Asheville City Council

At its March 11 meeting, the Asheville City Council unanimously approved an 11-story, mixed-used building planned for downtown’s south end.

Movin’ on up: The planned 11-story Zona Village North One condos will add more vertical scale to downtown’s southside, joining the 15-story Zona Loft planned nearby.

Slated to include condos as well as office and retail space, the project is the first building to be approved for the ambitious Zona Village project. Zona Village North One, slated for construction on a gravel parking lot on Buxton Avenue, will be around the corner from another project by the same developer, the previously approved 15-story Zona Lofts, planned for 150 Coxe Ave. Both are expected to be completed by 2011.

North One is planned for a 0.17 acre lot on the north side of Buxton between Collier and South Lexington avenues. The Asheville-based developer, Alexander Reagan LLC, plans to build 54 residential units, with a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom condos. The company, said President and CEO Robin Pittman, also plans approximately 3,000 square feet of office and retail space at ground level.

The condos will range from about 632 square feet to 1,570 square feet, according to the developer. Two office spaces are planned, at 670 and 915 square feet, and two retail spaces, at 724 and 947 square feet.

Pittman predicted that most units, which are aimed primarily at Mission Hospitals staff, would be affordable for middle-class buyers whom Pittman said are now underserved downtown. Prices would range from about $169,000 to $800,000. Those numbers prompted Council member Robin Cape to urge the developer to consider dropping the prices on a few of the condos to make them affordable to a broader swath of buyers, though that wasn’t a condition of approval.

Council’s biggest concern, however, proved to be parking. The current plans don’t call for any dedicated parking for the building, and the city doesn’t require it for new downtown construction. But Pittman assured Council that parking would be part of the overall plans as Zona Village is developed. A structure now being studied, he said, could create up to 500 spaces.

It’s not personal—it’s personnel: Bellamy booted from chair

by Hal L. Millard

A slim majority of Council members voted to remove Mayor Terry Bellamy from her lead role in overseeing three city staffers directly supervised by City Council during the March 11 meeting. The item, which was added to the agenda at the beginning of the meeting without any public notification, didn’t sit well with Bellamy and even less so with Council member Carl Mumpower, who called the maneuver “perhaps the single most reprehensible and disrespectful thing ever done to a mayor.”

On a 4-3 vote with Bellamy, Mumpower and Vice Mayor Jan Davis opposed, City Council voted to create a permanent, standing Personnel Committee chaired by Council member Bill Russell and including Bellamy and Council member Holly Jones. Council member Brownie Newman, who proposed the change, said Russell is best equipped to handle personnel matters, based on his 15 years’ experience as a business owner and former human-resources manager.

Mumpower hinted at a political power grab. Asked about it later, Newman dismissed the idea as “silly.” With City Clerk Keisha Lipe set to leave her post at the end of March to take a job in the Engineering Department, he said, it just makes sense to have someone with extensive human-resources experience take the lead role in the search for her replacement.

“If we’re going to have a committee and have someone chair that committee, then Bill Russell is clearly the most qualified, experienced person to do it. And that’s the answer,” Newman declared.

During the meeting, Bellamy protested that she has at least 10 years’ experience in human resources both as mayor and as a member of state boards. Noting that she’d taken the lead role in hiring Lipe, Bellamy said, “It’s just discouraging that that role has been changed without any true articulation as to why.” At press time, the mayor had not returned a phone call seeking comment.

Besides directly overseeing the city clerk, Council also supervises the city attorney and city manager. All other employees are supervised by their respective department heads. The entire Council ultimately votes on any action concerning those three employees.

After becoming mayor, Bellamy created an ad hoc committee on personnel matters, because the three employees had not been receiving annual performance reviews. The committee was also empowered to address any other personnel matters involving those employees, including advising Council on hiring-and-firing decisions.

While Newman’s motion came as a surprise to the public and local media, he told Xpress that he’d e-mailed his proposal to his Council colleagues soon after Lipe announced her resignation. “There is nothing unusual about this,” said Newman. “I think it’s unfortunate that some people have interpreted it that way. I don’t think that was the way it was intended to be seen.”

