Buncombe County Commission

Some people think barking dogs are a nuisance; others figure it’s just natural for dogs to bark. Some folks say all dogs in the county should be restrained; others maintain that a dog living on 30 acres doesn’t need fencing.

And so it was that, after more than an hour spent hearing the pros and cons of proposed amendments to Buncombe County’s Animal Control Ordinance from citizens and Animal Control Services staff alike, the commissioners voted to pass just one of the 11 proposed changes at their March 17 meeting. They tabled the rest, pending more discussion between county staff and local organizations dealing with the issue.

Tabling touchy issues that have no easy resolution isn’t unusual for the commissioners. The county’s highly controversial proposed junk-car ordinance is back under discussion after a Jan. 13 public hearing at which many residents argued against the law. It may come back before the Board of Commissioners sometime near the end of April, according to Chairman Tom Sobol.

Also in limbo is the fate of any asphalt plant looking to locate in the county. Faced with constituents opposed to living near such facilities, and charges that asphalt emissions may be dangerous, commissioners recently extended a temporary moratorium on the construction of new asphalt plants until August. Any final decision on the plants, though, hinges on the results of a batch of Environmental Protection Agency emissions tests — which have been repeatedly postponed.

And this fall, the final report on the county’s land-use plan (the very hottest of the commissioners’ current crop of hot potatoes) is due — nearly two years after the plan’s inception. Nevertheless, stresses county Planner Jim Coman, it will not dictate land use, but rather serve as a guide for the county’s growth. Commissioners have no plans to institute any sort of zoning, an issue that deeply divides the citizens of Buncombe County. Instead, it will be left to individual townships to vote on whether they want zoning.

But Sobol doesn’t see commissioners as sitting on the fence when it comes to tough issues. He believes commissioners face a particularly tricky assignment in representing a county as diverse as Buncombe, in which areas like Sandy Mush and Big Ivy remain purely rural, while neighboring areas are quickly becoming suburbs of Asheville’s urban center. “It certainly adds a degree of difficulty” to the job of commissioner, says Sobol.

“Sometimes [things] move slower than we want,” he admits — but that doesn’t mean commissioners are delaying, he argues.

The current board “made a pledge from the very beginning to be open,” notes Sobol, who has served on the Board for 14 years. That means lots of public input, public meetings, and public hearings. All that openness, he argues, “takes time. … Before we take a position, we must have heard from a cross section of the county.”

Commissioner Bill Stanley, a 10-year veteran, agrees with Sobol. Decisions would come “easier” if Buncombe were entirely urban or rural, he says. Not being strictly one or the other “does create problems for us,” he concurs. Still, observes Stanley, “You’ve got to know how everyone feels.” He doesn’t see the county’s polarization as delaying commissioners’ decisions, but rather as “prolonging” things.

The latest such issue — the Animal Control Ordinance — could be back before the Board by its April 21 meeting, giving commissioners another chance to pass the series of amendments.

Most controversial is an amendment that would require owners to physically restrain their pets, regardless of how much land the animal lives on. The current ordinance exempts pets living on two or more acres. But staff of Buncombe County Friends For Animals (which handles animal control in the county) say the two-acre limit isn’t enough. Dogs wander off their owners’ property, disturb neighbors, and are already back home before Animal Control can respond.

Commissioners, however, agreed not to pass the amendment, because asking a person living on 100 acres to restrain his dog seems unnecessary, they said.

Most animal-control complaints that commissioners and Friends hear concern barking dogs, however, and the part of the amendment that commissioners did pass should help Friends get a fix on the problem. Previously, getting violators to pay fines or otherwise cooperate with Animal Control was hit or miss. There was no formal method of extracting payment, or other form of recourse through the courts that Friends could take, said Animal Control Director Barbara Bellows. Now, Friends can issue negligent owners a ticket. Failure to pay or otherwise comply will eventually land the recipient in court.

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