Pushcart vendors get endorsement for later hours

Pushcart vendors made progress on one of their demands today, as the Downtown Commission unanimously endorse extending their hours to 2 a.m. The commission talked about the vendors’ proposals, as well as the Business Improvement District, possible newspaper box restrictions and other issues.

Crystal San Juan, representing the recently-formed United Pushcart Vendors of Asheville, said that as local businesspeople they need access to their usual sidewalk spots during festivals, and that the current 11 p.m. mandatory closing time should be relaxed.

“Having to vacate our spots does negatively affect our small businesses: these events are on some of the best weekends of the year,” she said. “It would also be good for nightlife to have food available at those later hours.”

San Juan said that the vendors often direct visitors to other businesses and keep an eye for unsafe situations.

Noting “complexities” in assessing the use of pushcarts near festivals, the commission sent it to their events subcommittee, asking staff to analyze it further. But the proposal to extend closing time found more immediate traction, as Council member Jan Davis made a motion to recommend that pushcarts have their closing times extended. It found unanimous support, and will go to Asheville City Council for final approval.

• The commission discussed an upcoming June 12 vote on the downtown Business Improvement District, a proposal for a service non-profit funded by a special tax district that’s attracted increasing controversy in recent weeks.

Commission member Dwight Butner asked about a proposal by Council member Marc Hunt (who supports the BID) to make its membership city-appointed instead of self-appointed with a majority of seats allocated to property holders.

“There are some concerns on Council about how this will be structured,” Davis noted. “I think there is a feeling that should it pass that the board appointments need to be figured out. We’re getting a lot of questions, we can’t answer all of them. Frankly, it’s pretty vague. There is some reluctance.”

Butner wondered if there was a double-standard, wondering if the same questions would come up if a similar BID would come up in Haw Creek, though he added that he understood Council’s reluctance.

“We’re getting just tons on both sides,” Davis noted. “We don’t make decisions on the basis of quantity of emails, but there are a lot of good points coming up and we do take those into account.”

• The commission discussed potential rules for newspaper boxes. The city’s goal is “not make another layer of permits and bureaucracy,” in the words of planner Alan Glines. Chair Bruce Hazzard noted that he’d already found that some of the proposed guidelines “just physically don’t work downtown” and would need reconsideration, something he hoped staff would do in the course of the next 45 days.

Xpress Distribution Manager Jeff Tallman said that he had done an inventory of downtown newspaper boxes and estimated that the proposed guidelines would eliminate about 75 to 80 percent of their spaces.

“These publications are operating on margins that are tighter than tight, they provide a service to the community,” Tallman said. “It’s a mess in Pack Square, admittedly, but it’s a mess that serves a public need. I’ve filled our box four times since Tuesday afternoon. That’s 500 people that have found our publication useful.”

• City staff noted that they have delayed consideration on a formal deal with McKibbon Hotel Group about the purchase of city-owned property across from the Basilica of St. Lawrence. Negotiations between McKibbon, the city

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