In the wake of the violence that erupted earlier this month at a white nationalist rally in Virginia, Asheville City Council approved a resolution condemning the actions of white supremacists and racial violence in Charlottesville. The resolution passed at its Aug. 22 meeting reads, in part:
The Asheville City Council do hereby reject the message of all hate groups; renounce racism, white supremacy, anti-Semitism, the KKK, neo-Nazis, domestic terrorism and hatred; declare that those who want to spread hatred, bigotry and violence have no place in the city of Asheville; and commit to ensuring that Asheville remains a place of love and compassion, where hate is not, and never will be, welcome.
The resolution also tasks Council’s Governance Committee with reviewing “the relevant General Statutes and other applicable laws related to historical markers and monuments on city property.” Mayor Esther Manheimer said the city will formulate a plan for public engagement around monuments.
Council member Cecil Bothwell chimed in that he didn’t think the resolution went far enough. “Condemnation of hate groups is really actually pretty easy but it really only amounts to words,” he said. “Referring consideration of state law regarding monuments to a subcommittee also sort of kicks it down the road.” Bothwell said he believes the city should endorse Gov. Roy Cooper’s call to remove all Confederate monuments in North Carolina and specifically state that it intends to take down the three Confederate monuments in downtown Asheville.
Domestic terrorism coming from right-wing groups presents the greatest terrorist threat, Bothwell said, and Asheville should not give them fuel for their fire. “It’s very clear from what happened in Charlottesville that those groups consider the monuments to the Confederacy and slavery to be very important symbols to them, and I think we should deny those groups those symbols,” he said.
The city attorney’s office is actively looking into Asheville’s legal options regarding its Confederate monuments, which includes the Vance Monument in Pack Square. In light of a state law prohibiting local governments from removing monuments, Council member Julie Mayfield said, the city is trying to ascertain who owns them, the conditions under which they were built and what legal leeway the city has to supplement, modify or remove them. “These are actually not — they may seem like simple questions, they are simple from the standpoint that Cecil is talking about — but they are not simple from a legal standpoint,” she said. “We of course have to be very careful not to put the city into legal jeopardy.”
Nicole Townsend, an activist who was among the four people charged with trying to remove a Robert E. Lee plaque in Pack Square on Aug. 18, called on the City Council to do more than condemn white supremacy. “Good intentions and liberalism are both modern-day nooses except their victims don’t hang from trees,” she said.
Townsend quoted Martin Luther King Jr. on one’s moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws, and she cited several historical examples of civil disobedience that brought about changes now seen as progress, such as the Boston Tea Party. “Mayor and City Council members, I’m asking you to break unjust laws. I’m asking you to remove Confederate monuments. I’m asking you to align yourself with the platform of Black Lives. I’m asking you to stop with your passiveness and take a radical action to make Asheville a sanctuary city. I’m asking you to be on the right side of history and stop having conversations about it,” she said.
City Council unanimously approved a motion to adopt the resolution.
Green light for greenway
After two months of collecting community input on designs for a greenway along the French Broad River, Council gave the go-ahead to move forward. As part of the River Arts District Transportation Improvement Project, the city plans to construct a 10-foot-wide multiuse path along Lyman Street between the former 12 Bones Smokehouse location and Amboy Road.
Council voted unanimously to begin phase one of the project, which is already included in the budget. Initially, the path will be built while existing bicycle lanes in the roadway remain. In phase two of the design, which has not yet been funded, the city will add sidewalks and a two-way protected bicycle lane.
Local businesses have expressed rousing support for both phases being accomplished at once, said Kimberly Williams of the Asheville Greenway Committee. “From my background in greenways and transportation and construction, if it’s a $4 million project, you’re going to have about $800,000 overhead,” she said. “So if you have two different phase projects, you’re going to have to spend that twice.”
Mike Sule, executive director of Asheville on Bikes, said his group supports the RADTIP design and urged City Council and staff to prioritize and accelerate the funding and completion of the southern greenway section. “AoB leadership remains cautious in embracing the phased approach because no one can predict future priorities and future city leadership support for completion of the RADTIP elements as currently proposed,” he said. He added that he hopes City Council implements a specific process in the next two months to identify and secure funding for the full buildout of Lyman Street that includes all components of phases one and two.
Jade Dundas, interim assistant city manager, assured Council that his department will continue to seek out and apply for more funding.
Housing shortage help
City Council took steps to address Asheville’s gap in the housing supply by formally encouraging small-scale residential infill development through its ordinances. City planner Vaidila Satvika introduced the wording changes as a way to address the problems of what he called Asheville’s “missing middle” — characterized by housing stock that consists largely of single-family homes or mid-rise multifamily buildings, lacking more affordable options such as duplexes, townhouses and courtyard apartments.
City Council approved amendments to the city’s Unified Development Ordinance to incentivize duplexes and multifamily housing. The elected officials also voted to decrease minimum driveway widths to 9 feet, from the current 12 feet for single-family homes and 24 feet for multifamily housing. The idea is that narrower driveways will result in more on-street parking because wide driveways reduce on-street parking opportunities.
Council also discussed reducing the minimum lot width for parcels in all residential districts by 20 percent, but it ultimately sent that item back to the Planning and Zoning Commission for further review.
Originally, the proposal would also have increased off-street parking requirements for new developments within one mile of the central business district. That item was struck from the recommendations, however, and its removal created consternation among some residents of affected neighborhoods.
Billie Lofland, a resident of Five Points, said her neighborhood already feels an incredible amount of pressure on its on-street parking, especially from people parking to go to Trader Joe’s and Harris Teeter and attend events such as Downtown After 5. “To exclude a parking requirement for a new development just doesn’t make sense,” she said. “If there’s any neighborhood that needs more off-street parking, it’s ours.”
Parking troubles constitute one element of infill housing considerations, but Scott Dedman, executive director of Mountain Housing Opportunities, pointed to the bigger picture. “We need denser development near downtown. I’m asking everyone in these discussions for a sense of urgency about affordability in Asheville,” he said. “An entire town does not become unaffordable by accident or just because of demand. It’s also because of these, what are considered small restrictions on supply, but when you add them up, they become huge restrictions on supply over time.”
‘Don’t cut Big Ivy’
Environmental advocates showed up in force to speak on an item on Council’s consent agenda: a resolution to support designating the Craggy Mountain/Big Ivy section of Pisgah National Forest in Buncombe County as wilderness. The U.S. Forest Service is considering recommending an expanded Craggy Mountain Wilderness Area for official congressional designation as part of its Pisgah-Nantahala National Forests management plan update.
About 20 people in the council chamber wore green shirts emblazoned with “Don’t cut Big Ivy,” and more watched proceedings from an overflow room and gathered outside. Will Harlan spoke first on behalf of Friends of Big Ivy, telling Council members why the forest matters to Asheville. “It’s Asheville’s ancient forest. It’s the largest old-growth forest in the East and it’s 19 miles from downtown,” he said. “The view from Craggy Gardens, the most photographed spot on the Blue Ridge Parkway, overlooks Big Ivy. Asheville residents and tourists come to Big Ivy to hunt, fish, camp, hike, bike, climb — it is a recreational hub for the city of Asheville.”
After hearing from several green-clad members of the public, City Council unanimously approved the resolution in favor of wilderness designation along with the rest of the consent agenda. Last September, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners passed a similar resolution. Both will serve as input to the Forest Service as it continues to its multiyear process of developing a new Pisgah-Nantahala National Forests plan.
Editor’s note: This article was updated with corrections to Scott Dedman’s statement at 7:45 a.m. on Aug. 24.