Buncombe to revisit sports park soccer agreement

Buncombe County seal

Rarely in local government does “a level playing field” actually refer to a smooth, grassy plain for athletic exploits. But Buncombe County does seek to guarantee that meaning of the phrase — as well as fairness among local soccer groups — as its Board of Commissioners prepares to award a new contract for managing facilities at the Buncombe County Sports Park in Enka.

As explained in a presentation available before the board’s meeting of Tuesday, Oct. 19, by Recreation Services Director Peyton Daisy O’Conner, Buncombe has subcontracted maintenance of the park’s seven soccer fields to the Asheville Buncombe Youth Soccer Association for the past decade. Under that agreement, ABYSA is responsible for keeping the fields at competition quality; in return, the nonprofit receives exclusive rights to schedule games.

O’Conner estimates that this arrangement saves the county roughly $1.5 million annually in labor and materials. Subcontracting also avoids an unspecified amount of county spending on staff to operate soccer programs as part of its Recreation Services budget.

However, not everyone is happy with the current arrangement. At the board’s Oct. 5 meeting, three members of the nonprofit Asheville Shield Football Club spoke during public comment, claiming that their organization had repeatedly been denied access to the fields even when ABYSA programs were not in session.

“ABYSA shall not unreasonably restrict other users; however, ABYSA is allowed to make determinations regarding field use schedules as it pertains to maintaining competition quality fields,” O’Conner notes in the presentation.

Requests for proposals to manage the fields are due Monday, Jan. 3. The contract is expected to be awarded in February, with the winning group taking over operations in May.

Sustainability measures

Three items on the Oct. 19 meeting agenda seek to further Buncombe’s strategic focus area of environmental and energy stewardship. First, commissioners will consider a budget amendment of $394,000 to support conservation easements on eight farms throughout the county.

The easements would together protect over 455 acres in Barnardsville, Fairview, Leicester and Weaverville. The single largest property is a 208-acre Leicester farm owned by Anthony, Gary and Ormond Cole.

Another two resolutions, forwarded to the board by the recently established Environmental and Energy Stewardship Subcommittee, would formalize the county’s commitments to zero-emission vehicles and solar energy systems at local schools. At the board’s Oct. 5 meeting, Chair Brownie Newman noted that County Manager Avril Pinder was already pursuing decarbonization of the county’s fleet; the resolution, he said, is meant to add legislative affirmation to that administrative policy.

A.C. Reynolds stadium upgrades and public comment

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

  • Approval of an application for $875,000 in state education lottery funding to replace lighting at the A.C. Reynolds High School stadium. The new lights are necessary to meet the requirements of the N.C. High School Athletic Association.
  • A budget amendment accepting $14,000 in state grant funding to expand the scope of the Visit NC Farms app. Launched in August and including agritourism opportunities in Buncombe County, the app will now feature locations in Haywood, Jackson, Madison, Mitchell and Swain counties.
  • A resolution approving several changes to the interlocal agreement with the city of Asheville governing the Western North Carolina Regional Air Quality Agency. Among other tweaks, the agency’s name will be changed to the Asheville-Buncombe Air Quality Agency due to the withdrawal of other jurisdictions from its programs.

The commissioners will also hold a briefing at 3 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 19, before their regular meeting to discuss Buncombe’s COVID-19 metrics, adjustments to cost-of-living raises for county employees and applications from county departments and organizations for pandemic recovery funds. 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 Oct. 19 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.

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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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