The vision of thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts cruising into the county over the July 4 weekend dominated last week’s meeting of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners.
At the board’s March 19 work session, supporters of the proposed Blue Ridge Bike Bash touted the event’s potential economic benefits, while a parade of law-enforcement personnel and county employees reported on the logistical problems it would create. Although the board couldn’t legally veto the Bash, County Manager Wanda Greene told commissioners they were going hear about the event’s potential impact on the community and on county resources.
Bash promoter Jeff Myron (who owns Sugar Daddy’s restaurant in Fletcher) was hoping to hold the new event at Woodfin’s town-owned golf course. But it became a moot question when, later that evening, the Woodfin Board of Aldermen turned down the request to hold the event at Northwoods Golf Club.
A Henderson County site had been the first choice, but residents there voiced opposition, prompting the promoters to look to Woodfin.
Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce representative Susan Ballard told the commissioners that the event could draw 15,000 to 30,000 attendees, who would spend at least $8.4 million in Buncombe, Haywood and Henderson counties (based on 15,000 people spending $187.89 per day for three days). Even with 15,000 attendees, the event would be twice the size of the Honda Hoot, a rally held annually in Asheville until recently, she said.
Later in the meeting, however, Chad Nesbitt (representing the Bash promoters) said the projected attendance figures were for the entire weekend, not per day.
Perhaps to dispel sterotypical images of grungy bikers, Ballard told the board that the average Harley-Davidson owner is about 48 years old and has a median annual income of $78,000.
“I’m very much for them coming in here,” Ballard proclaimed.
Commissioner David Young agreed, and Vice Chairman Bill Stanley said he hadn’t seen any problems when he visited Myrtle Beach while the town was hosting a bike rally.
“So you don’t envision this being like a Woodstock?” asked Board of Commissioners Chairman Nathan Ramsey.
Ballard laughed and said she wasn’t around for Woodstock, so she couldn’t say.
“Neither was Nathan,” Young observed. “He has no clue what he’s even talking about.”
“If you see their Web site, you know it’s not going to be a church social,” retorted an unsmiling Ramsey.
According to the site (www.blueridgebikebash.com), which features a skeletal Uncle Sam, the plans for the event include motorcycle stunts, “wrenching seminars,” bikini bike washes, a battle of the bands, beer, fireworks, a biker rodeo — and even a “blessing of the bikes” following a Sunday service with gospel music.
Most of the remaining speakers focused on the complex logistics of handling that many people during what’s already one of the busiest times of the year for public employees. Environmental Health Director Layton Long noted that a state law governing “mass gatherings” would mean stringent health rules would have to be enforced if more than 5,000 people were on site for more than 24 hours.
Emergency Medical Services Director Jerry VeHaun noted that extra ambulances would have to be on standby, while officers from the Sheriff’s Department, Highway Patrol and Asheville Police Department described the strain the event would put on their departments’ resources. For Buncombe County, the law-enforcement costs could run to $149,551, reported Capt. Lee Farnsworth.
“I would make sure that it was organized very well,” cautioned State Highway Patrol Sgt. Tom Ellis. “If it’s not, it can go very bad.”
Ramsey noted that the county’s costs would be offset by its share of sales taxes, which he estimated at $160,000 (2 percent of $8 million in sales).
Promoter representative Nesbitt, a frequent critic of county government, told the commissioners that the first task is to find a location. He assured commissioners that the event’s security plan includes medical staff.
Nesbitt also groused to commissioners that Sheriff Bobby Medford hadn’t even been willing to discuss the promoters’ security plan, despite the fact that two experienced law-enforcement personnel (one current Sheriff’s Department employee and one former employee) had helped develop it.
Nesbitt said later that the promoters are now looking at other sites in Buncombe and Haywood counties.
With WNC manufacturing plants shutting down almost on a routine basis, it’s little wonder that the commissioners greeted a local expansion so heartily.
In the board’s formal session, commissioners held a public hearing on whether to give Eaton Cutler-Hammer a $600,000 economic-incentive grant over three years, provided that the company completes a $26 million expansion and adds 300 employees during that time.
“They’re well on their way to meeting that goal and surpassing it,” Assistant County Manager/Planning Director Jon Creighton told the board.
