Buncombe prepares to launch comprehensive plan

Buncombe County seal

What will Buncombe County look like 20 years from now? A new planning process, set to begin in August, aims to answer that question. And at its meeting of Tuesday, July 13, the county Board of Commissioners will vote on paying over $446,000 to a Chapel Hill-based consulting firm to help guide the way.

A presentation made available before the meeting says that Clarion Associates would be charged with community engagement around the plan, analyzing Buncombe’s prior plans and developing specific policies and actions to achieve the resulting vision. Although the county completed a $40,000 strategic plan last year, which outlines areas of governmental focus and general goals, it does not have a comprehensive plan, which primarily evaluates land use and infrastructure. State law requires the adoption of such a document by July 2022.

The county had approved a $400,000 budget and request for proposals for a comprehensive plan in March 2020, but the process wasn’t funded in fiscal year 2020-21 due to pandemic-related budget concerns. Nathan Pennington, the county’s planning director, said at the time that the plan would help Buncombe address its burgeoning development while preserving farmland and the environment.

In another meeting scheduled for Thursday, July 15, the board will interview candidates for the Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee. During a June 15 briefing, at the suggestion of Commissioner Robert Pressley — the board’s only Republican — the commissioners agreed to each hand-pick one member from the 111 applicants for the committee while conducting group interviews for the rest of the roughly 20 available slots.

Homeowner grant terms would cut previously proposed benefits 

Commissioners are slated to vote on the specific terms of a $300,000 grant program, included in Buncombe’s fiscal year 2021-22 budget, meant to offer relief to low-income homeowners impacted by rising property taxes. Under an option outlined in a presentation by Phillip Hardin, the county’s economic services director, those terms would generally be more restrictive than were first proposed on June 15.

The maximum amount of the grant would be cut to $250, a 75% reduction from the previously floated $1,000 cap. The residency requirement for receiving relief would also be quintupled from 1 year to 5 years. However, the money could be used for “other housing costs beyond taxes”; the previous proposal would have limited reimbursement to a homeowner’s tax bill increase.

The board will also consider a $40,000 economic development incentive for Asheville-based East Fork Pottery. The pottery and home goods company plans to spend over $2.8 million on expanding its facilities, which will allow it to hire 50 new workers at an average wage of $22.46 per hour.

Consent agenda and public comment

The board’s consent agenda for the meeting contains 13 items, which will be approved as a package unless singled out for separate discussion. Highlights include the following resolutions:

  • Approving a $411,000 design services contract with CPL Architects, based in Greensboro, for a workforce training center to be operated by A-B Tech. The approximately $5 million, 20,000-square-foot building is meant to support employee development for the county’s new Pratt & Whitney manufacturing plant.
  • Appropriating an additional $150,000 from the county’s budget for Asheville High School renovations to cover higher-than-anticipated construction costs for a new classroom building. The total cost for the building is now estimated at about $4.4 million.
  • Accepting a grant of nearly $87,000 to support a coordinator for the county’s DWI Treatment Court, a diversion/sentencing alternative program for repeat offenders. Money comes from the Governor’s Highway Safety Program.

The commissioners will also hold a special session at 1 p.m. to interview candidates for the Early Childhood Education and Development Committee. The board’s regularly scheduled 3 p.m. briefing has been canceled. The full agenda and supporting documents for the regular meeting can be found at this link.

In-person public comment will be taken at the start of the meeting; no voicemail or email comment will be permitted. Both the briefing and regular meeting will be livestreamed on the county’s Facebook page and will subsequently be available via YouTube.

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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the Assistant Editor of Mountain Xpress, regularly contributing to coverage of Western North Carolina's government, environment and health care. His work has previously appeared in Capital at Play, Edible Asheville, and the Citizen-Times, among other area publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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