If you want to postpone a public hearing, you’d better have a darn good reason: Asheville City Council members don’t like having to apologize to residents and property owners who sometimes wait for hours to speak on zoning issues, only to learn that someone has requested a last-minute postponement.
“We’re sending notice: It’ll be more difficult to get postponements,” Council member Chuck Cloninger announced at Council’s May 4 work session.
City Attorney Bob Oast had just presented Council with sugestions for toughening the city’s postponement policy, and Cloninger liked what he heard: Require petitioners to notify the city by 5 p.m. on the Thursday before the Tuesday hearing, and charge them with notifying all concerned parties. “This looks like a reasonable proposal to me,” remarked Cloninger.
The week before, Council had been about to consider an Asheland Avenue rezoning — for the second time this year — when Mayor Leni Sitnick noted that affected property owners had requested a second postponement (Council members had agreed to an initial postponement, in order to give staff time to amend the rezoning proposal). At least a dozen residents of the immediate neighborhood, who had shown up to speak during the hearing, were noticeably dismayed by the request. So Sitnick suggested changing Council’s policy, to require that petitioners make such requests well in advance of the hearing date.
At Council’s May 4 work session, City Manager Jim Westbrook urged leaving such postponements to Council’s discretion, rather than setting an “unbending policy.”
“Isn’t that what it is now?” Sitnick asked.
“That’s right,” Westbrook replied.
But Sitnick wasn’t content with that; she suggested that petitioners be required (a) to give written notice at least three business days in advance, and (b) to notify all the affected parties, in writing.
Council member Barbara Field pointed out that there could be problems notifying everyone, and also that Council might decide, on the day of the scheduled hearing, to deny the postponement request and proceed with the hearing.
Cloninger agreed, suggesting that Council try Oast’s suggestions, which included making petitioners state the reason for the request and setting a policy of avoiding repeated postponements. Under the proposal, last-minute requests that don’t make the Thursday deadline must “provide compelling reason [such as the] incapacity to proceed [and] death in [the] family.”
“Let’s just give it a try,” urged Field. “The first thing we should say is: Continuances are discouraged.”
Council members consented to a trial-run of the new policy.
The first step in improving our quality of life is knowing where we are now: To that end, the board of Asheville-Buncombe VISION has researched and now released a new publication, “Benchmarks.”
Presented to Asheville City Council members during their May 4 work session, the document compiles a variety of statistics:
• Registered voters in Asheville: 47,575 in 1997 (but only 27 percent of them actually voted that year — down from the 1993 high of 34.9 percent).
• Per-capita income in Buncombe County: $23,013 in 1996 — slightly higher than the North Carolina figure ($22,244).
• Average wage per Buncombe County worker: $24,736 in 1997 (the North Carolina average was $26,665).
• Manufacturing jobs in Buncombe County: 16.4 percent of all jobs, down substantially from the 1970 figure (29.7 percent).
• Percentage of black males who passed the 1996-97 end-of-grade reading test: 38.2 percent, Asheville City Schools; 54.9 percent, Buncombe County Schools.
• The percentages for white males: 81.8 percent (Asheville) and 76.5 percent (Buncombe).
• Number of streams, creeks or rivers in Buncombe County rated as having poor water quality, high pollution by the Volunteer Water Information Network: 19.
• Number with an excellent rating: eight.
Copies of the report are available at the VISION office in the City Development building (29 Haywood St.).