Asheville City Council returns from summer with packed schedule

Asheville city seal

A day after students at Asheville City and Buncombe County Schools return to their studies, Asheville City Council is scheduled to brush up on its own ABCs — as well as its AAs, BBs, and CCs. The consent agenda for Council’s upcoming regular meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 28, at 5 p.m. in council Chambers exhausts the standard alphabet, forcing three entries to take on double letters in a collection of 29 items.

Item U in that formidable docket represents the city’s effort to move beyond the story of Johnnie Jermaine Rush, the black Asheville resident who was beaten by white former Asheville Police Department Chris Hickman last August during a stop for alleged jaywalking. The government has agreed to pay Rush $650,000 in exchange for him releasing his potential claims.

Also in relation to the Rush case, Council will hear a presentation from 21CP Solutions, a Chicago-based consulting firm the city hired to assess the APD and its handling of the incident. Speaking to Council in May, consultant Sean Smoot had anticipated releasing a report by the end of July. Notably, the city had not posted 21CP’s PowerPoint presentation to the Council agenda website by press time.

In less dramatic but more common law enforcement concerns, Council will consider amendments to Asheville’s pre-towing ordinance. Residents have long complained about private parking lot owners and towing companies not complying with city regulations, and the proposed amendments would increase the civil penalties on those found in violation.

The fine for a first violation would double from the current $100 to $200, while a fifth violation within a year would cost an offender $1,000 compared to the current $500. The proposed changes would also apply the regulation to “booting” in addition to towing and include the River Arts and Haywood Road districts in the areas covered by the ordinance.

Hear, hear

The meeting’s slate of public hearings is also lengthier than usual, with seven planned for the evening. An eighth hearing on the rezoning of two properties on Maxwell Street to allow short-term vacation rentals — an issue tied to the city’s longstanding feud with resident Reid Thompson over alleged zoning violations by nearby Greenlife Grocery — was moved to Tuesday, Oct. 9, after the parties agreed to mediation.

Many of the hearings involve conditional rezoning changes to allow for additional development. Property at 511 Brevard Road, for example, could be changed from Highway Business to Lodging Expansion Conditional Zone to permit the construction of a 106-room Mainstay Suites Hotel. Meanwhile, 1256 Hendersonville Road could receive a conditional use permit to allow construction of a 99-foot cell phone tower (barely skirting under the city’s 100-foot maximum height allowance).

Other proposed changes include shifting over five acres of residential high-density district along Brevard Road to Highway Business. City staff do not support this alteration, arguing that the car-centric nature of highway business zoning runs against Council’s comprehensive plan for the area. However, former City Attorney Bob Oast, representing the landowner, countered that previous expansion of the road from two to four lanes had already made the area appropriate for traffic. On June 6, the Planning and Zoning Commission voted 5-0 in favor of the change.

The one hearing not about rezoning will concern the Princess Anne Hotel at 301 E. Chestnut Street, which owners Michael and Colleen Eden hope to have designated as a local historic landmark. Constructed in the early 1920s, the building “exemplifies a notable example of guest accommodations constructed in Asheville during its early 20th-century boom period of tourism and real estate development,” according to Planning and Urban Design Director Todd Okolichany. Should the designation pass, the Edens will save over $18,000 annually on property taxes.

Budget education

Before the formal meeting begins, Council will open its deliberations about next year’s city budget to the public. Beginning at 3 p.m. in council Chambers, city staff will host the first of five scheduled budget work sessions. As explained by Barbara Whitehorn, the city’s chief financial officer, the sessions are “an effort to increase transparency and engagement” around the budget process.

Tuesday’s work session will begin with a general overview of the city’s expenses, revenues and community makeup. In a “deep dive” memo distributed before the meeting, Whitehorn pointed out that property taxes make up 52 percent of Asheville’s general fund revenue. She also included a graph showing that the city’s property tax rate (42.89 cents per $100) is one of the lowest among North Carolina cities of 50,000 people or greater, with only Cary and Huntersville charging residents less.

Staff will then proceed to examine the budget for Asheville’s core administrative personnel, including the city manager, city attorney and city clerk, as well as Council itself. Finally, the work session will cover the sustainability and equity and inclusion offices, two of the city’s smallest divisions.

Consent agenda

City Council will also consider the 29 items on its consent agenda. Unless specifically singled out for separate discussion, these items are typically approved as a package. Highlights include the following:

  • An ordinance granting a franchise agreement to Tuk It, LLC, to operate electric rickshaws throughout downtown, Biltmore Village, the River Arts District and Montford.
  • Two resolutions accepting a total of $44,000 in federal funding for the Asheville Area High Intensity Drug Traffic Area Task Force, to be administered by the APD.
  • A memorandum of understanding with the Friends of the WNC Nature Center establishing the group’s responsibility to contribute $175,000 to Nature Center operations.
  • Speed limit reductions from 35 to 25 mph for Hazel Mill Road between Louisiana Avenue and Patton Avenue and for Martin Luther King Drive between South Charlotte Street to College Street, as well as from 35 to 30 mph for North Bear Creek Road from Patton Avenue to Old Country Home Road.
  • A consideration to allocate $250,000 in capital funds for renovating the Stephens-Lee Recreation Center as an African-American history museum and installing African-American Heritage Trail signage.

Asheville City Council meets at 5 p.m. in council Chambers on the second floor of City Hall at 70 Court Plaza, Asheville. The full meeting agenda and supporting documents can be found here.

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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the Green Scene editor and city government beat reporter for Mountain Xpress. His work has previously appeared in Capital at Play, Edible Asheville, and the Citizen-Times, among other area publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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One thought on “Asheville City Council returns from summer with packed schedule

  1. Enlightened Enigma

    Please let City Council and Mayor know how much we need to select a qualified CITY manager who is conservative in management goals for the city and try to avoid ALL democrats for this job!

    Pick an INDEPENDENT registered citizen!

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