Buncombe invests $50,000 in Asheville Museum of Science, zones county ‘doughnut holes’

The Colburn Earth Science Museum plans to rebrand as the Asheville Museum of Science, relocating to the Wells Fargo building between College Street and Patton Avenue downtown. Concept image by Sparc Design, Architecture and Planning

During pre-session at the Tuesday, Jan. 5 Buncombe County Board of Commissioners meeting, the Board agreed to postpone discussion on an economic incentive for Hi-Wire Brewing, pending more information — but kept zonings,  funding requests and selling excess county property on the night’s agenda.

Zoning the doughnut holes

With the economic incentive off the agenda, the first public hearing of the evening was for a series of zonings intended to close the county’s “doughnut holes,” or currently unzoned holes on the county’s map.

Jason Young, Woodfin town administrator, stood up to ask the county meet with Woodfin staff to discuss an error in one area of the proposed zoning, a mistake that stemmed from voluntarily annexation of some formerly unincorporated territory — the town having not yet reported this annexation due to being short-staffed.

The problem affected the first area on the list, an area encompassing the north end of Ben Lippen Road, Impala Trail, Lorenz Lane, Shelby Road, Renee Road, Begonia Gardens, Sienna Drive, Smith Road and to the west of Gorman Bridge Road.

This doughnut hole was recommended by the Planning Board and county staff to be zoned R-3 residential, but Young says Woodfin staff and residents are also concerned that this label may not be the best fit for th e area. But the purpose of zoning these holes, says Chairman David Gantt, is to avoid any problematic development that may occur while existing as a sort of “Wild Wild West” of deregulation.

The main issue, though, is that, with the Woodfin voluntary annexations not yet recorded, the county would have been zoning properties within the boundaries of Woodfin to which the town has already internally assigned zoning. To respect the town administrator and staff’s wishes, the Commissioners unanimously voted to send this area back to the Planning Board — both for an updated look at the Woodfin/Buncombe boundaries and to hear opinions from the town on appropriate zoning.

“Sounds like the doughnut hole got filled before we got to it!” joked Gantt, as other members of the Board laughed.

With that, the Commissioners heard information on eight other areas, all of which they approved in a 7-0 vote.

These changes are for zoning only and will not affect residents day-to-day, but will allow new development under the each zones respective rules and regulations. (If residents disagree with the new zoning, property owners can apply to rezone the area through the Planning Board, and eventually the county commission.)

Commissioner Miranda DeBruhl pointed out, however, that she felt comfortable voting in favor the eight zonings because she hadn’t heard any opposition from residents (and none stood up against the proposal at the meeting).

New center for mental health

Next up, a regional partnership of healthcare providers gave an update on the new Comprehensive Care Center at 356 Biltmore Avenue. The CCC, or C3 as the facility has branded itself, specializes in behavioral health and is designed to solve the growing volume and lengths of stay seen at regional Emergency Departments, who have increasingly seen problems with insufficient inpatient capacity. The Center is a collaboration between Smoky Mountain Center LME/MCO, RHA Health Services, Family Preservation Services, Mission Health, Buncombe County Health and Human Services, ABCCM, NAMI Western North Carolina and the DHHS Crisis Solutions Initiative.

Without a sustainable plan for individuals with mental health issues, county health services end up paying for lifelong support of these individuals, said Shelley Foreman from Smoky Mountain Center.

A quote from Pennsylvania Representative Tim Murphy in C3’s presentation furthered this point: “We have replaced the hospital bed with the jail cell, the homeless shelter and the coffin.”

The C3 aims to offer urgent care for behavioral health, crisis services for children and adults with MH/SU/IDD concerns, mobile crisis management services, outpatient behavioral health services, peer-led living room model, peer and family support and a community pharmacy. Under this model, the partnership hopes to direct those in mental health crises away from the ER and to the more specialized C3 facility, where early intervention and response, prevention and stabilization will be the top priority.

The RHA adult outpatient clinic opened last July, the community pharmacy opened in October and construction of the peer living room and urgent care center are expected to complete by the end of this month. Construction has already begun on the facility-based crisis center.

