Asheville City Council

When you’re all wet … shake it off and laugh.

That’s how Asheville City Council members took the latest developments in their proposed purchase of the French Broad Golf Center, after a six-inch rainfall on Jan. 7 left only the flags on some greens still visible.

Council members and city staff know how to take a hint from Mother Nature: They nixed the proposed purchase during their Jan. 13 formal session.

Parks and Recreation Director Irby Brinson remarked, “When I stirred the pot, I didn’t know I’d be sitting in it.” One week earlier, Brinson had recommended buying FBGC, reporting that city parks and recreational facilities are projected to need upwards of $30 million over the next 15 years.

“Those needs are not going to go away,” Brinson said. Golf courses are one of the few recreational facilities that can generate significant income — money that could help meet that multimillion-dollar need, he had pointed out in previous talks with Council.

Then the rain hit. FBGC’s flooding problems could be solved, Brinson said, “But it’s going to be costly.” He recommended not buying the facility.

Despite the washout, Brinson said that he and his staff “will not shy away from creative ideas in the future.”

“You were instructed [by previous Councils] to look for new ways to generate revenue,” Mayor Leni Sitnick said, thanking him for the effort.

Council members joined her in giving Brinson a little moral support. Council member Chuck Cloninger remarked that he is glad Brinson vowed not to be “gun-shy [about] bringing new ideas to Council.”

“Actually, I have a bullet-proof vest on,” Brinson cracked.

Parks and Recreation Advisory Board member Samuel Camp took a more serious tone — initially, at least. He urged Council to address newspaper implications that closed-session talks about the real-estate purchase signaled some kind of “underhanded deal.”

Sitnick suggested meeting with media representatives to review the parameters of closed sessions.

Camp went on to reiterate how the golf course idea came up in the first place: The city needs to fix up old playgrounds and ballfields, build new ones, create greenways, renovate its community centers and more. Figuring out what the city needs has been easy, Camp indicated: Staff, board members and the public have been working on an updated master plan for parks and recreation. “But when it comes to money, no one could come up with [that],” he stressed.

The golf course idea was only one potential funding option. After all, Camp observed, “Every course in the Asheville area goes under water … if you have a hard rain.” Then he paused and added wryly, “Granted, this [French Broad] course goes under a little more than others.”

The audience had a good laugh over that one.

And they got another when Buncombe County resident Jerry Rice recommended, “If you’uns are really interested in revenue, look at what you already gave away … and take it back.” Under the regional water agreement between Buncombe and Henderson counties and the city of Asheville, he pointed out, the city turned over to Buncombe County such recreational facilities as McCormick Field and the old Municipal Golf Course.

Rice claimed that the money the county has had to put into those facilities is costing county taxpayers. The city, he said, could reclaim those facilities and keep the revenue.

Sitnick asked whether he was making this offer on behalf of the County Commissioners.

“As a resident and a taxpayer, I certainly am,” he replied.

Then Dr. Bruce Baker of the National Climatic Data Center reported that there have been 16 local rain events since 1948 in which the precipitation exceeded four inches — half of them since 1986. Suggesting that Council consider less risky ventures than a flood-prone golf course, he also questioned the $600,000 profit that the National Golf Foundation had projected for the Golf Center in the fifth year of city ownership. “Were they expecting an increase in the golfing population?”

Council members took the hint. Sitnick noted that Council had been, well, inundated with comments about the proposed purchase. On a motion from Council member O.T. Tomes, they voted 7-0 to pass up the opportunity to get into the golfing business.

Talk, Taylor, talk

Want to make a point with City Council? Deliver 4,000 letters to City Hall.

RiverLink Executive Director Karen Cragnolin brought a foot-high stack of letters to Council on Jan. 13 and set them on a table. All 4,000 letters, she said, support getting the American Heritage River designation for the French Broad — an effort pretty much nixed by U.S. Rep. Charles Taylor‘s recent announcement that he opposes the whole project.

Taylor and a property-rights group have claimed it circumvents Congress’ power, creates a new level of federal bureaucracy, and could adversely affect riverfront property owners.

“I just can’t accept — I can’t believe that we can’t even compete,” said Cragnolin. She reported that 126 rivers across the United States were in the running for the designation, sure to bring federal dollars for river development and cleanup projects. “No one else is having this problem,” Cragnolin said.

“If this designation is what Charles Taylor feels it is, then we, RiverLink, will be the first to say, take it back,” she pledged. Cragnolin asked Council members for a little help: Get Taylor to meet with RiverLink.

Saying that numerous attempts to speak with him have met with no response, Cragnolin remarked, “I don’t know how to [create] dialogue with someone who won’t talk to me.”

Council members agreed to contact him as soon as possible and set up a joint meeting.

Cragnolin also asked that Council members relay to Taylor that they have seen the 4,000 letters of support — many from governmental bodies such as Asheville City Council. Workers at Taylor’s office, she said, have told her that those opposing the designation outnumber supporters 3-1. Sounding skeptical, Cragnolin said, “That means he has 12,000 letters [against American Heritage] in his office.”

Flea market parking

Nearly 200 flea market vendors need work — and their customers need somewhere to park.

