In a meeting that saw one controlled substance expand its legal footprint, commenters urged the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners to pressure the N.C. General Assembly for use of another such substance. Tuesday’s meeting also featured an update on expanding preschool offerings and a contentious rezoning request.
Knock two hours back
Commissioners approved alcohol sales before noon in unincorporated areas of the county. It was the second reading of the ordinance, as it didn’t gain the unanimous approval needed earlier in the month for it to become law on its first reading.
Last week, commissioners outlined their thoughts on the issue while this week it garnered the same vote without conversation. Commissioners Joe Belcher and Robert Pressley voted against it.
The measure will allow the sale of alcohol at restaurants and stores at 10 a.m. but does not allow for state-run ABC stores to open.
Earlier this month, members of Yes NC Cannabis came out en masse at the commissioners’ open public comment period to ask for consideration of a resolution urging state lawmakers to approve medical marijuana. That resolution was not on the agenda, much to the dismay of many.
“We asked for a resolution to be part of the agenda, and frankly I’m surprised we haven’t seen that come up. … People are dying every day because we don’t have all the tools in our toolkit,” implored Timothy Sadler.
In all, 10 people told stories of friends and family members who used cannabis to ween themselves from heroin and pain pill addictions while others extolled the virtue of medicinal marijuana as a stand-in for, or supplement to, opioids.
James Harvey Jr. told the story of his father injuring himself at work and being prescribed numerous narcotics. “One time a friend gave him some cannabis, and he told me, ‘If I could do this, I could probably make it.’ Three weeks later he took his own life due to the pain,” recalled a solemn Harvey.
One commenter, moved to speak by those around him, told commissioners he would have laughed at anyone telling him he would be in support of medical marijuana a few months ago. “I’ve done some research after hearing people. Now I absolutely am for medical cannabis. I’ve never used it, never will and hope I never need it. I urge you to do some homework and talk to physicians,” he said.
While commissioners rarely address issues raised during open public comment, Commission Chair Brownie Newman spoke to the pro-cannabis crowd. “As a commission, we have a policy of not adopting policies that are statewide or federal issues. There are other ways commission members can lend their voice. Members who are interested would be happy to explore those other options,” he said without specifically noting what those options are.
Medical marijuana legislation is currently stalled in committee and unlikely to advance during the current legislative session.
Earlier this year Xpress took an in-depth look at medicinal marijuana and the opioid epidemic in the following articles:
Children are the future
Commissioners received a brief update about expanding preschool options in the county. Specifically, 78 more spots will be available with 18 at Johnston Elementary and 60 at Eliada Homes.
“I truly believe we can work to ensure every child in Buncombe County can thrive. When we move from talking to acting … expanding access to early childhood rises to the top,” said Commissioner Jasmine Beach-Ferrara. “It helps kids succeed in school … all the way to increasing education and earnings.”
“This is the future of Buncombe County and why I’m so thrilled to be part of this,” said Commissioner Pressley while adding there will be “much more down the road.”
Meantime, Kelly Moreland weighed in on the importance of preschool in her family’s life. “At 3 years old [my daughter] was diagnosed with being on the [autism] spectrum, which is devastating. I quit work and knew I needed to spring into action,” she told commissioners, adding that her daughter’s preschool program provided speech and occupational therapists. “I’m happy to say she is going to a regular classroom for kindergarten. I want to thank you. This is Buncombe County’s future, our kids.”
The agenda item was only an update, and no action was taken.
Earlier this year Xpress explored the logistics of universal preschool in Buncombe County with the article “Universal preschool access could help next generation thrive.”
Commissioners approved a rezoning request, but not before adjoining neighbors voiced concerns. At issue is a 1.6-acre property at 18 Patton Cemetery Road in Swannanoa that will have the land go from R1 to Public Service District. The request will allow an existing child care center to expand its operations by 30 children.
During the public hearing, three people spoke against the rezoning with the right-of-way and parking issues being the main points of contention.
“This is a hearing for a rezoning, so we are not considering the development plan at this point,” noted County Planner Debbie Truempy. “To develop, they will have to submit a site plan,” she said, adding that plans will have to meet parking mandates associated with the zoning designation.
In regard to the right-of-way disagreement, Truempy told commissioners, “We don’t look at private easement agreements; those are enforced through the courts.”
Commissioners then unanimously approved the rezoning.
Commissioners are done for the month and next set to meet on Tuesday, Sept. 5.