Buzzworm news briefs

Lunch with the legislators

“The good news,” announced Rep. Ray Rapp (D-Madison), is the approximately $1.3 billion surplus waiting for the state legislature as its 2006 short session opens this week. “We’ve moved into a positive cash flow with the state.”

Rapp was one of seven area state legislators reporting in at the 2006 Legislative Luncheon sponsored by the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce on May 2. Each took a turn at the podium in the Renaissance Asheville Hotel’s ballroom, commenting on the Chamber’s legislative agenda and how their personal objectives meshed with that list. Rapp heartily agreed with one of the agenda’s top priorities: moving the I-26 connector in Asheville forward. “You’ll have my support for that,” he said, noting his appreciation for the delegation’s support for Madison County’s now-completed I-26 corridor.

“Education and economic development, as history knows, are so entwined that you can’t separate one from the other,” Rapp said of the Chamber’s education-priorities list. “I will continue to advocate on behalf of education funding.”

Discussing the Chamber’s support for mental-health reform, Rapp commended Sen. Martin Nesbitt Jr. (D-Buncombe), saying that “this state is deeply indebted to him” for his work on the issue.

Mental-health reform is “one of those subjects [that make] people’s eyes glaze over,” Nesbitt commented, but the ramifications affect schools, jails, homeless shelters and other parts of society. “At every level, we get complaints,” he said. “In our analysis, the system has failed. … I sense commitment on the part of every legislator down there to do something.”

Sen. Tom Apodaca (D-Buncombe, Henderson, Polk), the deputy Republican leader in the 2005/06 session, echoed some of Nesbitt’s sentiments. “It’s past a train wreck,” we said of the mental-health system. “It’s a train disaster.

Returning to the subject of the budget surplus, Apodaca commented, “It always scares me when I pick up the paper and it says we have an excess.” It would be a good idea, he contended, to make some supposedly temporary taxes “really temporary” by letting such measures as the half-cent sales tax expire.

Apodaca went on to praise his colleagues in regional delegation, which is almost evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. “I don’t think there’s a better delegation in the state of North Carolina,” he declared. “Regardless of party, regardless of ideology, we work together when it comes to betterment of Western North Carolina.”

Other delegation members attending the Chamber event were Reps. Susan Fisher (D-Buncombe), Bruce Goforth (D-Buncombe), Phillip Haire (D-Swain) and Trudi Walend (R-Henderson, Polk, Transylvania).

The Chamber’s full legislative report, compiled by a Governmental Affairs Task Force, addressed specific business interests and the overall economic health of the region. The list of goals was decidedly ambitious, as more than one legislator chidingly pointed out. “Highest importance” was given to I-26, Medicaid relief for counties, education, community development, tort reform and tax reform.

Other goals included holding a citizen referendum on the state’s Land for Tomorrow initiative (designed to protect a million acres of state land and historic places by 2009), restoring matching funds for housing development, initiating criminal justice-system reform and supporting successful State Energy Office initiatives.

— Nelda Holder

Sisters of the business world, unite!

For the past few decades, there’s been plenty of talk of women hitting a “glass ceiling” in the business world, barring them from reaching the career pinnacles afforded to men. Still, one look at the career women and female entrepreneurs who have helped shaped Western North Carolina, and it’s clear that women are reaching ever-higher on the ladder of success, despite the impediments of the male-dominated business world.

To help business women renew their enthusiasm and maintain their forward momentum, the Mountain Microenterprise Fund will convene the “Women’s Business Conference: Women Coaching Women” on Tuesday, May 30, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The event will be held at the A-B Tech Enka Campus in the second-floor conference room of the Haynes Building.

Featured speakers include Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy, who, in addition to her City Council duties is also an employee of Mountain Housing Opportunities. Denise Hedges of LifeWork Coaching will share her insights, strategies and success stories to show women “how the very act of taking time to focus on the things that bring you joy opens up a space through which you can achieve all that you want throughout your life.” In addition, Glenis Redmond, a locally renowned performance poet and speaker will seek to empower women with her words.

Attendees will also have a chance to attend one of five breakout sessions focusing on such topics as professional renewal, motivation, entrepreneurship, securing financing and tools and tips for interactive meetings.

Oh, and in order to take advantage of this networking opportunity, don’t forget those business cards. But don’t stress the power suit — attendees are advised to dress casually.

The event costs $20 and includes lunch. Deadline to register is noon on May 15. To access a registration form, go to www.mtnmicro.org. For more information, contact Mollie McKinley at 253-2834, ext. 10, or mollie@mtnmicro.org.

— Hal Millard

Catching a few z’s?

