Buncombe County Commission

The Rev. Jeff Lovitt of the Biltmore Church of Christ set the tone for a notably brief county commissioners’ meeting on June 15. In his earnest invocation, he sought divine help for the board in its efforts to discern citizens’ needs for a sense of true belonging, both inside their families and within their communities.

Then Commissioner Patsy Keever, with brisk aplomb, led a presentation recognizing nursing assistants.

“Let’s get everyone up here,” she said, urging the honorees to gather around the podium, while she read the proclamation of appreciation.

Brenda Gaines and Wanda Redmond represented their employer, Mountain Area Hospice — as well as all county workers who share their profession — in accepting the acclaim.

“We’ve heard a lot lately about nursing homes,” Keever declared, revealing that nursing assistants dispense 90 percent of the direct care received by nursing-home residents — and, therefore, are largely responsible for elderly and infirm patients’ quality of life.

“It’s important to [realize] how important nursing assistants are [for these] citizens having a life with dignity,” she concluded.

Soon after, a public hearing was held in connection with the proposed rezoning of a tract of land in South Asheville’s Limestone Township, from R2 — a classification allowing residential development and recreational, community-service and educational uses — to CS, which allows clustered commercial development.

Though representatives of the Limestone Planning Council had already unanimously approved the rezoning, South Asheville resident Ben Pace expressed fear for the future of other parts of Limestone that are not zoned. He also voiced contempt for a system that he feels keeps citizens in the dark about the development of their community.

“Zoning,” he huffed, “is for the big folks, not the little folks. I want to make sure the community knows when things like this are going to happen.”

Then, taking courage in a rather jarring analogy, he addressed Commissioner Keever: “As I’m sure you know, Ms. Keever, you can’t be [just] a little pregnant,” he said, hinting that the growing prospect of zoning hassles is as inevitable and burdensome as an imminent newborn baby. “We’ve got to be thinking of what’s going to happen down the road,” he stressed.

County Attorney Joe Connolly conceded, “It’s true that the [zoning] mechanisms we had in place when we created Limestone Township are not appropriate today.”

And though he agreed with Pace that the system isn’t perfect, Connolly argued that, in this case, a CS classification was completely reasonable for the land in question.

The board agreed, passing the request 3-0 (commissioners Bill Stanley and David Gantt were absent).

In a fitting addendum, County Manager Wanda Greene announced that county zoning ordinances and maps will be presented to the community at large on Aug. 3. at Thomas Wolfe Auditorium.

“We want as much public input as we can get,” she said.

Picking up the slack

In new business, General Services Director Bob Hunter asked commissioners to approve an extension of the county’s solid-waste-collection franchises.

Hunter said he hoped to have until January to make changes in the county’s trash pick-up policies, including a possible rate change for the elderly — before the franchises expire.

“Our senior citizens might need a break; they’re not generating as much trash as a family of four or more,” he explained.

The extension was swiftly granted by the board.

After approving a challenge grant for the Erwin Athletic Association, commissioners implemented a countywide policy on such grants: Any school that raises $100,000 from the community will be given $25,000 by the county.

A.C. Reynolds High, which has raised well over $100,000 for its athletic department, was the first school to receive a matching grant under the new policy.

“I heard about their [fund-raising project] two years ago,” commented Commissioner David Young, praising the school’s hard work.

Concerned resident Mike Morgan fretted that certain schools’ money might come from unapproved sources. But Greene reminded the board that no county grants are given out until officials have verified that the school in question’s funds are indeed community-derived. (Ever the watchdog, Morgan also demanded to know whether the absences of commissioners Stanley and Gantt at the June 15 meeting had been “excused.”)

Consent agenda

Two items were moved from the consent agenda to new business: the first, which passed unanimously, was a contract buyout for John Tipton of the County Tax Office.

Tipton began working for Buncombe County in 1987; in 1997, he was awarded a three-year contract to serve as the county’s assistant tax assessor. He recently requested the buyout on the contract, which is due to expire on July 1, 2000, so he could retire a year early, this June 30. The $26, 654.50 buy-out (50 percent of Tipton’s annual salary) will be funded by savings in current Tax Department salaries (the county has no plans to fill the assistant-assessor position) and by savings on benefits.

The second consent item, a resolution approving an installment-purchase contract for the CP&L building at 202 Haywood St., met with opposition from Commissioner David Young, who argued that the county should complete its sale of the old Biltmore School building before buying the Haywood Street building. The building will house Sheriff Department employees who now work in the Biltmore School building.

Despite Young’s objections, the resolution passed 2-1.

A short public-comment period was marked by a proposed resolution proffered by Council of Independent Business Owners President Mac Swicegood, urging the board to “adhere to the promises made to the public over the past two years, and … allow the incentive-based land-use plan at least three years to work, prior to any consideration of a zoning ordinance.”

The proposed resolution further stated that “The Council of Independent Business Owners believes that any zoning in Buncombe County at the present time should only occur in those community areas that rightfully vote for zoning.”

No action was taken on CIBO’s proposal.

After moving to continue the meeting next Tuesday, commissioners went into closed session to discuss a possible legal action involving a company that has provided supplies to the county jail. No action was taken.

Board Appointments

Malcom Gamble and Julia Ray were reappointed to the Library Board of Trustees, and Theresa Greene was named to the Women’s Involvement Council.

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