from a number of locals critical of a proposed Business Improvement District downtown. Others had concerns about a possible hotel near the Basilica of St. Lawrence, among other issues.

• A number of citizens criticized the proposed BID. While some of the speakers were for the special tax district that would ostensibly provide increased service and security functions, the majority were against.

The criticisms ran the gamut, from property and business owners concerned about the potential burden imposed by the tax increase to workers worried about the level of accountability from the unelected board that would run the BID. The private security function of the downtown “ambassadors” the non-profit running the BID would employ was also a topic of some skepticism, though city staff emphasized that the ambassadors would have no police powers.

The BID’s attracted some public skepticism as it heads toward a June 12 vote, but this was the first major public meeting where that discontent has been expressed. The few BID proponents that spoke defended the idea, asserting that it’s been formed with extensive community input, something opponents have questioned.

The issue led to some strange bedfellows, as Council member Cecil Bothwell joked that for once he publicly agreed with local developer Chris Peterson, who publicly opposed his campaign and spoke against the BID. Bothwell said he’s “adamantly opposed” to the BID, believing that tax revenues should be raised for all citizens to pay for benefits to the entire city and that unlike the BID board, Council faces elections if people don’t approve of its members actions.

Mayor Terry Bellamy asked staff to take the criticisms into account when it reports on the BID at the June 12 meeting.

• A number of residents were also concerned about the possibility of McKibbon Hotel group developing city-owned property next to the Basilica, questioning the need for another hotel in the area. The Basilica has also made an offer on the land, but the city’s currently dealing with the hoteliers instead.

Several Council members emphasized that their minds weren’t set on the McKibbon project yet, and wanted to see plaza space in the area in addition to any hotel.

• Council also heard concerns about safety in the South French Broad area, the inclusion of African-Americans in the city’s planning process, and the impact of the annual Brewgrass festival on the East End neighborhood, among other issues.

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