Since the beginning of February, governments including the states of California, New York and Oregon have dropped face covering requirements imposed in response to COVID-19. The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners will consider whether to follow suit at its regular meeting Tuesday, Feb. 15.
The county’s current indoor mask mandate has been extended three times after going into effect Aug. 18. Robert Pressley, the board’s only Republican, has thus far been the only member opposed in any of those votes.
Without renewal, Buncombe’s mandate will expire Wednesday, Feb. 16. Brownie Newman, the board’s Democratic chair, said prior to the Jan. 4 extension vote, “I hope that when we get to mid-February, we are through this omicron wave and that we might be in a position really to reconsider a different approach after that.”
The county’s confirmed new daily cases of COVID-19 dropped from a high of 765 Jan. 10 to 56 Feb. 9, the last date for which state data is available. However, the county’s new case rate per 100,000 residents per week was roughly 579 as of Feb. 11, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That rate remains well above the 100 cases per 100,000 residents per week that the CDC regards as “high transmission.” Federal authorities continue to recommend that all people wear masks in places where coronavirus transmission exceeds that level.
In other news
The county’s landfill is set to get more breathing room as the board considers a more than $12.3 million contract with the Maine-based Sargent Corporation. As explained in a 485-page project manual, the contractor would expand the main landfill by 13.5 acres and the construction-and-demolition landfill by 5.5 acres.
Commissioners will not take up a controversial rezoning application that would allow denser residential construction on 73 acres of Pinners Cove in the county’s southeast. Buncombe’s Planning Board had voted 7-1 against recommending the new zoning Jan. 24, and the Minneapolis-based landowner asked for the commissioners’ vote to be delayed until further notice.
A Facebook group opposing the project organized by resident Scott Kuhlman had grown to over 200 members as of press time. A letter drafted on behalf of the group by Richard Kownacki cites concerns over increased traffic, natural habitat loss, erosion and flooding as reasons against the rezoning.
Consent agenda and public comment
The board’s consent agenda for the meeting contains six items, which will be approved as a package unless singled out for separate discussion. In addition to the routine approval of previous meeting minutes, the agenda includes approval of the French Broad fire district’s plan to purchase a new fire engine for roughly $529,000, as well as a budget amendment to designate about $156,000 for two conservation easement projects in Sandy Mush and Black Mountain.
The commissioners will also hold a special meeting at 12 p.m. to conduct interviews for the Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee. At a 3 p.m. briefing, they will discuss Buncombe’s COVID-19 response, pre-K funding and other matters. 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 regular meeting, which begins at 5 p.m. in Room 326 at 200 College St. in Asheville; no voicemail or email comments 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.