- Council OKs Pack Square Park changes, budget
- Zoning approved for affordable apartments in West Asheville
- A-B Tech students to build Oakley Resource Center
Council member Carl Mumpower has never been one to hold back. As one of two Republicans on Council—and the self-proclaimed lone conservative at the table—Mumpower is often the most vocal City Council member.
But he took himself out of a discussion at the April 14 Council meeting (albeit after laying on some choice words), leaving his seat and storming out of the chamber to protest the deliberation and vote on a potential resolution of the city’s long-running water woes.
Ironically, thanks to a rule concerning Council members who leave the chamber without asking to be excused, Mumpower wound up credited with a “yes” vote on the very issue he was objecting to.
Mumpower’s beef reaches back at least to February when, in the wake of news that the city had lost its case against the state-imposed Sullivan Acts, Council member Brownie Newman and Vice Mayor Jan Davis introduced a resolution proposing a compromise concerning the state laws, which restrict the city’s use of (and ability to charge for) its water supply. Approved on a 5-2 vote with Mumpower and Council member Bill Russell opposed, the resolution would signal Asheville’s concession in its fight for the right to charge customers outside the city limits more for water.
In exchange, Asheville would gain the ability to use water as a bargaining chip for the voluntary annexation of new developments in limited cases. The city would also be permitted to use 5 percent of water revenues to fund nonwater infrastructure work that is related to water projects. Both of these moves are now prohibited by the Sullivan Acts II and III, which the city would be asking state legislators to amend.
Back in February, Newman said the proposal recognized Asheville’s need to have a means of growing, especially in light of current talk in Raleigh of a moratorium on forced annexation. Mumpower, however, has branded the idea a “surrender document,” asserting that the city should stick to its guns with an eye toward gradually phasing in the changes it seeks.
According to an April 14 presentation by City Attorney Bob Oast, the 5 percent stipulation is the only part of Newman’s proposal that had been introduced in the General Assembly to date. As a result, Newman was once again asking Council to endorse a compromise plan containing much of the same language, but with some tweaks made after Newman met with state legislators.
Primarily, the new language clarifies that developments under 10,000 square feet or containing fewer than 16 units would be exempt from any water-for-voluntary-annexation deals. The new version also expresses the city’s disagreement with a proposed outright ban on “shoestring” annexation—absorbing areas not contiguous to the city’s border. Because of the local topography, that kind of annexation makes sense for some areas around Asheville, Newman maintains.
The previous afternoon, Newman had circulated an e-mail to media outlets and other Council members stating his desire to discuss and vote on the compromise. But when the topic came up in the meeting, Mumpower objected to what he saw as going “through the back door.”
“I think it’s extremely inappropriate to offer a last-minute proposal outside the scheduled Council agenda, and I challenge Councilman Newman on that,” said Mumpower. “And I also suggest that it’s very inappropriate for the Council to discuss what amounts to a $1 billion surrender plan without ample notice to the public.”
“I respectfully disagree with your process concerns as well as your substantive position on the issue,” Newman replied. The legislative discussion, he noted, was advertised on the agenda, including updates about the latest on the Sullivan Acts. He also pointed to his e-mail, which he said had indicated his intent to discuss the matter.
As Newman continued to discuss the proposal, Mumpower repeatedly tried to call a point of order but was rebuffed by Mayor Terry Bellamy, who said she would allow the discussion and wanted a vote on it.
Undeterred, Mumpower persisted, asking Oast if the proceedings constituted a procedural irregularity, especially when dealing with a “$1 billion asset,” and asked if there was a way for him to block the vote.
“Are there any formal procedures for me to intercept what’s about to happen?” Mumpower inquired.
Oast replied that, apart from the statements Mumpower had already made, “I am not aware of anything you can do.”
“What I can do—and what I will do—is walk out of the room,” Mumpower declared, adding, “This is absolutely reprehensible.”
And then he left.
After Mumpower’s departure, Newman reiterated that apart from some clarifications, he simply wanted Council to reaffirm the position it had taken in February. Davis agreed, adding that the bill currently before the General Assembly “left out some important parts.”
Responding to Mumpower’s charges, Council member Kelly Miller noted that addressing the Sullivan Acts has been a high priority at least since Council’s January retreat.
“It’s incumbent upon us to have that dialogue—particularly when a session is going on down there [in Raleigh]—and continue to press these issues,” said Miller.
