Buncombe Commissioners approve new art, culture and history projects, parkway preservation

At the May 5 Buncombe County Board of Commissioners meeting, the board voted 7-0 to heighten development restrictions to protect the views along the Blue Ridge Parkway zoning overlay.

On Tuesday, May 5, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved three projects supporting the arts — including the go-ahead to plan a new monument outside the Buncombe County Courthouse. Commissioners also passed a resolution to protect the viewshed of the Blue Ridge Parkway,  7-0. But they split 4-3 on allowing Board Chair David Gantt to send a letter asking the Western North Carolina Regional Air Quality Agency to strengthen an air-quality permit for the local Duke Energy plant.

Following the public comment portion of the meeting — during which residents expressed continued concern for the county’s manufactured housing discussion — the board announced two proclamations, listing May 2015 as both Motorcycle Awareness Month and Foster Care Month.

The board then moved on to new business and public hearings.

Commissioners approved, 7-0, a resolution supporting Blue Ridge Parkway preservation and protection.

The resolution supports stricter zoning regulations on the Blue Ridge Parkway overlay to protect the views from unsightly development. The parkway’s natural views draw in thousands of tourists (and locals) every year, creating a $863 million economic impact for the Blue Ridge Parkway area.

A resolution to oppose state legislation that negatively impacts the current and projected amount of total sales tax collected by Buncombe County came before the board, after being postponed at the county’s last regular meeting.

Commissioner Joe Belcher proposed a resolution amendment that changed the phrasing of the resolution from “strongly oppose” to just “oppose.” The amendment was considered fair by all members of the board, and the amended resolution was approved 7-0.

Commissioners then looked at authorizing Gantt’s signature on a letter to be sent to the WNC Regional Air Quality Board Chair Britt Lovin. The letter calls on the agency to strengthen the permit, particularly with regard to the limit on sulfur dioxide emissions from Duke’s plant, saying that the current proposal is “insufficient to protect county residents from harmful air pollution.” Sulfur dioxide, one of the toxins produced by coal-fired power plants, can cause or induce asthmatic symptoms and other respiratory illnesses.

Recently, the agency extended the public-comment period on the permit till May 7.

Commissioners Mike Fryar and Miranda DeBruhl questioned how identical the letter was to one approved at the Tuesday, April 28, Asheville City Council meeting.

Commissioners asked members of the WNC Regional Air Quality Agency, who were present at the meeting, to explain the permitting issue. Senior Air Quality Specialist James Raiford said that the challenge the agency is currently dealing with, as far as Duke’s pending permit goes, is a question of whether to use the modeling method, a prediction-based measurement of air quality, or the monitoring method, which gives the agency tools to measure the actual levels of air pollution coming from facilities like the local Duke Energy plant.

After a lengthy explanation, Belcher admitted he didn’t fully understand the issues with the proposed permit and decided to vote against the letter, saying he won’t vote to oppose a plan that he doesn’t understand.

Commissioners voted to authorize the letter and send it to the air agency, 4-3, with Belcher, Fryar and DeBruhl against.

Three rezoning requests were then all approved unanimously:

Then, in what was arguably the most anticipated topic of the evening, commissioners voted 7-0 to invest up to $75,000 in the arts.

The three-point project aims to do the following:

  • create a history wall in the Buncombe County Courthouse. With a budget of up to $25,000, the board will review concept designs by local artists for a large display memorizing the colorful and rich history of Buncombe County;
  • contract local arts, culture and history organizations (including the Art Museum, the Arts Council, the WNC Historical Association, Smith McDowell — among others) to display rotating art, history and culture exhibits at both the new and old courthouses;
  • receive and review concept designs from local artists and organizations to begin work on an appropriate outside monument near the entrance of the Buncombe Courthouse.

The first of the two projects passed unanimously with little discussion. And following clarification on whether the commissioners would come back to vote on the final design for the monument, that, too, gained approval from all board members.

Both the resolution setting staggered terms for Planning Board members and terms for the Women’s Commission were approved 7-0.

Commissioners then motioned to go into closed session to discuss “two economic development projects,” and the public meeting adjourned.

The next regular Buncombe County Board of Commissioners meeting will be held on Tuesday, May 19, at 4:30 p.m., on the third floor of the building at 200 College St. During that meeting, commissioners will receive, review and discuss a proposed budget for the 2016 fiscal year. The final vote for the county’s budget will be held in June.

For a play-by-play look at the entire Buncombe County Board of Commissioner’s meeting, in short 140-character bursts, here’s a text-speak account via Twitter:

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About Hayley Benton
Current freelance journalist and artist. Former culture/entertainment reporter at the Asheville Citizen-Times and former news reporter at Mountain Xpress. Also a coffee drinker, bad photographer, teller of stupid jokes and maker-upper of words. I can be reached at hayleyebenton [at] gmail.com. Follow me @HayleyTweeet

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