Buncombe County Commission

Despite the protests of a vocal group of junk-car collectors and lovers, Buncombe County Commissioners stood their ground and unanimously passed the controversial junk-car ordinance during their April 14 meeting.

The ordinance defines junk cars, and it gives specific guidelines regulating how many, and where, such cars may be kept on a property. [See sidebar.]

Opponents of the ordinance have charged that it ignores the rights of property owners, that it’s written for rich folks and real-estate agents, and that Buncombe County is ordinancing itself to death.

“Where are we going to stop?” demanded Ken Buckner of Swannanoa, rattling off current and would-be ordinances involving junk cars, trailer parks and unleashed dogs. If the junk-car ordinance “ain’t no real-estate ordinance, I don’t know what is,” he said.

“To me, this is an infringement on property rights,” said county resident Doug Adams. “I’m against all ordinances,” he added, contending that they are “slowly chiseling away” our rights and freedoms.

“People in this county traditionally have solved these problems neighbor-to-neighbor,” said resident Jennifer Styles. Now, neighbors will police neighbors, she lamented.

“I object to [the ordinance]. I do not think you should be voting on this,” she told commissioners. Styles asked that the ordinance be taken to a vote of the people of Buncombe County — a request to which commissioners did not respond.

In fact, the commissioners resolutely stood their ground, arguing that Buncombe County is growing so fast that it needs more ordinances, and insisting that the junk-car ordinance is as balanced as it can be.

“This is a good compromise, in my opinion,” Commissioner David Gantt told Adams. Gantt, who along with Commissioner Patsy Keever has led the campaign for the junk-car ordinance, admitted that it will hurt people who are running illegal mechanic and parts businesses. But Gantt was firm in his argument that a growing county needs ordinances.

Some citizens present supported the ordinance, including Howard Candler of Hominy Valley, who thanked the commissioners and told them Buncombe needs the ordinance. Local Realtor Sonya Friedrich and Quality Forward Director Susan Roderick also voiced their support.

And so, with a last-minute tweak to allow junkers to sit as close as 10 feet to property lines (although Gantt still wanted them to be at least 30 feet from adjacent properties, as in the original plan), commissioners passed the ordinance into official law.

Friends has too much bite

An amendment to a Buncombe County animal-control ordinance that commissioners passed on March 17 is unconstitutional, charged Buncombe resident Peter Dawes during the public-comment period.

Under the new rules, violating the animal-control ordinance is a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500.

Dawes argued that, as a private agency, Friends for Animals is not legally entitled to give someone a criminal record. “The whole thing is unconstitutional,” said Dawes, who has appeared before commissioners at least three times in recent meetings with complaints about the group.

Dawes has argued that Friends has too much power. The current animal-control ordinance gives animal-control “officers” the right to “enter and inspect” properties without a warrant, if the officer “has reasonable cause to believe” there exists “any violation” of the ordinance.

Commissioners said county staff are investigating whether the ordinance provisions are unconstitutional.

Seabrook revisited

A few county residents lit into commissioners over their controversial, unannounced trip to Seabrook, S.C., on taxpayers’ tab.

Commissioners defended the trip, saying it was legitimate county business and that it did not violate North Carolina open-meetings laws.

Commissioners Tom Sobol and David Young have said that they will pay for their trips themselves. Keever and Gantt have said they’ll let taxpayers foot the bill, and Commissioner Bill Stanley isn’t saying what he’ll do.

The plush retreat was organized by the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce. It cost $775 per person to attend.

Arlis Queen, first vice-chair of Taxpayers for Accountable Government, said he doesn’t believe the meeting was legal, and he asked commissioners to pay for their own trips. The retreat, he charged, was a Chamber of Commerce “lobbying effort to get more money.”

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