Buncombe Commissioners to discuss parkway preservation, historical art project, air quality concerns

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.

The Tuesday, May 5 Buncombe County Board of Commissioners meeting might be one for the books, as the board will discuss a new art, culture and history project that may result in the addition of a new landmark on the horizon — as well as a few environmental interests and concerns.

Arts and culture projects

Because “the arts and culture community in Buncombe County contributes $44 million annually to our local economy,” reads the resolution, “with $695 million in sales [and] over 9,000 jobs,” the commissioners will consider a $75,000 investment in the arts.

The project is twofold, the first aiming “to create a history wall in the Buncombe County Courthouse, [in the] area between the old and new buildings.” 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.”

For the second project, with a budget of up to $50,000, the commissioners will review concept designs from local art, history and cultural organizations “to begin work on an appropriate outside monument near the entrance of the Buncombe Courthouse.”

Thirdly, the county will contract local arts 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.

Chair David Gantt tells Xpress that he’s very excited about the projects, saying that, currently, the courthouse walls lack the Asheville touch. “So we’re going to turn some local artists loose to create a history mural on the wall,” he explains. “It’s got these huge, 60-feet high walls and, right now, they’re just vacant.”

For the monument, Gantt says the county will “put [the word] out for bids to see what people can come up with.

“We haven’t done much for arts lately,” he admits, “So we have to have less talking and more doing. We have a really rich history, and we ought to celebrate it.”

Blue Ridge Parkway preservation

The Commissioners will also discuss a resolution for preservation and protection of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The parkway “is a national treasure, started in 1935 during the depression era and finished in 1987,” reads part of the resolution. It “boasts a total of 469 total miles, [with] approximately 48 miles within Buncombe County.

In fact, the “intersection at Highway 25 in Buncombe County had the highest number of visitors (465,309) of any intersection in the entire length of the parkway last year,” the report continues. “Visitation has an overall economic impact on the surrounding area of $863 million in 2014.”

After adjacent development spoiled the natural views from portions of the parkway in Virginia, the surrounding towns noted a “severely degraded quality of the scenic views, irreversibly impacting visitor experience” and negatively affecting the cultural and natural resources of the surrounding areas, the document reads.

“The Blue Ridge Parkway is worthy of special protection and considerations in all planning and development within the Buncombe County region,” and the board will propose extra protection measures be taken in the current zoning overlay surrounding the parkway.

Concerns about air quality and Duke Energy’s plant

Commissioners will decide whether to authorize the signature for a letter to WNC Regional Air Quality Board Chair Britt Lovin. The letter voices concern over the Duke Energy Asheville Steam Electric Plant: “Specifically, we are concerned that the suggested permit limit for sulfur dioxide is insufficient to protect county residents from harmful air pollution,” the letter reads. “And we ask that you strengthen that limit to ensure our residents can breathe healthy air.

“As you know, even short‐term exposure to sulfur dioxide is linked with an array of adverse respiratory effects, including bronchoconstriction and increased asthma symptoms. Elevated concentrations of sulfur dioxide in the air leads to more emergency room visits and hospital admissions, particularly for children, the
elderly and people with asthma.”

Click here to read the full letter.

Opposition to sales tax changes

A point discussed at length during the April 7 meeting, resulting in the eventual delayed vote and push to the May 5 meeting, is the changes proposed in a North Carolina sales tax bill.

If passed, the bill would make a “potentially huge financial impact to the taxpayers of Buncombe County” and “would fundamentally restructure the county‐levied sales tax system by [redistributing funds] to counties and cities based on population. These reallocations would be phased in over years, and preliminary estimates prepared by the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners show that, when compared to current law, S369 would decrease these Buncombe County sales tax revenues used for budgeting by more than $15.5 million. And the city of Asheville would see a reduction of over $4 million.”

The resolution reads that “this Board strongly opposes any
state legislation that negatively impacts the current and projected amount of total sales tax collected by Buncombe County.”

Public hearings and proclamations

During public hearing, the board will hear three rezoning requests, all of which were suggested for approval by the Planning Board. And at the start of the meeting, the commissioners will declare the month of May both Motorcycle Awareness Month and Foster Care Month.

The meeting will be held at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 5, in the Commissioner Chambers on the third floor of the county building at 200 College St. To review the rest of the 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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