Asheville City Council

Last year, Asheville City Council members didn’t have enough money to award the New Hope Community Health Center a portion of the federal Community Development Block Grant funds the city parcels out annually.

Now they do.

Asheville Community Development Director Charlotte Caplan told City Council members on Jan. 26 that New Hope representatives had been told, last year, that their grant request would be considered, should funds become available. “This has actually come to pass,” noted Caplan.

Another CDBG project — a Section 108 loan program for low- to moderate-income property owners — is just getting under way, using only a small portion of the $167,000 allocated for it this fiscal year, Caplan explained. She recommended reallocating some of that money — $27,000, to be exact — to New Hope’s Social Behavior Modification and Drug Abuse Prevention projects.

The first project seeks to reduce “anti-social behaviors” in the Eagle/Market Street area called The Block: public drinking, drug use, prostitution, littering, loitering, gambling, panhandling and profanity, New Hope Program Coordinator Bonnie Love informed Council members. New Hope plans to hold dusk-to-dawn vigils, sponsor “positive activities” — such as concerts by the Asheville Junior Symphony — and offer “nonconfrontational outreach and vigilance” through a staff of volunteers and trained coordinators, she continued.

“Before The Block can be redeveloped, these issues have to be addressed, [because] they have a vast effect on the businesses and [the] community,” Love declared.

Council member Earl Cobb asked about the volunteers’ qualifications, speculating that such vigils could prove dangerous.

Love emphasized that the Asheville Police Department supports the vigils and will have officers present. Volunteers will also be trained to avoid confrontations, and they’ll carry walkie-talkies as a safety measure. She added that The Block “isn’t all negative” — a number of businesses are located there, there’s a newsletter to get the word out on events, and a contingent of good people.

New Hope’s second project involves hiring a substance-abuse counselor, training volunteers — many of them recovering addicts — and offering new services, such as a drop-in center for women, Love continued.

“After one year, we want zero tolerance of anti-social behavior,” Love explained; the group’s goal is a 10 percent reduction in 911 calls to The Block, within six months. The area has averaged more than 300 calls per year, nearly half of them drug-related, and one-third involving either fighting or public drunkenness.

“The outcomes and goals are attainable,” insisted Love, adding, “New Hope is already gaining the respect of those on The Block.” The group has also received a $25,000 grant from the Buncombe County Drug Commission.

Impressed, Vice Mayor Ed Hay observed that Council’s Housing and Community Development Committee — which determines the CDBG allocations to be made each year — has often heard about the recurring problems on The Block. “This is the first program that’s directed at dealing with [them],” he said.

Council member O.T. Tomes praised New Hope’s work, and made a motion that Council award $27,000 in CDBG funds to the two projects. Seconded by Barbara Field, his motion passed, 6-0 (Mayor Leni Sitnick was absent; she was attending a national mayors conference in Washington, D.C.).

A more sober Bele Chere Sunday

Bele Chere 1999 will be a kinder, gentler festival: Asheville City Council members voted unanimously to halt streetside beer-and-wine sales on Sunday. The first two days of the weekend event, however, it’ll be beer as usual — except that all outdoor alcohol sales will be conducted by a local nonprofit organization.

In recent years, the city has gradually been getting out of the alcohol business, as some Council members (including Sellers and Sitnick) pushed for an alcohol-free festival. The number of beer/wine sales booths was reduced; some were run by a local nonprofit agency, others by city volunteers.

But, fearing the loss of more than $150,000 in alcohol-related revenues and sponsorships — and heeding the results of last year’s Bele Chere survey, in which 76 percent of the respondents said they supported streetside alcohol sales at the event (some even said they wouldn’t attend, otherwise) — a task force of merchants, residents and city staff recommended a compromise: Let a nonprofit, such as the Merchants Action Coalition, run the beer/wine booths, and make the final day of the event, a Sunday, alcohol-free (festival attendees may still purchase alcohol indoors, at local establishments, that day).

“This is a modest proposal that’s headed in the right direction,” declared north Asheville resident Keith Thompson, speaking in support of the proposal. Making Sunday alcohol-free could bring back Bele Chere’s family emphasis, while retaining the event’s positive economic impact on downtown, Thompson observed. He also suggested considering ways to help spread that economic impetus to other parts of the city, by expanding or moving some festival events to the riverfront, Haywood Road in west Asheville, or other locations.

Council member Field remarked that she’d vote for the task force’s recommendation, because “it’s a compromise.” But — although she doesn’t drink beer or wine herself — Field voiced concern that the festival changes each year. She asked that Council and city staff follow up on the results of making Sunday alcohol-free. Field also questioned what effect the recommendation would have on the Asheville Downtown Association, a local nonprofit agency which has run beer booths in recent years. A report that Council heard at its Jan. 19 work session indicated that the Merchants Action Coalition was being considered as the agency that would run the booths.

Task force member Tommy Tsiros responded that the group had not yet selected an agency.

Council member Cobb said he had heard that previous Councils had pushed to make the entire festival alcohol-free. That concerns him, he said, because “alcohol is a legal substance: While I don’t condone it, it’s legal.” Nonetheless, Cobb commented that he is glad to see an alcohol-free day, for those who want it.

“The interest was, early on, to be alcohol-free,” explained Sellers, who also supported the compromise proposal, joking, “I’d like to make a toast — I mean, a motion.” He recommended adopting the alcohol-free-Sunday policy, as well as turning all streetside sales over to a nonprofit.

Seconded by Chuck Cloninger, the motion passed 6-0 (Sitnick was absent, attending a national mayor’s conference).

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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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