Determining the fate of the floundering WNC Regional Air Pollution Control Agency should be a joint decision involving both the city and county, not a unilateral one, Asheville City Council members say.
At their March 28 meeting, Council members ultimately decided to write a formal letter urging the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners to confer with the city about the APCA’s future — but not without some haggling over the matter. Rumors had abounded all week that the Board of Commissioners had already met behind closed doors and was set to take action on the issue at its May 4 meeting — without discussing matters with Council.
The air agency was placed in jeopardy in late February, when Haywood County abruptly withdrew from its 30-year partnership with Asheville and Buncombe County. Now, the two remaining APCA entities have until early June to decide whether to reconstitute the agency or allow the state Division of Air Quality to take over local air-pollution permitting and monitoring.
“I feel that if the air agency cannot continue, than we are not going to see quality air in Asheville again,” neighborhood activist Mike Lewis told Council.
Hazel Fobes, the chair of Citizens for Safe Drinking Water and Air, urged Council to forge a new agreement with the county, and quickly. According to Fobes, Commissioner Bill Stanley had been overheard saying that commissioners had already made some decisions about the agency; she also said the commissioners were “being pressured by business groups” to do away with the APCA.
“This is a very silly time for [the commissioners] to do this,” she warned. “They are all up for re-election.”
Mayor Leni Sitnick revealed that one commissioner — she wouldn’t say which one — had told her that the county was set to act alone, which did not sit well with her. “The city of Asheville wants to be part of the discussion, for any decision-making going on,” she said.
The mayor, Vice Mayor Chuck Cloninger and Council members Terry Whitmire and Brian Peterson were scheduled to meet with Board of Commissioners Chair Tom Sobol later in the week to discuss the situation.
Council members Barbara Field and Charles Worley suggested that writing a letter before that discussion might be insult the commissioners.
“Writing a formal letter is almost like throwing down the gauntlet,” offered Field. “We are reasonable people — why can’t we just talk to them?”
But Sitnick was adamant that the letter should become part of the public record, and she appeared offended by the commissioners’ intent to act unilaterally. “Quite frankly, I’m taken aback that we even have to write a formal letter,” she exclaimed. “Why do we even have to do this? We were part of the [air] agency.”
Council eventually voted unanimously to draft the letter — but not until after the meeting with Sobol.
Patton home a local historic landmark
One of the last remaining residential estates on the Charlotte Street corridor is now protected for its cultural and historic significance.
Council voted unanimously to designate the Parker/Patton House (95 Charlotte St.) as a local historic landmark. Built by black carpenters in 1868, the Victorian-style structure was the home of noted Asheville mayor Thomas Walton Patton.
Patton — who served from 1893 to 1895 — had his hand in a number of civic projects and was directly responsible for the bricking of many of downtown’s once-muddy streets and sidewalks (some of the fruits of those efforts are still evident in the Market Street area). Patton also helped usher both the city’s public-library system and Mission Hospital into existence. And teamed with his sister, Fannie Patton, he also helped create the North Carolina Equal Suffrage Association and sold property plots to black families in the post-Civil War era, when few others would.
Patton’s home has remained in the family for 132 years. Today, his granddaughters — Mary Parker and Josephine Schaeffer — occupy the two-story building, which features a stone driveway surrounded by ivy and several large oaks.
Schaeffer, who was born in the house, explained to Council that, over the decades, the structure has seen several additions and improvements — such as indoor plumbing. “I’ve seen 10 of the oak trees die since I’ve been living there,” Schaeffer observed, pointing out a broad oak that still stands at the edge of the property, which lost some limbs when the Ingles store next door burned down.
Higher-density development for Oakley?
Satisfied that denser development wouldn’t adversely affect traffic in the surrounding neighborhood, Council rezoned five acres of property in Oakley.
The owners of the parcel — which is located adjacent to Glendale Avenue and had been zoned for medium-density, single-family homes — had been unable to attract developers, due to the density requirements and difficult topography.
“My mother can’t continue to hold on to property that you have to pay taxes on and can’t do anything with,” declared Kim Dawson, one of the owners.
Developer Ron Moser told Council that he wants to build 19 affordable houses in the area, but the medium-density restrictions have made the project unfeasible. The contour of the land doesn’t allow for cluster homes, without a lot of costly grading, he said.
City Planner Carl Ownbey — pointing out that the five acres are already completely surrounded by higher-density, single-family zoning — recommended making the zoning consistent.
This year, Council has aimed to encourage “smart-growth” concepts such as higher-density development. They voted 6-1 in favor of the new zoning, with Cloninger dissenting. “During the UDO process, we spent more time on Oakley than we did on any other area,” said Cloninger. “I kind of feel like we got this one right.”
Several Council members noted that they had received citizen queries about how the higher-density development might affect traffic flow along Glendale Avenue. Ownbey answered that the city’s traffic engineer had reviewed Glendale and its signal lights, concluding that the additional vehicles wouldn’t have a significant impact.
“I’m not completely thrilled about it,” said Brian Peterson, explaining that he feels this part of Oakley could be a perfect place to apply conditional-use zoning to minimize any future development impact. “But there doesn’t seem to be a tremendous outcry from the neighborhood, so I would support it,” he concluded.