City Council starts from scratch to draft new strategic vision, priorities

Asheville City Council at its 2016 annual retreat. Left to right: Keith Young, Julie Mayfield, Gwen Wisler, Brian Haynes, Gordon Smith, Cecil Bothwell, Esther Manheimer. Photo by Virginia Daffron

For recently-elected Council members Brian Haynes, Julie Mayfield and Keith Young, 4 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 30 marked the end of their first City Council planning retreat.

Veteran Council members Cecil Bothwell, Esther Manheimer and Gordon Smith wrapped up their seventh retreat, while Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler marked her third year participating in the exercise.

“It was great to do a from-the-ground-up, start-from-scratch process,” remarked Mayor Manheimer, who called the two-day session “very productive.” Smith commented that, while previous retreats had focused on updating a list of existing priorities, he found value in facilitator A. Tyler St. Clair’s clean-slate approach.

“I”m happy to see the consensus and unity that have emerged around priorities,” said Mayfield, adding that Council defined common ground on which to build a “good working relationship” over the coming years.

Having found agreement on a number of issues, Bothwell commented, Council can “argue about the other stuff.”

Key issues

According to Smith, this planning process is the first to identify equity and diversity as a key focus area, with Council agreeing to look at the impact of all its decisions through the lens of racial equity. Young pointed out that, without continuous effort and review, racial equity “is not just autonomously there.”

Manheimer pushed to address the education achievement gap that exists between white and minority students by formalizing the city’s afterschool programming initiative administered by the Asheville City Schools Foundation. Council members agreed that new monuments or other forms of recognition of African American heritage should be developed out of a community-led process.

The future of the city’s Parks & Recreation department was discussed at some length, with Manheimer saying the city hopes to enter into partnerships with Buncombe County for the operation and maintenance of the Western North Carolina Nature Center and Recreation Park and Pool. Young said that cuts to Parks & Recreation programming during the recession have negatively affected the city’s under-served communities. “What we’re saying is, we already know a problem exists there [with Parks & Recreation],” Young commented.

Surrounded by charts displaying the results of their brainstorming sessions, Council considered policy priorities. Photo by Virginia Daffron
Surrounded by charts displaying the results of their brainstorming sessions, Council considered policy priorities. Photo by Virginia Daffron

Along with City Manager Gary Jackson, Executive Director of Planning & Multimodal Transportation Cathy Ball and Assistant City Manager Paul Fetherston, Council agreed that finding new sources of revenue will be critical to many if not all of Council’s priorities. Specific revenue-generating possibilities discussed include raising the city vehicle registration tax from $10 to $30, instating a food and beverage tax, raising parking fees, bond referendums and continuing to seek funding from the Tourism Development Authority to offset the burden of tourism on city infrastructure and services.

One area in which the need for new funding was seen as particularly acute: transportation, called “Moving People” in Council’s vision statement. Council discussed priorities including improving and expanding the ART public transit system, building sidewalks and implementing a bike share program.

Smith announced a new initiative, Buncombe Community Capital, which would leverage a portion of the city’s investment portfolio to invest in local small businesses through community development financial institutions including Self-Help Credit Union, Mountain BizWorks and The Support Center. Other Council members seemed to support the idea.

Council discussed the importance of engaging with a wide range of partners, from utility provider Duke Energy to the North Carolina Department of Transportation, from Buncombe County to the North Carolina General Assembly and from Mission Health to the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority. Not overlooked were the importance of partnerships with private companies, community groups, nonprofits and individuals.

The elected officials agreed to explore ways to use city-owned land to increase the supply of affordable housing and indicated support for a plan to redevelop a former Parks maintenance property on Hilliard Avenue as affordable housing.

Councilman Bothwell’s vision of an Asheville served by an “all-electric autonomous taxi fleet” had to give way to more widely-shared goals for energy and the environment, including implementation of the Clean Energy framework and continued carbon emission and solid waste reduction efforts.

Two hot topics under the category of land use and development were growing edible plants on city-owned property and future development of city-owned property on Haywood Street.

Next steps

As the retreat came to a close on Saturday afternoon, St. Clair led Council through a discussion of the next steps in finalizing Council’s vision and action plans. After Council members provide input on edits and changes, city staff will create action plans around each of the 36 priorities that emerged from the process. Ball pointed out that, in some cases, plans that address certain priority areas already exist. A final document will come to the Feb. 23 meeting of Council for a vote.

