Buncombe County Commission

The thorny question of where to site a satellite jail may be close to a mutually satisfactory resolution.

After weeks of public wrangling over Buncombe County’s plan to put a minimum-security jail on the edge of downtown, County Manager Wanda Greene announced last week that city and county representatives had agreed that the jail should be built on a city-owned lot next to the Detention Center.

That agreement came during a private meeting on Feb. 3 involving two commissioners, two City Council members and the city and county managers, Greene told the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners at the beginning of their Feb. 6 meeting.

The county will either buy the city-owned lot outright or do a combination purchase/property exchange, she said. The city-owned lot is bordered by Davidson, Marjorie and Valley streets. The city plans to have the property appraised, Greene said.

The two sides also agreed to coordinate city and county plans for public property in the area surrounding City/County Plaza, bounded by Pack Square and Eagle, Woodfin and Charlotte streets, Greene said.

Both City Council and the Board of Commissioners would have to approve the proposals, which could take several weeks, Greene told the commissioners.

The tentative agreement comes in the wake of a barrage of criticism of commissioners’ decision to buy the Union Transfer property at 123 S. Lexington Ave. for the proposed satellite jail. Although downtown-development advocates and some neighbors complained that the move would chill development of the area, the county closed the deal on Jan. 26.

The city, meanwhile, took action of its own. On Jan. 23, City Council began the process of changing the Unified Development Ordinance to make jails a conditional use (meaning certain specific conditions would have to met before a new jail would be allowed) within the city limits. And on Jan. 30, City Planning and Development Director Scott Shuford authorized a zoning study for the corridor that includes the Union Transfer site — a move that effectively delays the county’s application for a zoning permit.

“The good thing is, we think we’re very close to working out an agreement on it,” Commissioner David Young said after the meeting.

Young — along with Board of Commissioners Vice Chair David Gantt and Greene — attended the weekend meeting with Asheville Mayor Leni Sitnick, Vice Mayor Chuck Cloninger and City Manager Jim Westbrook, Gantt noted during a break in the proceedings.

Individual commissioners have also spoken with individual Council members about the issue, Gantt offered, adding, “There’s a lot we’ve been doing — all of us.”

Gantt said that the city and county managers were continuing to meet on the details. And though he acknowledged the “difference of opinion” on the issue, Gantt sounded hopeful: “I think we’re on the threshold of working it out,” he said.

Greene characterized the city/county tug of war this way: “We’re like family. We kind of disagreed with each other on this, but we worked it out.”

As for the Union Transfer property, the county may look at possible alternative uses for it or put it back on the market, Greene said. One developer suggested using it for county offices, but Greene said she doesn’t know whether that would be the best option.

“There are buyers out there,” she noted.

Harry Weiss, urban-projects director for Public Interest Projects Inc. (and an opponent of the county’s plans) said he felt “cautiously optimistic” about the latest development.

“I’m not counting my chickens yet, but I’m encouraged,” Weiss reflected the day after the meeting. “If anything, this has brought attention to the south side of downtown.”

Changing the rules for animals

The days of buying dogs at Buncombe County flea markets are over — as are the days of Fido freely cruising down the highway in the back of a pickup truck.

Those were some of the changes to the county’s Animal Control Ordinance that the Board of Commissioners approved at their Feb. 6 meeting.

Ray Morgan, chairman of the Animal Services Advisory Board, presented the commissioners with that group’s unanimously recommended changes, which he said had been in the works for about a year. However, this was the first time the proposal had been presented at a Board of Commissioners meeting.

“I think for this period of time in the history of Buncombe County … this is the best ordinance we could come up with,” Morgan offered.

The advisory board’s major recommendations include the following:

• Defining abuse as: “willful injury to or mistreatment of a domesticated animal.” Legal euthanasia and livestock slaughtering are exempted.

• Defining owner neglect as failing to provide adequate food, water, shelter or immunizations as required by law; failing to confine an animal to prevent it from roaming at large; and failing to obtain appropriate veterinary care in the event of injury or illness.

• Changing the term “dangerous dog” to “dangerous animal.”

• Reducing the amount of liability insurance that an owner may be required to purchase on a dangerous animal (in other words, an animal that has already injured someone) from $100,000 to $30,000.

• Removing the current six-animals-per-household limit, which requires people who want more than six animals to get a permit.

• Spelling out that “fresh” water must be provided to animals.

• Requiring animals in open truck beds on public roads to be either caged or cross-tethered. Exceptions include law-enforcement and search-and-rescue dogs (while working), hunting dogs, and farm dogs on private property, private roads or on secondary roads within one mile of farm property.

