Buncombe County leaders have already flagged four sets of county-owned property as potential fits for affordable housing, including a 137-acre parcel off Ferry Road and three downtown Asheville locations. But to turn those plans into reality, the county is considering nearly $221,000 in advice from the UNC School of Government.
As outlined in an April 5 presentation to the Board of Commissioners by Tim Love, Buncombe’s director of economic development and governmental relations, the county would contract with the school’s Development Finance Initiative. The DFI functions like a consulting firm for municipal and county governments to help them carry out creative development efforts. Its previous local work includes the Grey Hosiery Mill reuse project in Hendersonville, which created 35 units of workforce and moderate-income housing.
For Buncombe County, the DFI would work to determine what projects might be feasible at each location, create financial models for public-private partnerships and arrange agreements with private developers. Love emphasized that the consultant would be hired “at risk,” meaning it wouldn’t receive full payment until those agreements had been reached.
Love also said the DFI would leverage the county’s previous work, particularly on the Ferry Road parcel, for which taxpayers have already funded roughly $150,000 in consulting from Asheville-based Equinox Environmental. In another presentation to the board earlier April 5, he noted that Buncombe residents surveyed through public engagement efforts had expressed a desire for lower-density, sustainability-focused development on the site.
Because DFI is considered another unit of government, the county doesn’t have to open bidding to the public for the services it would provide. Buncombe board members are scheduled to vote on approving a contract with the consultant at their regular meeting Tuesday, April 19.
County COVID metrics in the green
On the same day that the Buncombe board declared April 4-10 as Public Health Week, the county’s public health director had good news to share. New local COVID-19 cases, said Stacie Saunders, had reached a “low-level plateau” after falling from all-time highs in January.
The new case rate is now about 40 per 100,000 residents, well under the 200 per 100,000 threshold for the low community level outlined by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As of April 4, just 13 people were hospitalized for COVID-19 across Western North Carolina, down from more than 280 in late January. Only two of those 13 patients have required intensive care.
In light of these declining numbers, Saunders said, Buncombe would be moving to monthly COVID-19 briefings instead of its previous biweekly schedule. The county’s dedicated Ready Team call line for pandemic-related issues is also being discontinued; those with questions are instead asked to call the general Public Health line at 828-250-5000.
Saunders continued to advise residents to stay up to date on their coronavirus vaccinations. Second booster shots are now available for all people 50 and older, as well as those with compromised immune systems 12 and older, who received their first booster at least four months ago. Buncombe’s Health and Human Services offers vaccinations for free at 40 Coxe Ave. Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
Those experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or who have been exposed to the virus, Saunders said, should continue to seek testing. Free coronavirus tests are now available through StarMed at the Asheville Mall 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday, as well as every third Saturday at the same time. Testing is no longer taking place at A-B Tech or Harrah’s Cherokee Center – Asheville.
Free at-home COVID-19 tests are also available through the federal government at COVID.gov/Tests. Households who previously ordered a set of four tests are now eligible for a second set.