Hand-written notes recorded Council member's vision for 2036 brainstorming sessions. Photo by Virginia Daffron
Hand-written notes recorded Council member’s vision for 2036 brainstorming sessions. Photo by Virginia Daffron
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About Virginia Daffron
Managing editor, lover of mountains, native of WNC. Follow me @virginiadaffron

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36 thoughts on “City Council starts from scratch to draft new strategic vision, priorities

  1. ApePeeD

    Oh yeah we always hear “talk” about expanding transit, but it’s like pulling teeth. And I won’t believe it until I see it.

    • Big Al

      And I will believe “create GREAT / change current relationship with Legislature (in Raleigh)” when I see it.

  2. Gordon Smith

    I discovered the Governmental Alliance on Race and Equity’s Racial Equity Toolkit when I attended the National League of Cities Conference in Nashville in November. This toolkit gives us a model to assess our governmental operations through a lens of racial equity, and then we can make policy determinations based on clear data. It’s long overdue, and I’m so glad City Council embraced it. You can see the toolkit here: http://racialequityalliance.org/newsite/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/GARE-Racial_Equity_Toolkit.pdf

    • Grant Milin

      The Asheville African-American population is shrinking.

      But African-Americans are part of a larger group: renters. It seems like all the affordable housing dialogue and effort is directed to benefit renters, along with home ownership efforts.

      Yet when I asked how many renters are on City of Asheville boards and commissions, city hall replied with silence. There may be no renters on city council, or at least there have been very few cases of any renters representing citizens on council over the years.

      There should tighter understand of this point as of 2016, but US Census data shows renters made up 50 percent of the Asheville population in the 2009-2013 period. I am aware of no efforts to formally embrace this new makeup of Asheville.

      When it comes to justice overall it is noteworthy no one at city hall, no journalist, no educators, no attorneys, no one in civil liberties advocacy, no one else has bothered to compare what APD is saying about body camera policy in comparison to these DOJ principles found in this toolkit:

      https://www.bja.gov/bwc/

      https://www.bja.gov/bwc/pdfs/PERF-ImplementingBWCProgram2014.pdf

      Also why the Citizen-Times vs City of Asheville lawsuit has gone on for over a year with no settlement benefiting public trust is also noteworthy. Obviously neither of those two parties are willing to divulge anything.

  3. Yep

    ‘Society has gotten to the point that everyone ‘has a right’ but nobody has a responsibility… right council ?

  4. Gordon 1820

    I dont know how you can discuss affordable housing and units available for living without discussing whole house AirBNBs. Every day another house goes off the market and onto the hotel side. Renting a room out in your house is wonderful, but buying whole houses and turning them into business ventures destroys neighborhoods. Look at South French Broad, we have lost 15 houses in 2 years, and more are about to be converted.

    • NFB

      Agreed. More houses for tourists means fewer houses for locals and this is one of the factors in the lack of affordable housing in Asheville. But hey, it’s Asheville and tourists always come first.

    • At the last Planning and Economic Development Committee meeting, Lead Planner Shannon Tuch did a report on STRs which included this: Since Council modified the rules on HomeStays a few months ago there have been 35 applications for permits, this in addition to the 10 previously permitted.

      It strikes me that, perhaps, the whole issue of STRs has been blown way out of proportion. With the draconian $500 per day fine imposed by my fellow Council members last fall, all the uproar, all the organizing by STR operators, all the news coverage … one might expect a flood of applications. But it seems there aren’t actually that many people operating HomeStays.

      I suspect that if we move ahead to approve STRs in Accessory Dwelling Units (that’s attached or unattached apartments on the same lot) we will see a similar “flood” of applicants. And if we limited permits to one-per-owner, I’d be willing to bet that there are far fewer whole-house STRs than we have been led to believe. As I’ve noted in recent months, if you search AirBnB for “Asheville” you get “1000+ units.” If you search Weaverville, “1000+ units.” If you search Biltmore Forest, “1000+ units.” Swannanoa, “1000+ units.” You get the drift.

      • Grant Milin

        How many undocumented STR units? I guess that would be tough to figure since if there are any undocumented STR units there’s no paper trail.

        Of course AirBNB and the other STR facilitators have data on these mattes.

      • Austin Hil

        By the way folks, the only argument against expanding STR’s to accessory dwelling units, that they decrease affordable housing, is irrelevant. Here is why. People who like me invested in a home with an accessory dwelling unit for the purpose of operating what we later realized was an illegal rental, have invested thousands of dollars in furnishings, local art, local landscapers, tv’s and other amenities in order to make the unit feel like home. Therefore we must price the rent much higher than a unit that isn’t completely furnished with all utilities, cable, internet……..You get the picture. So unless City Council plans on dictating what we charge for monthly rentals the unit will always be a priced beyond what a single service industry individual could afford. It will never be affordable. I reckon that goes for every other fully furnished accessory dwelling unit in Asheville.