Buncombe is the only large county in North Carolina that remains unzoned, according to Commissioner David Young and Planning Director Jon Creighton, who addressed the issue at an April 27 Council of Independent Business Owners meeting. The commissioners have instructed the Planning Board to revisit the county’s land-use plan, last revised in 1998, and their recommendations may include zoning at least some areas of the county. A nonbinding 1999 referendum on countywide zoning was hampered by low turnout, but 55 percent of those who did vote opposed such plans.

Public input plays a significant role in the Planning Board’s deliberations. The county, meanwhile, will host a second community meeting on land use at the National Guard Armory on Brevard Road, Tuesday, May 16, 5-7 p.m. The Board of Commissioners has urged residents to attend the meeting, talk with staff and see maps outlining the changes that have occurred in the county since 1999.

The county is also seeking input from residents on the following questions:

• What changes in our county are of concern to you (traffic, commercial and/or residential construction, etc.) and do you feel they should be addressed in a land-use plan revision?

• What are the issues in Buncombe County that need to be addressed in the land-use plan revision? (recreation areas; preservation of farmland, etc.)

• Are there any specific areas of Buncombe County that concern you more than others?

• What are the challenges we are facing now that were not addressed in the first land-use plan?

The revised plan is supposed to be ready for the commissioners to review in mid-June. Before they adopt the final plan, there will be an official public hearing, and copies of the plan will be available on the county’s Web site and in all county offices.

For more information, contact the Planning Department at 250-4830. Those who are unable to attend can submit their answers to these questions online at www.buncombecounty.org or call to receive a form that can be mailed or faxed back.

— Cecil Bothwell

The votes are in

After a whopping 10 percent of Buncombe County’s registered voters hit the polling stations to vote in the May 2 primary, one local race — for Buncombe County sheriff — will move to a runoff vote on Tuesday, May 30. None of the six candidates on the Democratic sheriff’s ballot achieved a clear majority, so the top two finishers — Van Duncan and Walt Robertson — will now face each other to determine who will challenge Republican incumbent Bobby Medford in the November election.

Results were still technically unofficial at press time (the official vote will be certified on May 12), but all other primary contests at the local level appear to have been decided. The following vote totals for our area’s partisan races were obtained from the N.C. Board of Elections Web site (www.sboe.state.nc.us), with the exception of the local sheriff’s race, and were current as of Friday, May 5. Primary winners appear in bold, and vote totals and percentages of the total vote are listed for each candidate. (Percentages are rounded to the nearest whole number.)

• U.S. Congress District 11
Democratic
Heath Shuler: 29,470 (75%)
C. Michael Morgan: 10,047 (25%)
Republican
Charles Taylor: 27,254 (80%)
John Armor: 6,678 (20%)

• N.C. Senate District 49
Republican
R. L. Clark: 1,805 (73%)
Brian Cooper: 668 (27%)
Clark faces Democratic Sen. Martin Nesbitt, Jr. in the general election.

• N.C. House District 115
Republican
Eric Gorny: 780 (58%)
Bill Reynolds: 570 (42%)
Gorny faces Democratic Rep. Bruce Goforth in the general election.

• N.C. House District 116
Democratic
Doug Jones: 1,605 (52%)
Jim Hughes: 938 (30%)
James Latimore: 388 (12%)
Gregory Cathcart: 177 (6%)
Republican
Charles C. Thomas: 882 (58%)
Bill Porter: 627 (42%)

• Buncombe County Sheriff *Runoff election May 30
Democratic
*Van Duncan: 3,956 (37%)
*Walt Robertson: 2,484 (23%)
Lee Farnsworth: 1,872 (17%)
J.B. Howard: 1,304 (12%)
James A. Grant: 801 (7%)
Rick Cummings: 396 (4%)

Winners in the nonpartisan judicial races who will face off in the fall: N.C. Supreme Court — Robin Hudson and Ann Marie Calabria; Court of Appeals (2 seats) — Robert “Bob” Hunter and Kris Bailey, Linda Stephens and Donna Stroud.

Besides the Buncombe County sheriff’s runoff election on May 30, other dates of note in this process we call democracy include the following:

Friday, June 30: Last day to file a petition to be an unaffiliated candidate on the Nov. 7 ballot.

Wednesday, Aug. 9: Write-in candidate deadline for filing declarations of intent and petitions.

Friday, Oct. 13: Voter registration deadline for the general election on Nov. 7.

— Nelda Holder

Exploring the village in your backyard

painting by Ann Vasilik
painting by Ann Vasilik

Haven’t felt inspired by Asheville’s “unique sense of place” in a while? The remedy may be a simple stroll through the village.

This Saturday, Biltmore Village will be unusually lively with face painting, fire juggling and even a pair of llamas. The special event is the first in a series called “An Evening in the Village,” which is scheduled for the second Saturday of every month from now through December. Biltmore Village shops and restaurants will keep their doors open three hours later than usual, enticing shoppers with free refreshments, special markdowns and family-oriented activities. Events will take place between 5 and 8 p.m.

