Signing off: Asheville City Council considers joining billboard lawsuit

Blank slate: The currently empty third floor of the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce building, soon to be the location of the Lenoir-Rhyne University satellite campus. photo by Max Cooper

Asheville City Council Feb. 28, 2012 meeting

  • Lenoir-Rhyne University comes to Montford
  • Council endorses local food campaign

Some of the biggest news at Asheville City Council's Feb. 28 meeting concerned an item that wasn't even on the agenda. During public comment, Judy Mattox, who chairs the local Sierra Club chapter, asked the city to file an amicus brief in support of a lawsuit by Scenic North Carolina. The environmental group is challenging new state rules allowing more extensive clear-cutting in front of billboards.

“I'm asking for your help. The rules are stating that a whole football field around the billboard can be clear-cut; an injunction would halt the temporary rules,” said Mattox. “We're getting a lot of support on this: It's Western North Carolina that's going to be hardest-hit.”

The rules (see “Perfectly Clear,” Feb. 29 Xpress) increase the potential cutting zone for billboards from 250 feet to as much as 380 feet along interstates and state roads while overruling local ordinances. Founded by the late Julian Price of Asheville, Scenic North Carolina is seeking an injunction against the rules, hoping to delay their implementation at least until summer’s end.

City Council condemned the legislation behind the rules last year when indicating its preferences to state lawmakers. And Mayor Terry Bellamy said that while the city attorney's office might need some time to research an amicus brief, Asheville residents overwhelmingly oppose the new rules. (An amicus brief allows a person or group unaffiliated with the proceedings to submit a document in support of the cause or causes at hand.)

“We can certainly talk to our attorney about that,” she said. City Attorney Bob Oast said he didn't have the information needed to go forward, adding that he’d be taking part in a phone conference on the issue in the morning.

Several Council members also expressed opposition to the new rules.

“This would affect economic development, the environment, quality of life,” said Council member Marc Hunt. “There's a lot at stake here within the borders of Asheville and the surrounding area.”

And Council member Cecil Bothwell noted: “Council has expressed its opinion in the past; it doesn't seem like a big policy change to look at filing an amicus brief. Countrywide, there's a concern about the loss of tree cover in city after city.” (For more about the lawsuit, see the Feb. 29 news blog “Scenic NC Requests Block to New Tree Cutting in Billboard Zones” by Nelda Holder at http://avl.mx/ar.)

New school in town

Council also unanimously approved a rezoning allowing Lenoir-Rhyne University to establish a satellite campus here offering graduate-level evening classes. The campus will occupy the currently unused third floor of the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce’s Montford Avenue headquarters, which the school is buying. The Hickory-based private school expects the Asheville campus to serve about 100 students initially, with perhaps a quarter of them on-site at any given time.

“The university has studied advancing its off-site programs for a number of years, and Asheville seemed to be the best fit,” Lenoir-Rhyne staffer Paul Knott explained. “We have come here with a commitment to be part of the community. We're buying real estate in this community; we're hiring faculty and staff in this community.”

The Asheville campus will open in August.

Other business

In other action, Council members:
• Heard an update concerning upgrades to the city's recycling program. Starting in March, Ashevilleans using the city's recycling service will receive new, larger bins and be able to recycle a wider range of materials.
• Unanimously approved new rules allowing more types of signs and updating the rules governing campaign signs.
• Unanimously adopted the goals of the NC 10% campaign, committing the city to buying at least 10 percent local food, calling it an issue of local sustainability, Council member Gordon Smith said he hopes the city will “blow past” that goal and use an even larger percentage.

— David Forbes can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 137, or at dforbes@mountainx.com.

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