Buncombe County Commission

With little fanfare, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously in favor of a more stringent code governing development on steep slopes during a lengthy April 4 session. The rules, which limit density and the amount of impervious surface on sites with average grades greater than 25 percent, made it through the first hoop during the board’s March 21 meeting (see “Steep Canyon Rearrangers,” March 29 Xpress); this was the second reading (required when approving changes in county ordinances).

The limited public comment on the matter, which came mostly from local builders, tilted heavily against the new rules. But Environmental Advisory Board member Steve Sloan, who also spoke, called the changes considered and reasonable in light of the growing problems of bare mountainsides and the resulting sedimentation.

The rules, said Sloan, “were calculated and recommended by experts on our staff. By allowing things to continue the way they have been going, we’ll kill the goose that laid the golden egg. And it’s clear right now that the goose is wounded.”

Disorder in the court

A surprise, spur-of-the-moment addition to the meeting agenda was an appearance by Superior Court Judge Dennis Winner, who entreated the board to expand parking for jurors and improve security at the aged county courthouse. (At present, the building is guarded and belongings are scanned.)

Although the existing security personnel are doing a fine job, said Winner, the structure remains far from impregnable.

“Anyone who wanted to bring a bomb or a gun into this building, if they had an associate, could,” said Winner. “I don’t want to get into a crisis where someone gets killed in here, and then we lean back and say, ‘My gosh, we should have done something.'”

The board directed county staff to prepare a report addressing Winner’s concerns.

“Your honor,” said Commissioner David Gantt, “I think you’ve put this on the front burner for us.”

The old shell game

“In a perfect world, this is something government would not do. But we’re competing with thousands of other communities out there.”

— Board of Commisioners Chairman Nathan Ramsey

Evincing an “if you build it, they will come” attitude, the commissioners unanimously agreed to partly underwrite a private business venture in hopes of bringing jobs to Buncombe County.

Martin Lewis of Lewis Real Estate plans to erect a 40,000 square foot spec building for light industry, expandable to 80,000 square feet, at an estimated cost of $1.42 million, according to Planning Director Jon Creighton. The structure will be sited on six acres of land Lewis owns in the Asheville Commerce Park on Sandhill Road, Creighton explained. The building, which he called an empty shell, will be weatherproof but without a floor, to give potential buyers more flexibility in installing equipment.

The county will pay the interest on the mortgage — expected to run more than $10,000 a month — until the building is sold. Creighton called the county’s investment “a great buy,” predicting that at least 25 jobs would eventually be created.

But Leicester resident Jerry Rice worried about the precedent the county would be setting.

“Are we setting policy here?” queried Rice.

“We’re certainly taking a risk,” conceded Chairman Nathan Ramsey. “In a perfect world, this is something government would not do. But we’re competing with thousands of other communities out there. We don’t want the county to be a place only for wealthy retirees. We need new jobs with living wages. We need this economic diversity.”

Rice later explained that he’s especially concerned about the county favoring big business over smaller-scale entrepreneurs.

Construction could start as early as May and be finished by October. It will fall to Ray Denny, vice president of economic development for the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce, to find a buyer.

Nuts ‘n’ bolts

In other matters, the commissioners:

• Unanimously approved a resolution directing the Parks and Recreation Department to draft a master plan for future parkland acquisition, conservation easements and trail systems for both hiking/running and biking.

• Made the following board appointments: Matthew Dodgins (Abandoned Cemeteries Board of Trustees); George Lycam (alternate, Board of Adjustment); and Greg James (Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, Erwin District).

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