Despite two objections from the public on two separate matters, members of Asheville City Council unanimously passed all resolutions and rezoning requests that were on at the Oct. 23 meeting agenda. As a result of the across the board ayes, a private school will be able to operate within an existing West Asheville church, bicycle taxis will be allowed to provide service to three parts of town and the Mountain Housing Opportunities will receive $300,000 from the Housing Trust Fund sooner than originally planned for its Eagle-Market Place project. All members of Asheville City Council were present. Here are the highlights from the meeting:
• Council voted 7-0 to allow for the conditional rezoning of the New Classical Academy, which is currently zoned as a multi-family residential. The rezoning request is to change the zoning to institutional. Currently, the private school is located in Weaverville at 38 Stoney Knob Road, where approximately 40 students are enrolled. With the request, the academy will be able to move into an existing church structure in West Asheville at 671 Sand Hill Road. According to a brief presentation given to Council by urban planner Alan Glines, the K-8 school would like to eventually teach upwards of 60 students. Glines told members of Council that, “Schools are generally compatible with residential settings.” Before voting on the issue, council member Jan Davis asked whether neighbors near the site had expressed any concerns or distress about the rezoning. Glines reported that there were no comments or concerns from neighbors.
• After a push from Asheville Bike Taxi, a proposed pedal bicycle taxi service, Council voted 7-0 to provide the business with a franchise agreement that will allow the bicycle taxi service in Montford, the River Arts District and downtown Asheville. However, there are certain conditions that the business must comply with under the agreement. For example, bicycle taxis would not be able to go faster than 35 mph except for the section of Clingman Avenue that provides access to the River Arts District. Hours of operation would be limited to 9 a.m. and 3 a.m. on Monday through Friday, and between 7 a.m. and 3 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. When the issue was open to public comment, Fred English told Council that he was not in favor of the bike service. He cited concerns about whether the business would have to go through similar insurance measures and checks that vehicles would have to go through to be on the road. He also said the idea of a bicycle taxi service was outdated, saying, “We don’t need that. That’s 19th, 14th century stuff.” Transportation Department Director Ken Putnam assured English that similar insurance measures would be taken for the bicycle taxis including such measures like checking brakes, taillights and seat belts. In March 2008, City Council approved a similar franchise agreement, but the business model proved unsuccessful. However, according to Putnam Asheville Bike Taxi was not the first, and will not be the last, saying, “There’s interest from others, too. More are coming.”
• Council voted 7-0 to provide an early release of $300,000 from the Housing Trust Fund loan to Mountain Housing Opportunities. The money will go toward the Eagle Market Place project, a partnership project between Eagle Market Streets Development Corporation and Mountain Housing Opportunities that plans to provide affordable housing, commercial and community space. During public comment, Catherine Mitchell of Riverfront Development group said she opposed accelerated loan request, calling it a “request of convenience.” She cited that other similar groups had not done this, and questioned whether it was within the law to make such a request. After the objection, Stephanie Swepson-Twitty, the Eagle Market Streets Development Corporation’s CEO, responded, saying, “This is not an unreasonable request.” To provide clarity Bob Oast said, “This is not an unusual thing to do. It exists in several instances.” With that, Council voted unanimously to approve the accelerated loan and made the required $300,000 budgetary amendment.
Council also heard four presentations and reports. Highlights from each report are as follows:
Asheville Sister Cities update
• Asheville currently has six Sister Cities. They are as follows: Vladikavkaz, Russia; San Cristobal de las
Casas, Mexico; Saumur, France; Karpenisi, Greece; Valladolid, Mexico; and Osogbo, Nigeria.
• Last week, the group welcomed seven guests from Valladolid, Mexico. While they were here, guests visited local schools, businesses and other area attractions
• The goal of the group is to promote peace, understanding and sustainable partnerships with cities around the world.
Civic Center Commission
• General Manager Chris Corl introduced himself to Asheville City Council. He was recently hired by the commission and comes to the area from Winston-Salem, N.C.
• Going forward, the next renovations to the U.S. Cellular Civic Center include renovating and relocating the box office, extending the main lobby and adding a new marquee.
Civil Service Board
• The Civil Service Board, which hears grievances, reports that it has had no grievance hearings this year. Only one grievance was filed, but was withdrawn before the hearing date.
• The Oct. 30 City Council Meeting that was scheduled to discuss water-system studies has been cancelled as the reports would not be complete at that time. A state legislative committee has recommended merging the Asheville Water System with (or ceding control to) the Metropolitan Sewerage District.
• The City of Hendersonville, which is also studying the issue, will most likely be complete by November or December.
In other business
Council declared Oct. 24 as “Food Day.” The day is a nationwide celebration movement for healthy, affordable and sustainable food. Council member Gordon Smith noted this is particularly significant since food insecurity remains an issue in Western North Carolina. He also noted that UNCA will be hosting a pannel on that day regarding food policy and its impact on local farmers.