Prodded by Asheville resident Hazel Fobes (who quipped, “Are they making ketchup?”), Director of Global Support Services Mike Romine explained what the manufacturer produces (motor controls and switch gear).
County watchdog Jerry Rice complained that the public hadn’t been provided information on the type of jobs (and salaries) to be offered. Chairman Nathan Ramsey replied that there would be a mix of professional and blue-collar jobs, adding that a former county employee recruited by Eaton Cutler-Hammer had doubled her salary.
“That couldn’t be much,” retorted Rice.
But Eric Gorny of Swannanoa, who said he’d recently attended a local job fair jam-packed with people seeking employment, gave the company a pat on the back for its plans, saying, “Thumbs up; thanks.”
The board unanimously approved the grant.
Last gasp for RVs
Despite a total lack of support from his fellow board members, Commissioner David Gantt insisted that the required second reading of an amendment banning RVs in mobile-home parks be publicly discussed once again, rather than being relegated to the board’s consent agenda.
The board had adopted the ban at its March 5 meeting on a split vote, apparently swayed by the sentiments of the Manufactured Home Park Review Board (see “Keep out,” March 13 Xpress).
But Gantt took the opportunity to renew his push for studying the issue further, maintaining that the ban would further limit the supply of affordable housing. Despite his protest, board members once again voted 4-1 to adopt the amendment (with Gantt opposed).
Color me prepared
After a briefing by VeHaun, board members agreed to go along with the federal government’s new Homeland Security Advisory System, which color-codes the risk of terrorist activity. Starting with green (low risk of terrorist threat) the color scheme advances to blue (general risk), yellow (significant risk), orange (high risk) and red (severe risk).
The commissioners unanimously signed off on the plan, outlined in Homeland Security Presidential Directive 3, and VeHaun reported that the nation’s color-coded risk level for terrorist activity would be posted on the county’s Web site (www.buncombecounty.org). At press time, the county was reporting an “elevated threat condition” (yellow) with a “significant risk of terrorist attacks.”
“Play Days” and other snippets
Board members congratulated local student Alisha Hagerling, who was recently named North Carolina’s “Junior Miss.” They also recognized county employees Judy Rhew and Rhett Langston, who jointly won an award from the Alliance For Community Media for an episode of “Play Days,” the county’s series of videos highlighting Parks and Recreation Department events.
With no discussion, the commissioners also unanimously reappointed William Church to the WNC Regional Air Quality Board . Church had been tapped last March to fill the unexpired term of Doug Clark, who had recently died.
The commissioners also made the following reappointments: Rusk Henry, Cathy DeTroia, Kathleen Tate, Ed Grushinski, Edison Seel, Margaret Stephan, Kathleen Balogh and Spike Gram to the Adult Care Home Community Advisory Committee; and Dot Smith, Bryan Moneyhun, Carol Boyd, Judy Fox, Jacqueline Davidson, Joanne Cate and Ray Elingburg to the Nursing Home Community Advisory Committee.
Commissioners also unanimously voted to officially close Walnut Place in the Mount Royal subdivision in south Buncombe; the road was never built and exists only on a plat.
After the public session, board members met behind closed doors for about 25 minutes to discuss two legal matters. One was the city of Asheville’s lawsuit against the county, part of a continuing jurisdictional dispute over zoning in a one-mile ring around the city (the city won the first round, but the issue is pending before the N.C. Court of Appeals). The other issue was a lawsuit filed recently by several adult bookstores, claiming the county’s adult-entertainment ordinance is invalid, according to County Attorney Joe Connolly.
The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners approved the following items by consent at its March 19 meeting:
• The minutes of the board’s March 5 regular meeting.
• A release report correcting Tax Department errors.
• The transfer of $421,500 from capital-outlay funds to current-expense funds for the county schools. The move will help offset the county’s recent $1.1 million cut in school funding because of a revenue shortfall and state budget cuts.
• A capital-projects ordinance.
• The following budget amendments: federal adoption incentive program accepting additional funds ($125,000); Workforce Investment Act accepting additional funds ($437,291). and
• A utility easement at the Biltmore Press Building (205 College Street) to prepare for the March 28 relocation of several county offices from One Oak Plaza.