By Will Bahr
Buncombe County’s land conservation goal, set earlier this year, calls for the county to protect about 6,000 acres from development by 2030. The county Board of Commissioners could achieve nearly a tenth of that target in one meeting through a package of conservation easements up for discussion Tuesday, Oct. 4.
The county’s Agricultural Advisory Board and Land Conservation Advisory Board are seeking $384,000 to fund six easement projects, which together would conserve just over 590 acres. Five easements would protect farmland in Asheville, Barnardsville, Leicester and Weaverville. The remaining project would help Hendersonville-based nonprofit Conserving Carolina secure an easement for Camp Woodson in Black Mountain.
At $135,000, the Camp Woodson project is the most expensive of those proposed; it would also conserve the largest amount of land at 234 acres. Buncombe previously allocated $120,000 toward that easement purchase last fiscal year.
If approved, the projects would use a little over half of the $750,000 the county has budgeted for conservation easement projects this fiscal year. No new budget allocations would be required.
Two county offices are being recognized for work conducted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Buncombe’s Strategy & Innovation Department received a Clean Air Excellence Award from the Asheville-Buncombe Air Quality Agency for implementing a flexible work policy.
The policy, originally implemented as an emergency telecommuting policy in 2020, was tweaked and made permanent in 2021. According to a memo available prior to the meeting, flexible working allowed county employees to avoid driving 4.1 million miles and save over 169,000 gallons of fuel per year, preventing over 2,000 tons of annual greenhouse gas emissions.
And the N.C. Public Health Association has named Buncombe’s Department of Health the Dr. Sarah Morrow Health Department of the Year among counties with over 60,000 residents. The NCPHA noted the county’s focus on equity in its COVID-19 response, including vaccination drives and at-home test kit distribution.
Consent agenda and public comment
The board’s consent agenda for the meeting contains five 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 the following highlights:
- Approval of Buncombe’s tax collection report for August. As of Aug. 31, the county had collected 7.63% of taxes owed for the current fiscal year, up from 6.83% as of the same date in fiscal year 2021-22.
- Approval of a $37,000 contract amendment with Charlotte-based Creech & Associates for interior renovation design at 40 Coxe Ave., the county’s Health and Human Services building. Additional work will include design of a new welcome lobby for HHS patients and modifying existing restrooms to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The extra spending is covered in the existing project budget.
The commissioners will also hold a briefing at 3 p.m. to discuss the county’s opioid response, its active aging center initiative and other business. 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.