On April 8, Asheville City Council members voted unanimously to pass a resolution to adopt a Housing Trust Fund recommendation to fund Biotat LLC’s Oak Hill Commons Project, as well as an ordinance adopting the new 2014-15 Fees and Charges Manual. Council also considered a request that city officials ban circuses that use exotic animals from performing at the U.S. Cellular Center.
Affordable housing: Oak Hill
The Oak Hill Commons development will be a 30-unit affordable housing project for Asheville’s “hard-to-house,” chronically homeless population. Community Development Director Jeff Staudinger presented the recommendation to the Council and said this model has been practiced and proven to work in Seattle, Wash., as well as Charlotte, N.C.
The proposed site for the housing development would be near the Ingles at New Leicester Highway and Patton Avenue.
“There remains a population for many, many reasons where these persons do not find that the mechanisms we have in place for housing work for them,” Staudinger says.
The $58,106 loan would not be allocated until the funds necessary to construct the development are raised, but this in “an important step to begin the process of leveraging the full fund” required for the project.
Council member Gordon Smith called the project “a unique opportunity to achieve a really lofty goal the City Council set some time ago.” He made a motion to adopt the recommendation, which was quickly seconded by Council member Cecil Bothwell.
The 2014-15 Fees and Charges Manual includes within it a 1.6 percent increase in water usage rates for homeowners and a 3.4 increase for commercial users. Approved unanimously by Council, it will go into effect July 1.
City Budget Manager Tony McDowell answered Council’s questions about the proposed fee adjustments.
Council member Jan Davis asked if the water increases were in line with recommendations from consultants, and McDowell said they were. The 1.6 percent rate increase is expected to be an average of $3 annually for consumers.
“Utility is a break-even deal,” said Bothwell. “We do not make money on water. The mandate is for us to have rates that cover the costs, so as costs go up. … The rates move up to cover those costs.”
“It’s not like the city is saying ‘A-ha! We’re going to make some money on water here,” he added.
Asheville Voice for Animals
During the pubic comment period, Council members heard impassioned pleas from members of Asheville Voice for Animals (AVA), an animal-advocacy group whose members called for a banning circuses that use exotic animals from performing in the city. Ringling Bros., which will feature exotic animal circuses at the US Cellular Center in May, was specifically mentioned by members of the community as perpetrators of animal abuse.
Paul Berry, executive director at Brother Wolf Animal Rescue, began by sharing his experiences as a volunteer cruelty investigator.
“I can tell you that these animal circuses are nothing more than slick enterprises of cruelty and suffering, masquerading as cheap family entertainment,” Berry told members of City Council.
Lafayette Gregory, organizer of AVA, gave a PowerPoint presentation detailing the multitude of abuses allegedly perpetrated by circus organizers. Afterward, the Council chamber filled up with AVA members waving small flags in applause in order to circumvent Council’s “no clapping” rule.
After members of AVA spoke, Bothwell said that he was the first president of an earlier iteration of an animal-protection group and that for many years he had picketed Ringling circuses.
“I would be fully supportive of a ban on [exotic] animal acts here,” Bothwell said.
Mayor Esther Manheimer expressed concern about screening or limiting which groups or organizations can use the venue, though she was quick to point out that she wasn’t saying such a ban would be inappropriate.
Bothwell pointed out that gun shows are illegal on city property.
But Council members took no action on the request.
The next City Council meeting will take place at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, April 22.