Buncombe Commissioners are back after monthlong break

Nonprofit agencies will make their case for funding from Buncombe County's upcoming budget for Fiscal Year 2018. A total of 46 nonprofits are asking for an aggregate of almost $11 million.

On Tuesday, Aug. 4, the Buncombe County Commissioners will gather for the first meeting of the fiscal year, which began July 1.

First, the Commissioners will declare the month of August as Special Olympics Month in Buncombe County, an effort to raise awareness of the program and increase volunteer support that makes the program possible for its 500 athletes.

Public hearings

The Commission will hear four public hearings: a request for a refund of overpayed taxes and three rezoning requests.

The first of four, the tax refund, comes from Sabrina Warren, who “sold a certain property to Kevin Christopher Stanley … on May 15, 2015.” At the time of the sale, Warren paid an excise tax to the tune of $800, which would reflect a sale price of $400,000. The sale price of her property, though, was actually $40,000, and the tax paid should have been $80.

Because Warren has since also paid the correct $80 fee, she asks the county to refund her for the $800 she was wrongly charged.

Next up is the already-argued Pickens Lane property rezoning, delayed from a meeting on Tuesday, June 16:

The applicants, John and Brenda Landgrover, submitted a request for their Pickens Lane property to change back from an R-1 single-family district to an R-2 multi-family district. The Landgrovers wrote in their request that a large group of properties, including their own, was rezoned from R-2 to R-1 while they were out of town in January 2015. Now, based on the Landgrovers’ absence at the earlier vote, the applicants say they wish to change their property back.

While county staff recommend the rezoning’s approval, the Planning Board recommends it be denied. The discussion was tabled after a split vote in June.

Vice Chair Joe Belcher and Commissioners Mike Fryar and Miranda DeBruhl asked the commission back in June not to table the discussion, citing that this was an error on the county’s part, and the board should work quickly to correct this mistake. “When you make mistakes,” Fryar said, “you try to correct them. You don’t put it off.”

Commissioner Ellen Frost, on the other hand, replied with: “But, you see, that’s exactly why I think we should table it.” It’s unclear who is at fault here, she said, whether it’s the county failing to give notice to the property owners or the property owners simply not showing up for the public hearing. “I don’t feel good about voting when there are so many questions still out there.”

Gantt mentioned that, while he spoke to several people at length about the rezoning earlier in the day, he believes the county should seek some legal opinion before deciding. “Part of our job is to ask questions,” and to make an effort to find the best possible solution, coming to an informed decision, he said.

On Tuesday, the Board will revisit the topic.

The next request, for a property in Arden, is to change the property from low density residential to a multi-family residential zone. Both the staff and Planning Board recommends the county approve the rezoning.

The final request is an application for a text amendment to the county’s zoning ordinance. Applicants Harry Coates and Ricky Coates hope the county will consider allowing travel trailers and travel trailer parks in commercial service districts. Both the county staff and the Planning Board recommends the commissioners deny the applicants’ request.

The commercial service district is “intended to provide suitable locations for clustered commercial development to encourage the concentration of commercial activity in those specified areas with access to major traffic arteries, to discourage strip development and to allow for suitable noncommercial land uses,” reads the zoning ordinance.

The Planning Board found that the request is neither reasonable nor in the public interest.

New Business

The commissioners will also discuss a legal settlement, a solid waste franchise, the designation of one of the commissioners to attend the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners’ annual conference in Pitt County on Aug. 20 — and, finally, a resolution aiming to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses in jail.

“Counties routinely provide treatment services to the estimated 2 million people with serious mental illnesses each year,” reads the resolution. “The rate of serious mental illnesses in confinement facilities are three to six times higher than for the general population, with statistics showing almost 13 percent of North Carolina’s prison population requires some type of intervention due to mental health issues.”

And, “almost 3/4 of adults with serious mental illnesses in jails have co-occurring substance use disorders. … County jails spend two to three times more on adults with mental illnesses that require interventions compared to those without these treatment needs.”

But without these treatment services, “people with mental illnesses can continue to cycle through the criminal justice system, often resulting in tragic outcomes for these individuals, their families and their communities. [And] county jails are generally an unsafe environment for those with [a] mental health [illness].”

The resolution continues that “Buncombe County … takes pride in our responsibility to protect and enhance the health, welfare and safety of our residents in efficient, safe and socially just ways.”

As a result, the county will vote to either adopt or deny this initiative, which invites the county to “step up” and collaborate with the Stepping Up Initiative, the National Association of Counties, the Council of State Governments Justice Center and the American Psychiatric Foundation — to develop a plan to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses in the county jail for 2016-2020.

The organizations involved will come up with recommendations by the end of the year and present them before the board at its first meeting in the month of December.

Announcements

Before going into closed session for two separate legal issues, the Board will announce a special meeting with the Asheville City council on Aug. 18, at 4:30 p.m., in the first floor conference room of the 200 College Street facility; and an Aug. 29 ribbon-cutting ceremony on Lake Julian Trail at Lake Julian Park.

The meeting will be held on Tuesday, Aug. 4, at 4:30 p.m. on the third floor of the county building at 200 College St., downtown Asheville.

For the full agenda, click here.

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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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