Buncombe Commissioners: Small world

  • Buncombe County Board of Commissioners May 4 meeting
  • DOT to pave local roads
  • County buys south Asheville radio tower
  • Commissioners retool naming policy

The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners began its May 4 meeting by welcoming an unlikely delegation into its chambers: a group of dignitaries from Osogbo, Nigeria.

The West African business and medical leaders were present thanks to Asheville Sister Cities, a nonprofit promoting cross-cultural understanding and economic development. Since 1988, the program has developed partnerships with six cities around the globe, from San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico, to Vladikavkaz, Russia.

Africa to Asheville: The Buncombe Board of Commissioners welcomes a Sister Cities delegation from Osogbo, Nigeria. Photo by Jonathan Welch

Asheville's newest sister city joined the extended family in 2008, Mayor Terry Bellamy explained during a rare appearance in the commissioners' chamber. Osogbo, she noted, is "known as the City of Peace, because no foreign army has ever ruled the town." The capital of the state of Osun, it hosts the annual Osun Festival, which, like those here, draws tourists from around the world to celebrate the area's traditional culture.

The commissioners stepped down from the podium to greet the international guests of honor, offering each of them a blanket emblazoned with the county seal.

"These are small tokens of appreciation for you making the trip here to see us, and we're honored to have you here," said board Chair David Gantt. "We want to always extend our hand of friendship and fellowship, because we all are people under God's green earth, and we're going to have to learn how to work together, live together."

Although most of the visitors will be in the area for only a couple of weeks, Dr. Oluseyi Atanda will remain in Asheville through August, shadowing physicians at Mission Hospital.

The roads less traveled

After the guests had filtered out, the commissioners considered a resolution authorizing the state Department of Transportation to pave 2.3 miles of unpaved roads under its Secondary Roads Construction Program.

The proposal calls for paving stretches of Roberts Cove, Laurel and Wooten roads and realigning the intersections at Emmas Grove Road/Concord Road and Old Newfound Road/Newfound Road. All told, the improvements would cost $1.77 million, according to DOT estimates.

Since the program began 20 years ago, hundreds of miles of roads have been paved, noted DOT representative Ed Green. Questioned by board Vice Chair Bill Stanley, Green said there are still about 82 miles of unpaved state-maintained roads in Buncombe County, most of which can't easily be paved due to right-of-way issues. In response, Stanley joked that he'd been trying to get them to redo his driveway for years.

Gantt praised the program as "wildly successful," and the board unanimously approved the proposal.

Radio radio

The commissioners also considered a proposal to purchase a south Asheville parcel containing a VHF radio tower. Network Communications Manager Bryan Dillingham explained that the facility at 194 Busbee Mountain Road is needed to improve communication between the Sheriff's Office, Emergency Services and fire dispatchers.

"We've really had problems in the past in Arden and Fletcher," he said. "There's a lot of shadows in the valleys there that this should fill in."

Dillingham also emphasized the tract's accessibility. "It's a significant benefit to have a paved road, because so many of our [tower] sites now require a four-wheel-drive to get to," he said. "In inclement weather, if there's an emergency, it really takes a significant force of people to get to these sites."

The 5-year-old tower could be used for another 15 years before needing to be replaced, estimated Dillingham. And buying an existing facility rather than building a new one would "save a lot of money and a lot of time trying to get things on line," he said.

The property was already under contract with owner Vickey Utter for $142,000, and the board unanimously approved the purchase. County Attorney Michael Frue said he expects to close the deal by the end of June.

What's in a name?

In other business, the board reviewed a proposal to change the policy for naming county-owned properties, facilities and parks.

County Manager Wanda Greene said the resolution came about after officials realized they needed to change the name of the Buncombe County Health Center, which will soon be housing courts and tax records.

"It became clear that we couldn't continue to call a building that has mostly courts and taxes the Health Center," said Greene. "So we went back to see what we could do in terms of soliciting names. … We found that if we wanted to expand the ability to have more names and more places to name, we needed to make some changes to our naming policy."

The most significant change concerns naming county property after elected officials. Formerly, the county couldn't name property for any currently serving elected or appointed official. Asked by Commissioner Holly Jones why the board should amend this policy, Greene explained: "We just didn't want there to be any restrictions on it, so that people could give us input on any name they think should be considered. … It's to broaden the base of recommendations we have."

That seemed to satisfy Jones, who joined the rest of the commissioners in voting to approve the proposal.

The new policy allows county properties to be named for people who've made exceptional contributions to the community and who've been active in county affairs for at least 10 years. Members of the public may submit nominations (in writing, with an indication of why the person deserves to be honored) to: Clerk to the Board Kathy Hughes/Buncombe County Government/205 College Street Suite 300/Asheville, NC 28801.

Jake Frankel can be reached at jfrankel@mountainx.com or at 251-1333, ext. 115.

About Jake Frankel
Jake Frankel is an award-winning journalist who enjoys covering a wide range of topics, from politics and government to business, education and entertainment.

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