Opponents felt it undermined Bellamy’s authority, which is already limited under Asheville’s council/manager form of government. Mumpower, her staunchest defender in the matter, said she’d performed well in that capacity and he saw no reason to change things—much less create a standing committee in place of one that had needed to meet only a few times a year.

But Council member Robin Cape, who supported the move, noted that Bellamy is the only one with an office at City Hall and thus has the most direct contact with city staff on a daily basis. The move, added Cape, would render the committee more neutral. “I think staff deserves the option to talk to people that aren’t in the office all the time,” Cape said during the meeting. In a later voice mail to Xpress, Cape added: “I think it just makes more organizational sense to not have the person that’s most directly in contact with the staff be in charge of the Personnel Committee. It doesn’t give any mechanism for checks and balances.”

In a March 12 e-mail to Mumpower, Cape accused him of grandstanding, stating: “I have no political gain possible in being a good steward of our employees. Any organization that insists on having the supervisor of those employees doubling as the personnel chair is one [whose] operations … are threatened.”

Mumpower, meanwhile, sent a March 12 e-mail to Bellamy reiterating his comments during the meeting. “Last night’s action by the Council majority (Brownie Newman, Bill Russell, Holly Jones and Robin Cape) in removing you as chair of the Council’s Personnel Committee was one of the more reprehensible and disrespectful Council actions that has occurred in recent memory,” he wrote. “The level of self-service in this exercise in classic good-old-boy power politics was an exercise in shame that should not go unreported. I regret the hurtful nature of this orchestrated event and know that you will press on with the understanding that there has been nothing in your actions as mayor to necessitate this level of mistreatment.”

During the meeting, Mumpower had scolded his fellow Council members, declaring, “Some of you should be ashamed at what you’re doing right now.” Davis, for his part, said he saw no reason to shake up the status quo. “I’m not sure why we’re doing this right now; I’m kind of good with where we are.”

Russell, looking slightly pained by it all, said: “In regards to accusations of power and undermining and coup things … I think I can serve in a neutral and respectful way. It’s not personal. … It’s not some power grab. That’s the last thing I want.”

Asked about it later, Mumpower told Xpress: “This is not about big problems so much as big egos. It was all much ado about nothing and a reflection of immature power politics that were unnecessary, disrespectful and ill-advised. It appeared that the four folks involved wanted to demonstrate to the mayor that they are in charge—not her. This was the clumsy opportunity they chose to demonstrate that power. It’s difficult to assign logic and reason to absurdity.”

In return, Newman called Mumpower’s charges “absurd,” adding, “The whole idea that this is some giant, controversial thing is just silly, frankly.”

 

Council member Brownie Newman said this approach encourages more pedestrian-friendly development downtown.

“I think it’s wrong to put a mandate on [parking spaces],” he said. “You go to great American cities, and you’ll notice that you can’t have a great downtown if you require a certain number of spaces [for every building].”

Council members largely applauded the plan, citing infill development in an area that’s littered with empty buildings and vacant lots. The plan also drew kudos for its commitment to green building practices. Among the planned features are solar hot water; collecting rainwater for flushing toilets; using environmentally sensitive materials in paints, wall textures, cabinets and countertops; and sustainable flooring made of bamboo and eucalyptus.

“I think the project is great and am glad to see it proposed in our community,” said Newman, adding that it would address housing needs in an underdeveloped part of downtown.

Who stole my car?

Citing numerous complaints from residents and tourists alike, Council directed City Attorney Bob Oast to come back to them in April with ways to stem predatory towing in the city’s private parking lots. A 2003 ordinance requires lot owners to post signs warning unauthorized users of the risks they face. But many have complained that the signs are often hard to see, especially at night, and may not provide sufficient information. Some people have expressed frustration over having to pay “release” or “storage” fees in addition to the towing charge, which can add a couple of hundred dollars or more to the total cost. Although neither Council members nor staff cited any specific instances of illegal behavior, it was alleged that some towing companies are taking advantage of an ordinance that bears updating.

“We have very little power as a political body to regulate predatory towing. … But I think we all realize we have a problem and need to do something about it,” Vice Mayor Jan Davis observed.