• Forbidding animals to be sold or given away at flea markets.

• Repealing a rule forbidding beehives to be closer than 150 feet to a neighbor’s household.

• Specifying that the Animal Control Appeals Board will have five members, with cases to be heard by either five or three of those members (to eliminate tie votes).

Associate County Attorney Stan Clontz told the commissioners that the board had added specific definitions of abuse and neglect, to help animal-control officers do their jobs. And the advisory board recommended reducing the liability insurance because it’s difficult for owners to get insurance once their animal has bitten someone, he said.

Repealing the limits on the number of pets per household will allow the county to get rid of a couple of pages of regulations, Clontz noted.

“As long as you adequately take care of your animals, you can have as many as you want,” Clontz said.

Gantt asked what the advisory board meant by “cross-tethering” a dog in a truck. County Planner Mike Bradley described a rope anchored to two sides of a truck, with the dog’s collar in the middle.

“I just wouldn’t want them hanging over the side and being dragged by the tether,” worried Gantt.

Board of Commissioners Chairman Nathan Ramsey asked whether it is legal for a person to ride in the back of a truck.

“Cross-tether a child in,” joked county-government watchdog Don Yelton from the audience.

Clontz said he wasn’t sure, but thought the situation might be covered by a seat-belt law.

The flea-market issue generated lots of discussion.

Although Young noted that “you really don’t know what you’re getting” when buying an animal at a flea market, he asked whether there are legitimate dealers, too.

The main problem with getting an animal at a flea market is impulse buying, which can result in that same animal being turned over to the shelter when its new owner doesn’t want it, advisory board member Ellen Frost explained.

Plus, there is no recourse for a buyer if the animal turns out to be sick, she said.

Although Gantt suggested that a lot of people sell their animals at flea markets, Frost disagreed. Gantt asked her what other avenues people could use if the commissioners took away the flea-market route. Frost listed several, including the Asheville Humane Society’s Web site.

Yelton asked the board to delay a vote and put the amendments on the Internet, so people could see them.

Louise Marley, an animal-control consultant and former state animal-cruelty investigator, spoke strongly against flea-market dog sales. She recounted situations she has observed in which animals have sat in the hot sun with no food or water.

“Unfortunately, I’ve seen so much that I’m just really against it,” Marley said.

George Kushner, assistant director of Animal Control, complained that there was no definition of “fresh” water in the ordinance. And although he thinks restraining animals in truck beds is a good idea, “Who’s going to enforce this?” he asked.

Animal-control officers can’t stop vehicles, Kushner noted, adding that the advisory board didn’t speak with officers in the field before making the recommendation.

Clontz answered that if words contained in the ordinance (such as “fresh”) were left undefined, the county would go by the dictionary definition. He went on to describe a two-week-old bowl of water turning green, with tadpoles in it.

“Stan, we understand the fresh thing,” Young interrupted.

Clontz continued that Animal Control may need to seek the Sheriff’s Department’s help to stop vehicles, noting that such an arrangement could be worked out administratively.

Former shelter employee Millie Mahoney pointed out that the advisory board meetings are public and that board members would have welcomed Kushner’s input.

Conley Davis asked: Since law-enforcement officers can’t seem to keep teenagers from riding in the backs of pickup trucks on Patton Avenue, how are they going to enforce tethering dogs in pickup trucks?

“Have you ever seen a Great Dane in a Volkswagen?” Davis asked.

On a unanimous vote, the commissioners approved all but one of the changes: At Gantt’s request, they did not reduce the amount of liability insurance that may be required on a dangerous animal.

Public-comment changes

County Attorney Joe Connolly presented a proposal to change the rules governing public comment.

Audience members would be required to register to speak within 15 minutes of a meeting’s start by listing their names, addresses, organizations they represent (if any) and the issue they want to address.

Also, spokespersons for groups of at least eight people would be allotted 10 minutes — provided that the speaker reported the subject matter to the county manager’s office in writing by 10 a.m. on the Friday before the meeting.

“It’s only fair that staff have some notice so that [they have] some time to respond to the subject matter,” Connolly offered.

In addition, the proposal suggested that speakers during the board’s public-comment period be limited to one appearance at each regular meeting of the board, with the board reserving the right to deny a speech on a matter previously presented to it. In addition, individuals speaking during public comment should address the entire board and not poll individual board members, the proposal said.

Despite Connolly’s suggestion at the board’s planning retreat in January that it stop televising public comment, he said he wasn’t sure any board member supported him. (Board members didn’t disagree with him at the meeting.)

County watchdog Jerry Rice said the board would be “disallowing a lot of thought” by requiring speakers to state their topics ahead of time.


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