  5. “City Council starts from scratch to draft new strategic vision, priorities”

    What happened to the old progressive vision?

    • bsummers

      I’m sure if you make them a fair offer, they’d consider selling it to you once the new one is up and running.

    • Lulz

      LOL, it’s the new super duper improved version now with even more fees and even less services lulz. Isn’t it funny that in this era, those that are seen as opponents to progressives values are making the most money in this town lulz? McKibbon and Peterson are just two that come to mind lulz.

      BTW, that picture speaks volumes as to lefty loonie thought. Conformity to a tee and a complete and utter lack of diversity in ideas lulz.

      • bsummers

        Isn’t it funny that in this era, those that are seen as opponents to progressives values are making the most money in this town lulz?

        I don’t know that that is true, other than the high-profile examples you cherry-pick. But the desire and ability to make a lot of money does not a good citizen make (just look at the likely GOP Presidential candidate.)

        I was at the last Bele Chere Festival, which of course had all sorts of critics, right and wrong, but was still immensely popular with a lot people across socio-economic backgrounds. I ran into a prominent local hotelier, and asked him how he felt about the festival going away. (It was widely rumored that local hotel owners had taken the lead in getting BC squashed.)

        He said he was overjoyed, He couldn’t wait for it to end. I said, “Does it really hurt your business? I can’t imagine you have vacancies this weekend”. “No,” he said, “we’re fully booked.” At this point, his wife chimed in – “Yes, but some of our top-drawer clients pulled out, because they’re scared of Bele Chere! We were able to rent those rooms, sure, but we’re not getting premium rates for them.”

        So that was their reasoning behind pushing the City to cancel a popular local festival – “OK, we’re making lots of money, but just not as much as we could

        The fact that you make lots of money isn’t always something to brag about, and it certainly doesn’t make you right, politically.

        • Lulz

          LOL, agree bsummers. But this has nothing to do with politics but rather this ideological dogma labeled as progressive but in reality it’s as corrupt and full of cronyism and greed as possible. And the one’s paying for it are the residences with higher fees and taxes with absolutely no gain from it. Some compare the downown popularity to the boarded up one of 30 years ago as proof of the WHOLE city benefiting. When in all reality, only a minority have seen it and others outside of it and the RAD are paying for it lulz.

          Bele Chere would’ve still been around if the bars and restaurants that actually made tens of thousands during that weekend alone would’ve simply stood up with THEIR MONEY and contributed to the policing and clean up. But instead, their selfishness and greed prevented that on top of expecting the city taxpayers, i.e. the residents, to pick up the tab LOL. Screw ’em.

          • The Real World

            “this ideological dogma labeled as progressive but in reality it’s as corrupt and full of cronyism and greed as possible.”

            Oh geez, totally agree. Now, if only they will realize that and more people move to the moderate, rational, center — then we can can get some real things done in this city, state and country. But, what to do about people losing their bogeyman to complain about? (Haven’t come up with a solution to that yet).

            “Some compare the downtown popularity to the boarded up one of 30 years ago as proof of the WHOLE city benefiting. When in all reality, only a minority have”

            Well, you’re referring to only a few benefiting from actual revenue into their pocket from a booming downtown. I don’t have a biz there but I sure do benefit as a local who enjoys partaking of those businesses. And I pay taxes on the stuff I buy or do there so a thriving town serves me as well.

      • Jimbo

        Hey Mountain Express. How about finding out how much it’s costing tax payers for them to throw out their last manifesto/vision and develop their latest one after accomplishing little or nothing in the process?

        • Virginia Daffron

          Hi Jimbo, it looks to me as though there were three main costs to the session: the facilitator’s fee for providing that service, staff time for about 10 city employees who attended (City Manager, Assistant City Manager, Director of Multimodal Transportation, City Attorney, City Clerk, two communications staffers, legislative consultant for one of the two days) and breakfast and lunch brought in for both days. The venue was a conference room at the Buncombe County building at 200 College Street.

          • bsummers

            If they didn’t take the time once a year to develop a coherent plan for setting spending priorities etc., these same people would attack them for that.

          • Lulz

            LOL well yeah, but a group of people that claim to be for the working class and poor sure do use their “perks” lulz. They don’t need a retreat but we sure as hell could use one from them LOL. For oh about the next 50 years lulz.

          • Jimbo

            They aren’t being attacked for having a plan. They are and should be attacked for accomplishing little to nothing, and continually spinning out new “plans” that do little but pander to their supporters while they neglect basic city services we are paying for. How much of city staff time is wasted chasing council’s utopian philsophical goals that are clearly outide their powers or abilities when the focus should be on the services they fail to provide while making us pay more for them?