Highlights of this Saturday’s kickoff to the new twilight-festivities tradition include a performance by the UniFire Theatre fire-juggling troupe at the Kismet Cafe, along with a seated-massage offer at the same location. There will be face painting and free balloons for kids at Claying Around and Biltmore Village Dolls and Gifts, and special sales in both stores. Prints by local artist Ann Vasilik (such as the one of Biltmore Village pictured with this article) can be viewed at Interiors of Asheville, one of the village’s many art galleries.

Earlier in the day, children’s-book author Helen Moore and illustrator Kristen Jansen will hold a book-signing at Once Upon a Time from 1 to 5 p.m. Accompanying them will be Floyd the llama and his companion, bringing to life the main character of Moore and Jansen’ book, A Trek With Floyd.

“We wanted to plan an event that would make Biltmore Village more accessible to locals,” says Susan Phitts of the Biltmore Village Association, noting that staying open later may encourage locals who typically work during business hours to come out and explore what the village has to offer. There are more than 40 shops, galleries and restaurants clustered in Biltmore Village, including a variety of new stores.

— Rebecca Bowe

For whom the tree falls

“I’m not an extreme environmentalist or a hippie or anything,” insists Leigh Ann Wallace. Indeed, she says she’d tried to be reasonable before positioning herself between a backhoe and the thin screen of trees that blocked her view of a Merrimon Avenue construction site.

Previously hailed as a sterling example of good builder/neighbor relations, the former Burger King site has become the latest flash point in an escalating struggle between developers and city residents. And once again, the city finds itself in the thick of the controversy.

City Manager Gary Jackson confirmed May 5 that the grading plan used by the contractor, which had been approved by the city Engineering Department, is inconsistent with the site plan approved by City Council. The grading plan calls for excavation within what’s supposed to be a buffer zone.

In Asheville, lying down in front of construction equipment is the kind of thing that engenders breathless admiration from some folks, but Wallace says she didn’t wake up that Monday intending to take the plunge into such flesh-and-blood activism. And even as the developer was trying to mend fences with both the city and the neighborhood, city staffers themselves seemed poised to be the next to feel the heat.

Both developer Greg Edney of Northwest Property Group and consultant Gerald Green have taken responsibility for communications breakdowns that resulted in the tree-shearing and have met with Fenner Street neighbors to come up with a landscaping plan to mitigate the damage. A first attempt, said neighborhood resident Kirk Wallace (who is Leigh Ann’s husband), was scuttled because the proposed trees were too small. But a more recent plan including a detailed tree list seems to have patched things up somewhat.

Planning and Development Director Scott Shuford said May 3 that he expected to see the fruits of that agreement, including a corrected grading plan and site plan, any day. Shuford said he did not anticipate issuing any fines, unless “we find that the developer is resistant,” adding, “There is no sign of that now.”

But Asheville City council member Robin Cape said the city needs to step up and take its share of the blame. “I think the city has some culpability here: We issued a grading permit that was in conflict with the site plan,” she told Xpress. “The developer has taken responsibility, and that’s big of him, but we’ve got some responsibility to accept.”

The situation, said Cape, is part of a larger trend of development projects that violate the intentions of City Council and the Unified Development Ordinance. “We do a very poor job of planning,” she observed. “Things are going to break down.”

The development was approved by the city last November after an extensive public-input process that gave neighbors a say in such key concerns as buffers, lighting and parking were determined, all with the input of residents adjacent to the site (674 Merrimon Ave.).

“I was in support of the project,” said Kirk Wallace. “I felt that anything besides [Burger King] would be an improvement.

A similar misunderstanding developed earlier on the same site, when a small wooded area that was supposed to be preserved was also cleared.

Neighbors first caught wind of the contractor’s plans to clear trees on Friday, April 30. Late-afternoon calls to City Council and staff yielded no results, said Leigh Ann. And when they heard the machines start up at the site Monday morning, the Wallaces and several other neighbors tried to stall the workers but were rebuffed. The site foreman, Kirk told Xpress, showed him a grading permit authorizing the work. After that the conflict escalated: Leigh Ann got in front of the backhoe, there were reports of physical threats, and then the police arrived.

Meanwhile, the neighbors were also calling the city. Initially they succeeded in stopping the digging on the bank, and a later order from Shuford’s office halted work altogether.

Jackson said he is exploring ways to improve communication between city departments to head off a repeat of such problems.

— Brian Postelle

Driving while black?

Study after study has shown that nonwhite drivers are stopped, searched, questioned and arrested more often than whites in jurisdictions across the United States. And the detentions in the wake of 9/11 raised further concerns about this issue.

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