The third time proved to be the charm for proponents of a new Haw Creek park, as the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 at their March 18 meeting to provide $240,000—one-third of the needed funding—to buy the 9-acre site. The park will connect the east Asheville neighborhood to the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
The city of Asheville, which will maintain the park, had already agreed to provide an equal amount.The county funding will enable the park’s backers, led by the Haw Creek Community Association, to proceed with the purchase, even though the group hadn’t yet raised all of the remaining money.
“You have made our job so much easier,” association President Chris Pelly told the commissioners, noting that his group had commitments for an additional $140,000 in private funding.
An assessment made by the county valued the property at $720,000, though the original asking price was $750,000.
Vice Chair David Gantt, who’d backed the project from the beginning, said that the initiative shown by park proponents had impressed him.
“This is a good model,” Gantt observed. “Government can do a lot more if we partner than if we just give handouts—and you never, ever said you wanted a handout. I think [the property] is worth preserving.”
Commissioner David Young said he’d originally had doubts about the project but had come around after reviewing the proposal.
“I’ve wavered on this,” Young confessed. “But anytime we can have projects where we only have to pay a third of the cost, it’s almost too good to pass up. This is for the whole county—and that’s the key piece that swung me over.”
The lone dissenting vote came from Commissioner Carol Peterson, who, though praising the Haw Creek effort, said she had too many unanswered questions.
“What is the plan? What kind of money is it going to take to take care of the plan? Who’s going to take care of parking? What kind of work needs to be done to the area?” wondered Peterson. “If you’re a commissioner, your responsibility extends countywide. I would like to see us work through the established board for parks and recreation and their master plan.”
Enka resident Jerry Rice seconded Peterson’s concerns.
“My thoughts would be that you’re doing this [after being] caught off-guard—and you should develop a policy that’s fair to everyone,” said Rice. “I love hiking trails, but in fairness to everyone, this will start a fire that we should try to be ahead of.”
Chairman Nathan Ramsey, however, said he didn’t see approving the park as contradicting helping other parts of the county.
“We’ll work with Black Mountain, we’ll work with Swannanoa,” said Ramsey. “But we need to make hay while the sun shines—and right now the sun is shining on Haw Creek.”
Butner named to Downtown Commission
On Feb. 22, the board had split over whether to appoint developer Chuck Tessier or restaurateur Dwight Butner to the Asheville Downtown Commission. Both are influential figures in the downtown business community.
But this time, Young (who was absent from the previous meeting) broke the tie, casting his vote for Butner, who until last year had served on the commission in his role as president of the Asheville Downtown Association.
“We’re very fortunate—the more applicants we interviewed, the harder the decision became,” noted Ramsey, who joined Gantt in supporting Tessier.
The state’s annexation laws have been a source of considerable controversy in recent years, particularly with respect to involuntary annexation, which is allowed under certain specified conditions—and which the city of Asheville has taken advantage of on multiple occasions. Accordingly, the commissioners endorsed a review of those laws proposed by the Intergovernmental Relations Steering Committee of the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners. The text of the resolution encourages both the NCACC and the General Assembly to undertake a review of the laws.
“We understand that this is a contentious issue,” said Ramsey. “I know it’s especially contentious as we have several municipalities that are considering incorporation, in part out of fears that they’ll be annexed by their neighbors. We want to make sure that the laws in our state exhibit fairness, so the citizens that become annexed get the same services as other municipality residents.”
Young agreed, saying, “What we’re asking for is a review. We’re not saying that this is wrong or bad; we just want to look at it and make it fair for everyone.”
During the public-comment period before the formal meeting, Jerry Rice voiced concerns about the effect of countywide zoning on mobile-home owners. The county, said Rice, had contacted him about removing an old mobile home from his property free of charge.
“I said that would be great—if they’d give me something in writing saying I could put another one back on,” reported Rice. “They said they couldn’t do that. You as a board need to look at this issue. When it comes to affordable housing, a lot of people live in mobile homes. If we can’t put new ones on [the land], then you’ve screwed the people you promised to protect.”
Rice’s situation exists because of what Zoning Administrator Jim Coman called a “Catch-22” in the county’s rules. Coman said the zoning on Rice’s property allows him to install a new mobile home, provided it’s within 180 days after the old one is removed. But if Rice uses the county’s free mobile-home-removal service, he’s prohibited from bringing in another one for at least a year.
“That’s to keep people from using the service to get their junk removed so they can turn around and put something else in there,” Coman explained. “The removal service is very, very popular. We’ve got a huge waiting list.”