But when it came time to vote, Russell found himself officially registering the lone opposition. Because Mumpower hadn’t asked to be excused, Council rules dictated that he be credited with a “yes” vote on the matter, as well as on all other items coming up for a vote that evening.
The seven other agenda items Mumpower is now on record as having supported included several budget amendments, two of them involving reimbursements from the N.C. Department of Transportation. Bellamy said she’d removed those items from the consent agenda in anticipation of resistance by Mumpower, who has a history of voting against accepting state or federal tax dollars.
The law of the Pack
But that high drama took place more than four hours into the meeting, so it was the full seven-member Council that heard the evening’s earlier agenda items.
Although he wasn’t ready to announce a formal opening date, Guy Clerici, the Pack Square Conservancy’s new board chair, said the long-running park project is in its final stages of construction. “The park is happening really fast and beautifully,” he told Council. Clerici and recently hired Executive Director Gary Giniat updated Council members on the long-awaited park and asked them to approve design changes and the project’s latest budget. Originally estimated at about $7 million, the cost has now ballooned to $20 million.
Modifications include a smaller front court outside the Asheville Art Museum (to accommodate its redesigned entrance) and a larger pavilion than originally planned.
Meanwhile, said Clerici, fences around Pack Square should start coming down soon, with those around City/County Plaza to follow sometime in July.
About $3.9 million must still be raised to balance the current budget, he told Council.
Although the city has oversight authority for some federal funds used, Bellamy emphasized that no city moneys have gone into the park, leading Newman to wonder why Council’s approval was needed at this point.
“I guess I’m just not totally clear on our authority to approve the budget,” he said, citing the massive jump in the project’s cost over the years. “Does that mean Council has the authority to change the budget?”
“I think this is a mechanism to ensure these matters were discussed publicly,” Oast explained. But he added, “If you say ‘no,’ I’m not sure what effect that would have.”
And though the city isn’t on the hook for construction costs, it will be responsible for maintenance once the park is open, noted Assistant City Manager Jeff Richardson.
That, Newman said, carries more weight for Council. “This is coming in triple the cost of what we were told,” he noted. “I don’t want the operating costs to have similar [growth], because that is where the burden is on us.”
That cost has not yet been determined, and Richardson said a $100,000 placeholder has been inserted in next year’s budget. The city will advertise for a private company to provide that service, both to keep the Parks & Rec staff from getting stretched too thin and to provide an exact dollar figure for maintaining the new park, he explained.
But those unknowns didn’t sit well with Newman. “We have known for years what this park is. Why are we being told now that we haven’t developed a realistic plan for what it’s going to cost [to maintain it]?” he asked.
Nonetheless, Council approved both the design and the budget on a single 6-1 vote, with Mumpower opposed.
Council members did have some input, however, into the fee structure for staging special events in the new park. According to a proposal presented by Diane Ruggiero, the city’s superintendent of cultural arts, the cost of staging events there would vary depending on where in the park they were held. Pack Square (the area around Vance Monument) would cost $100 for the first three hours and $25 for each additional hour, while Reuter Terrace (between Market and Spruce streets) and Roger McGuire Green (the large, grassy area formerly known as City/County Plaza) would be bundled together at a cost of $500 for the first hour and $100 for each additional hour.
But the latter idea raised some concerns. Ragan Evans, co-owner of Windows on the Park, said the arrangement makes it prohibitive for a small party like a wedding to reserve one corner of the park without reserving—and paying for—the entire lawn area and performance stage.
“Is there any way for negotiations so that we can all do business on this park that we have waited so long for?” she asked, noting that she and her partners had bought the adjacent restaurant (the former Grape Escape) specifically as a place to host weddings and other special events.
Russell agreed. “I would like to see some flexibility for someone not to have to rent that whole area,” he said. “I mean, that must be an acre. It’s huge.”
Bellamy, meanwhile, took a dim view of the fact that a veterans group was being asked to pay for the ability to hold a dedication ceremony at the granite memorial.
Nonetheless, City Council unanimously approved the fee structure, instructing staff to make the needed adjustments per Council’s discussion.
• Council unanimously approved conditional zoning for an affordable 72-unit apartment complex on Westmore Drive in West Asheville being developed by Mountain Housing Opportunities.
• With Mumpower absent, Council members unanimously agreed to enter into an interlocal agreement with A-B Tech to purchase an energy-efficient, student-built modular home to replace the Police Community Resource Center in Oakley and to allow the Fire Department to perform a controlled-burn training session on the existing structure.