Commissioner Ellen Frost remarked that this facility is and will be a great step forward, showing those with mental health issues, who are often neglected by the system, that there are people out there who really do care about them.

“It’s a big deal to this commission that we take care of people who have mental illness,” Gantt said. “These are people who don’t expect anybody to help them. … Thank you for your good work, for helping people who may not be able to say ‘thank you’ themselves.”

Following this presentation, the county heard a resolution to accept bids for a county-owned Montford Avenue property, estimated to be worth $595,000. The county has already received an offer on the property, but must first open it up for official bids. The resolution to accept bids on the property passed 7-0.

Asheville Museum of Science

Currently located in Pack Place, alongside the Asheville Art Museum, the Colburn Earth Science Museum was visited by about 9,000 students from 57 schools in the 2014-2015 school year.

Looking to expand its educational reach and to become a more prominent tourism destination, the Colburn Earth Science Museum plans to relocate from its current Pack Square home to a much larger space in the Wells Fargo building between Patton Avenue and College Street.

With the expansion comes a rebranding, changing its name to the Asheville Museum of Science and doubling its exhibits and classroom sizes to appeal to larger audiences.

Requesting $50,000 in county funding, the museum’s relocation would allow both Asheville Art Museum and the Diana Wortham Theatre to expand into the space currently occupied by CESM. The county funds would expedite the move, moving along the other two entities goals for expansion in the process.

The request specified that the funds should come from the county’s fund balance, but Commissioner Frost asked if there was a reason the county couldn’t just borrow money from the allocation already made to the art museum. Currently, a large amount of funds allocated to Asheville Art Museum is being unused, as its expansion cannot more forward without the science museum’s relocation.

County Manager Wanda Greene explained to the Board that it was possible to borrow money from this fund, and Commissioner Holly Jones pointed out that this moving around of funds does not mean that the county is taking any money away from the art museum.

The money would be borrowed from the art museum’s fund and replaced when it’s ready to be used (likely in the next fiscal year’s budget).

While Commissioner Joe Belcher agreed that he supports the science museum and believes its a worthy cause, he felt uncomfortable making budget amendments out of season. Funding requests are usually made in the months and weeks leading up to the adoption of the fiscal year’s budget in July.

Commissioner Brownie Newman agreed to a point, stating that questioning funding requests out of cycle is a reasonable response. But “for a community facility such as this, clearly Buncombe should be a partner in this,” and, he explained, the museum had reason to wait until plans were more concrete.

“I would normally not support something out of cycle,” Gantt added. “But we told you to come back when you were ready to move, and you’re ready to move.”

The request was eventually approved, 4-3, with Belcher, DeBruhl and Commissioner Mike Fryar against.

Changes in Health & Human Services

Recent Federal requirements decreased the timeframe for local health and human service departments, and in Buncombe County, this has caused a frenzy of overworked staff members, some having to work for 24 straight hours to keep up with cases and ensure local children stay safe.

In order to meet Federal requirements while relieving staff long overtime hours, the Buncombe County Department of Health & Human Services proposed to reallocate and realign some positions, ultimately creating five new social work positions and one new supervisor position.

These changes would cost the county $119,925 for the rest of the fiscal year (and, Greene pointed out, a full year would cost more than $200,000). However, with increasing case volume, the new positions would allow same-day service to ensure Buncombe County’s residents stay safe.

The strategy is to improve same-day processing of benefits, timeliness and quality of service, customer service and make the department function more efficiently.

Commissioners unanimously agreed to allow reallocation and realignment within the department in a 7-0 vote.

Out of the consent agenda

Originally part of the consent agenda, the commissioners heard changes to the Economic Development Coalition’s bylaws, which were suggested by the county’s legal department and clarify who can and cannot vote — and who can and cannot attend closed session meetings — at the EDC. The amendment was approved 7-0.

The next Buncombe County Board of Commissioners meeting will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 2. A special retreat for the Board of Commissioners will be held on Tuesday, Jan. 19, at 8:30 a.m., in the first floor conference room of the county building at 200 College St.


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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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