Unusually, today’s meeting of Asheville City Council’s Public Safety Committee had a packed house, as members of the public turned up to pay attention to discussions on downtown’s skateboarding ban and possible changes to the city’s noise ordinance.
Currently skateboarding is banned in downtown and on sidewalks.
Many of the people were there for the discussion of the skateboarding ban and interjected comments throughout the discussion. Council member Cecil Bothwell, who chairs the three-person committee, had some misgivings about the ban, but initially expressed his support for it due to recently almost striking a skateboarder with his car at an intersection. Council member Jan Davis voiced concerns about skateboarding being more of a recreational activity, something the many skateboarders in the room loudly denied. City staff, including Asheville Police Department officers, said they had safety concerns about skateboarders in downtown, especially near pedestrian traffic. Of the three committee members, Council member Gordon Smith was most sympathetic to the skateboarders’ concerns, asserting that there were responsible “singling out skateboards doesn’t pass the logic test, outside of historical antipathy.”
“I feel that Asheville’s treatment of skateboarders is inconsistent with a healthy, active community that prides itself on green initiatives,” Rob Sebrell, owner of Push Skate Shop, told the committee. “To treat it as though its a fringe activity is just not the case anymore.”
One skateboarder shot back to some of the Council members’ concerns that “if a guy in a nun’s outfit can ride a double-decker bike around, we should be allowed to skateboard,” drawing applause from the audience. Others contended that even the existing rules are harshly and unfairly enforced, resulting in fines or penalties when a warning would be more appropriate.
In the end, the committee agreed to send the matter to the full Council for a decision, without recommending a position one way or the other.
The committee also opted to tweak the existing noise ordinances instead of overhauling them, looking at if the current appeals process was adequate and if the ordinance needed to designate a specific “quiet time” in residential neighborhoods. David Rodgers, a member of the Coalition of Asheville Neighborhoods, and some other citizens have suggested that the current rules are too subjective and don’t do enough to deter noise. One model Rodgers suggested was Chapel Hill’s noise ordinance, which prohibits a wide variety of activities in residential areas at night.
However, APD Capt. Wade Wood said the police would find an ordinance like Chapel Hill’s “cumbersome” and felt the current ordinance is basically sound. Council members noted that different neighborhoods might have different standards of what was and wasn’t appropriate.
“One entire sector of our economy is the service sector, folks who may get to bed at 2 or 4 a.m. and aren’t too excited about loud stuff early in the morning,” Smith noted. “I want to make sure whatever we do is equitable. We don’t want people who work different hours to feel like the city’s not friendly.” He added that he didn’t want new rules to “make sure that after 10 p.m. you have to turn into a churchmouse.”