So R. S. Mayhew, one of the developers of a new flea market planned for Springvale Drive in southeast Asheville, asked City Council to rezone several adjacent properties for use as an overflow parking area.

He requested that seven lots — most of them vacant property — be rezoned from residential to commercial/industrial use.

Mayhew pointed out that he and his partners plan to renovate a condemned house on one of the lots, located on Glendale Avenue, and are considering doing the same on an adjacent lot. “This will be the first time that housing has been added to this block in 40 years. We’re the first ones to come in and make an investment and raise [property] values for this neighborhood,” he declared.

Oakley neighborhood representative Pat Logan seemed satisfied with that. He told Council that he has driven and walked through the area, noticing the abandoned homes, garbage and other signs of decline on that block, bordered by Glendale, Dogwood Lane and Springvale. “Nothing’s been built new recently. … [Mayhew’s plan] may do a little bit to help a blighted neighborhood.”

Logan noted that neighborhood concerns about traffic have been assuaged by buffering requirements that prohibit Mayhew from routing flea-market traffic onto Dogwood Lane. The overall project, he remarked, “will have little impact on [nearby] Oakley. … The flea market will have a beneficial impact on Asheville and the economy.”

Flea-market vendor Ronald Chandler seconded that. With the closing of the Dreamland Flea Market on Tunnel Road, he noted, “There are 195 people out of work. They need a flea market. If there’s not parking … for customers, there’s no customers.

“I don’t know all the technicalities of what you’re talking about today,” Chandler added, referring to concerns about storm-water drainage, buffering strips and the like. “I’m just just talking as one person to another.”

Council member Earl Cobb asked whether the flea-market developers would build a fence to prevent children from climbing over it to get to the street. “I don’t have a problem with the flea market. I’m just concerned about the impact of 600 cars’ traffic [and] the impact on the neighborhood,” he noted.

Mayhew estimated that 600 parking spaces would be created on the flea-market site, and “as many as we can get” on two of the small lots across the street on Springvale.

City Attorney Bob Oast cautioned, “You’ve heard a lot of information about [specific] uses for this property. … Council members must consider all possible uses.”

The requested Commercial Industrial zoning designation permits numerous uses, including golf courses, bookstores, convention centers, convenience stores, lumber yards, offices and warehouses.

After a bit more discussion, Council members voted 5-0 to approve the rezoning, on a motion by Cobb. Council members Chuck Cloninger and Barbara Field had to be excused from voting, because their employers have professional relationships with Design Associates, a landscape-architecture firm hired by the flea market.

Reclaiming an old industrial site

What sort of chemical contamination remains at 105 Fairview Rd. — and has it seeped into the ground water?

That’s what Asheville Mayor Leni Sitnick wants to know, before City Council approves a “Brownfield Agreement.”

Such agreements are state documents which acknowledge past contamination, require some further cleanup, and allow the redevelopment of the site. They tie into the 1997 Brownfields Property Re-use Act, passed by the General Assembly to “allow prospective developers to develop a contaminated piece of property with less than complete cleanup … and without threat of legal action by the Environmental Protection Agency,” according to Asheville Director of Planning and Development Julia Cogburn.

The property, previously owned by Carolina Production Finishing, was closed in the mid-1980s, she reported. Barrels of chemicals were left on site and had to be removed. The new owner, Reese Lasher of Western Investment Company, wants to renovate the existing building on the site and lease it. To do that, he needs Council’s letter of support for a Brownfield Agreement.

Cogburn indicated that, according to the state, most of the contamination has been cleaned up.

But Council members were a bit cautious. Council member O.T. Tomes wanted assurances about the safety of employees likely to work on the site, once the building was renovated and leased. Sitnick asked for more information — specifically, what chemicals were involved and whether any contamination had “migrated off site” by getting into the ground water.

Council member Barbara Field suggested delaying any action until more information could be obtained by city staff. Fellow members agreed and directed staff to do so.

$2.2 million and a rabbit

The people of Buncombe are due an explanation, county resident Jerry Rice told City Council on Jan. 13.

One week earlier, at a meeting of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, Rice heard that the Regional Water Authority of Asheville, Buncombe and Henderson had recently discovered a $2.2 million budget shortfall. The discrepancy — hastily remedied by delaying major projects and trimming operating costs — was blamed on a computer error. Said Rice, “It wasn’t a computer error, because a computer is junk in and junk out.” In other words, some human had to be the real culprit.

The problem allegedly occurred because a new computer system incorrectly projected revenues too high, according to previous staff reports.

But Rice remarked that he didn’t see how government could “proceed this way … [with] such a big projection when there were no new revenues. … The people involved should be reprimanded … not demoted into another position, but fired and [put] out the door.”

Before Rice could get really heated up about the oversight, Mayor Leni Sitnick noted that his three minutes for speaking were up.

To that, Rice retorted, “When you get hot on the trail of a rabbit, it goes in a hole.”

Sitnick, who took office after the budget shortfall came to Council, suggested that Rice first meet with Asheville City Manager Jim Westbrook about his concerns, and then meet with her.

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About Margaret Williams
Editor Margaret Williams first wrote for Xpress in 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987 and completed her Masters of Liberal Arts & Sciences from UNC-Asheville in 2016. Follow me @mvwilliams

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