There are some things the city could do right away, noted Oast. The required signs could be changed in any number of ways, he said, such as making them bigger and requiring them to provide more information concerning charges, lot ownership and contact numbers.

Such changes are fine, said Council member Carl Mumpower, but they won’t fix the problem. “The predators aren’t going to play,” he predicted, adding, “For those of you in the towing business, you’ve had a lot of time to clean this up.” Mumpower suggested substantially increasing the fines for abuses of the towing ordinance, which would send the strongest message to unscrupulous operators. Oast said that’s another area where the city could act quickly if it chose to.

Some Council members said the city could also seek more innovative ways to ease the downtown parking crunch. Council member Robin Cape mentioned using economic incentives, such as tax breaks, to encourage businesses and owners of private lots to open up spaces to the public during off hours. Newman chimed in that the city might explore actually buying the right to use some private spaces during certain hours of the day.

Davis agreed, saying, “There’s lots of spaces downtown going unused. I think there is some opportunities to do some innovative things.”

Pedal power

As the weather warms this spring, bicycles will once again start popping up all over town, along with the crocuses and daffodils. But while downtown is no stranger to such vehicles, they’ll have some new company this year.

City Council unanimously granted a franchise to Your Chariot Awaits LLC, which wants to operate up to five pedicabs within downtown, the River Arts District and the Montford Historic District.

The bike taxi service won’t be allowed on the streets during peak commuting periods or where the speed limit is 35 mph or higher. The specified hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. Monday through Friday, and 7 a.m. to 3 a.m. on weekends.

Council members lauded the idea, though some raised questions about traffic safety. “My only experience with pedicabs was in Saigon, and they were a little dangerous. Any concerns?” Mumpower, a Vietnam War veteran, asked Transportation and Engineering Director Cathy Ball.

Ball responded that the city’s franchise allows it to revoke the license within 30 days if problems arise and to impose further restrictions as needed. However, she said, “The benefits at this point outweigh the risks.”

Company owner Felicia Thurman said the pedicabs, which can also run on an electric motor, can reach speeds of 12 mph. She also noted that they’re roughly the same size as the electric carts used by the city’s parking patrol. Thurman said she couldn’t think of any reason why the pedicabs would pose any real hazard or impediment to traffic.

Council member Bill Russell supported the idea enthusiastically, saying, “I definitely think it would add to the Asheville flavor.”

Other business

Hot stuff: Local climate scientists who shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore received recognition from City Council. Photo By Jonathan Welch

Asheville was a big winner in last year’s Nobel Prize awards, and City Council took the opportunity to recognize that. The local winners, all of whom are scientists, were honored along with many others for their work on global warming and climate change. The Asheville recipients all worked at the National Climatic Data Center and were affiliated with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which shared the 2007 Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore. Thousands of scientists around the globe have studied and issued reports on climate change through the IPCC during the past two decades.

Those honored were: Tim Owen, Richard W. Reynolds, John J. Bates, Michael Crowe, Robert Eskridge, Robert G. Quayle, Byron Gleason, Thomas R. Karl, David Wuertz, David Easterling, Thomas Peterson, Jay Lawrimore, Leonard Bernstein, David Levinson, Richard Knight, Russell Vose and Pasha Ya Groisman.

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4 thoughts on “Asheville City Council

  1. max

    ahem….i wonder if the city of asheville knows that ZONA is hebrew slang for hooker/prostitute…ask any israeli…i lived there for 3 years…too funny

  2. Max:

    Well, the irony is that most of the Lofts will be owned by wealthy out of town cokeheads who will probably enjoy many high class Zona’s.

  3. Zona village looks like a step in the right direction because virtually nothing is affordable when it is brand new anyway. Was the Windsor affordable the day it was built? And it doesn’t need parking because it is served by buses.
    Davis said there is “no reason reason to shake up the status quo,” there is always reason to routinely shake up any and all status quo’s simply because they are there, in addition to other reasons which are virtually inevitable as patronage thrives in WNC from long before Thomas Wolfe’s time.

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