        • Virginia Daffron

          Hi again Jimbo, since I was summarizing the outcome of the planning sessions, I didn’t say too much about the assumptions or ground rules the facilitator set. She asked Council to come up with a blue sky vision for 20 years in the future, and then she asked them to come up with policy priorities for the next three years on which there is basic agreement within the group. Council asked questions like ‘should we assume the basics are taken care of?’ ‘what about initiatives already underway?’ ‘how about things we would like to do but are constrained from doing (i.e., by state law or other factors)?’

          I understand that, even given that context, you probably still feel that Council isn’t as focused on basic services as you think it should be. But it is the case that, for this session, they were directed by someone who specifically asked them to set aside nuts and bolts issues to discuss a different type of priorities.

    • Yep

      I was wondering the same thing, Tim… I thought they had everything nailed down for uber future control …

  6. Jimbo

    Meanwhile….potholes go unfilled, stormwater drains remain clogged, streets remain crumbling for decades, city buildings rot before any thought of maintenance, City streets are bordered by goat trails, leaves are not picked up, inspections take weeks, the police department remains understaffed, recreation centers close, city staff members keep leaving for more competitive pay elsewhere, and taxes and fees continue to rise. Yippee City Council for your glorious vision to bring harmony, social equality, racial tranquility, free energy and plentiful food to every busted up street corner if you’re lucky enough not to get hit by a bus. Does a single one of them have the slightest inkling about their actual responsibility as an elected City Council person for a local government in the State of North Carolina?? Can residents sue these imbeciles for gross incompetence with our tax money?

    • Lulz

      LOL, Riverside Drive/Craven Street sure are getting their fill of taxpayer stolen loot though lulz. Say, do the number of jobs created at New Belgium really support the amount of money being poured into the area? Or are the greedy developers down there who are screwing each other out of property in order to make even more money the one’s pushing it lulz?

      I fully expect to see an effort to push out and vilify Duyck because of the eyesore that it is even though it’s been like that for decades. Expect the city to use eminent domain just like they did with Pack Square in the late 70’s. And in case you don’t know, they forced out the owners of those buildings using eminent domain and sold them to others in order to “redevelop” downtown lulz. And the backers this time will be a Mckibbon or Peterson or even one of the big reality firms LOL.

    • Yep

      Simply the most pathetically run city east of the Mississippi…but don’t tell the tourists …

  7. This conversation seems to include a good bit of misinformation.
    Our annual planning retreat has very practical outcomes, demonstrated in projects accomplished, changes of direction over the years, etc. and etc.
    During my six years on Council we have shifted priorities to address serious flaws in past planning, and introduced new ideas at our retreats.

    One example mentioned by Barry Summers in this thread: canceling Bele Chere. It may have been favored by some (or many) hoteliers – but when I learned that the festival was not “breaking even” as Council had been assured in the past, but was costing taxpayers $500,000 per year (.5 cents on your property tax)- I was first shocked and then determined to reallocate the money.

    When we learned that the City had slipped to an average 70 year street repaving schedule – I was willing to vote for a 1.5 cent tax increase to fund a capital improvement plan that will drop us to the “recommended” 30 year repaving that is the industry standard. That same effort will significantly build new sidewalks over the next several years.

    The single stream recycling (Big Blue) plan I advocated was included in plans during a retreat, as was the replacement of all street lights with LED fixtures – saving $365,000 per year in electric bills.

    We have retrofitted buildings for energy efficiency during my years on Council – again – ideas brought in via planning retreats. And we’ve begun to address years of neglected maintenance – for example the long overdue exterior repairs on City Hall.

    I could go on. A lot.

    So anyone who asserts that our retreat is all about pie in the sky and not about meaningful planning for the City’s future is either not paying attention, or simply blowing smoke. (And its always fun to read scathing comments by anonymous commenters who won’t take personal responsibility for their views.)

  8. The Real World

    @Cecil – Yes, good streets and sidewalks….always important and valuable!

    Could you direct me where (web links, perhaps) I can peruse the goals established at the retreats each year? And is there a later summary of goals achieved, pursued, delayed, etc? Thanks.

    • Yep

      Yes! I think it would be great to review past performances on previous new visions from the past 20 years! Did any of them
      include improved street design, installation, and maintenance? (yes, we remember all the silly traffic islands installed that have damaged numerous alignments)

    • The Real World

      NOTE to: Virginia Daffron, Tracy Rose, etc. — Cecil hasn’t checked back (or maybe doesn’t want to respond) to my request for info about what goals are established at the annual retreats. If you have any info or could email him, I would be appreciative. Thanks.

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