Harried Asheville City Council members took a break from their all-day-and-into-the-night water negotiations with the Buncombe County commissioners to sandwich in the April 26 formal session.
“As many of you know, we have had a long and trying day,” noted Council member Jan Davis before delivering the invocation that kicked off the Council session.
And with no end in sight for the controversial water meetings (see “A Private Meeting and a Public Failure” elsewhere in this issue), the Council agenda was kept to the bare essentials: taking the next step on some planned annexations and approving a Biltmore Village condominium complex.
The Biltmore Gardens condo project in Kenilworth had been tentatively approved at the March 22 formal session, pending revision of the required conditional-use permit. A major sticking point was the question of tree removal, with Council member Brownie Newman demanding more details. But an updated survey showing exactly which trees would be removed apparently satisfied Newman, who voted to approve the revised permit.
Council member Terry Bellamy, however, remained unconvinced. Concerns voiced by neighbors at the March public hearing had not been addressed, Bellamy said after the meeting. The neighbors were worried that short-term rentals would lower the value of adjacent properties. During the hearing, the developer had explained that the project is targeting doctors and other staffers working temporarily at nearby Mission Hospitals. At the time, Council member Joe Dunn had said he didn’t want to restrict the owners of the condo property by prohibiting short-term rentals.
The permit was approved on a 6-1 vote, with Bellamy opposed.
Welcome to the neighborhood
Despite opposition from Council’s conservative wing, the city took the next step in annexing six areas south of town. The same split was evident at the April 12 formal session when Council members, on a 5-2 vote, declared their intention to annex the following areas: the Ridgefield Business Park, Ascot Point Village, Two Town Square, Town Square East and specified areas adjoining Long Shoals and Airport roads.
On April 26, planning staff presented a plan detailing the projected costs and revenues. The city must provide various services to newly annexed areas, including police and fire protection, water, sewerage and trash pickup, Urban Planner Julie Cogburn explained. The total cost — estimated at about $1.4 million — includes both annual expenditures and one-time capital expenses.
Hiring additional staff and paying contracts for such services as garbage collection would cost about $531,500 per year. Capital expenditures — one-time costs for such items as additional service vehicles or road improvements — clock in at about $ 902,479, according to city documents.
The total revenues — including utility payments, property taxes and other income — would be about $1.7 million, said Cogburn.
Brownie Newman supported the annexation, saying the issue is “one of basic fairness for the people who live in Asheville.” City residents, he said, pay much more in property taxes than those who live beyond the city limits.
But Joe Dunn and Vice Mayor Carl Mumpower, both of whom had voted against the annexation in March, voiced philosophical reasons for continuing to oppose the city’s expansion.
“Annexation is one of our tools,” conceded Dunn. But that taxpayer money, he argued, must be used to benefit the people annexed. “We need to make sure we serve those people 100 percent, not 80 percent,” said Dunn, adding that until that day, he will oppose annexation.
Mumpower also said he has a problem with annexation in general. He admitted that his vote against annexation was “awkward at this stage,” given that the vote was specifically on whether or not to adopt the plan presented by city staff (whom Mumpower complimented on their hard work).
Nonetheless, the annexation moved forward on a 5-2 vote. The next step is a May 31 public-information meeting, followed by a June 14 public hearing. If all goes according to plan, Council will vote on the annexation at the June 28 formal session.
After moving through the brief agenda in about an hour-and-a-half, Council members went into closed session before returning to the water talks at the nearby Renaissance Asheville Hotel.
[Brian Postelle is a regular contributor to Mountain Xpress.]