Buzzworm news briefs

A seat at the table

Despite any differences they may have, the seven sitting members of the Buncombe County Board of Education all have one thing in common: None are students in Buncombe County Schools.

15-year-old Adam King aims to remedy that situation. Since February, he’s been stirring up local interest in adding a student representative on the school board, trying to provide a voice directly from the students.

King is backed by the National Youth Rights Association, an advocacy group that bills itself as “The last Civil Rights movement” and champions a slate of youth-focused proposals such as lowering the voting and drinking ages.

In June, King went before the Board of Education to make his case. Reaction was mixed, with some members dismissing the idea and others saying they’re willing to study it further. In the meantime, King has collected the support of faculty at Reynolds High School, where he is a rising sophomore, and he says he has garnered endorsements from several city and county leaders.

Now, King wants the community on his side. Toward that end, at 6 p.m. this Thursday, July 20, he will make his case at a press conference and community forum at Pack Memorial Library’s Lord Auditorium.

“I hope this forum will show the school board just how many people actually support student representation,” he said via a press release.

How much presence and sway would a student rep have?

“They wouldn’t have a vote, or sit in closed session,” King tells Xpress. But, he adds: “Their voice will be heard by the board.”

And having a voice may wake other students up to their potential political power. “They will think their voice is important,” King says. “They will think they are getting more out of their education.”

Around the country, several boards of education have made places for students at the adult’s table, but in Buncombe County, such representation is limited to two seats on the School Advisory Committee, which sends its minutes to the School Board meetings.

For more information on the National Youth Rights Association, check out www.youthrights.org.

— Brian Postelle

Citizens group questions recent UDO report

Good but not good enough is one group’s reaction to last month’s report to City Council on Asheville’s zoning enforcement.

“This report is a call to action for reform,” announced Coalition of Asheville Neighborhoods President Chris Pelly in a June 30 press release. “CAN is also pleased, after having been denied a hearing by City Council and the Board of Adjustment, to finally have an independent review of our cases.”

But the report didn’t go far enough, says CAN board member James Judd, who recently fired off a series of written questions to the author of the report, Prof. David Owens of the North Carolina School of Government.

That report politely pointed to numerous seeming enforcement failures and cases of unclear language in the city’s zoning law (“The [non)enforcers,” July 12, Xpress). The 18-page report addressed three specific developments: Greenlife Grocery, Prudential Lifestyle Realty and Staples.

But Owens’ careful language didn’t go far enough, according to Judd, who says the report downplayed staff failures in several cases and, instead, recommended that City Council adopt changes in the UDO to, in effect, legalize the mistakes that have already been made.

At press time, Owens had not responded to CAN’s 11-page query, but explained to Xpress via e-mail, “I did not undertake to adjudicate appeals of these cases as a substitute for board of adjustment or judicial review.” He also said, “I attempted to provide enough information so that each reader could draw their own conclusions as to whether the advocates for the applicants, advocates for the neighbors, or the staff were correct in their interpretation of the ordinance.”

CAN members are particularly annoyed that Owens’ analysis did not find the Staples signs noncompliant. CAN has argued that the signs are too high because they are parapet signs. Owens concluded that the signs comply as wall-mounted signs.

In determining whether the signs are parapet or wall signs, Owens told Xpress that he had chosen to use an architectural dictionary definition of parapet.

But CAN Board Member Joe Minicozzi objected to Owens’ use of a dictionary in this case. Minicozzi told Xpress, “Parapet is defined in the [UDO] code. That’s the end of the story. You only go to dictionaries or other references if [the term] is missing from the definitions section, period.”

In addition to detailed questions about the three projects treated in Owens’ report, Judd also asked Owens for his opinion concerning the Merrimon Avenue Walgreen’s project, which has been criticized by CAN because its largest structure is at the rear of the property, some distance from Merrimon. The UDO states that, in a CBII zoning district, a development’s principal structure is supposed to be located adjacent to the street. Recently Development Director Scott Shuford ruled that a relatively small 700-square-foot structure at the front of the property can be considered the development’s principal structure. The structure at the rear is 14,000-square-feet in size. Judd wondered, “Is this a reasonable determination and is it an acceptable administrative decision?”

— Cecil Bothwell

The root that won the East

One of the publishing world’s current darlings is the single origin story, how a seemingly insignificant natural emblem turns out to be the giant on whose shoulders civilization rests. Hence elaborate books about codfish, corn, the potato, bananas, salt … we could go on.

Judging from the past success of the genre, we can look for forthcoming volumes about how star fruit and schmaltz each have saved the world.

Ginseng, the five-leaved plant with a wrinkled root, may not have the foundational quality of salt or corn, but as herbs go its tale is as rich as they come. For millennia — as a mild tonic, an aid to sexual potency and an energy-giver — its power has been fixed as a nonpareil of Chinese medicine. Today, the oldest, best ginseng roots are kept in lacquered boxes and are hoarded as jealously as Cuban cigars or bottles of 1928 Chateau Lafite; in other words, they are the first things their owners reach for if their pagodas happen to catch fire.

In his new book, Ginseng, the Divine Root, author David Taylor puts his ear to the ground, tracing the plant’s first recognition as a tonic in China, circa 2000 B.C., to the current domestic and international intrigue surrounding its harvest and export, and its gradual acceptance by Western medicine.

Taylor is a past contributor to Smithsonian, The Washington Post, and Wired, so his ability to unearth a tale as sprawling as ginseng’s is never in doubt. Still, his writing shines best when he takes us into the woods with today’s stewards of the venerable root — scientists, game wardens, park rangers — including excursions into dear old Western North Carolina. Much of the U.S. export of ginseng is farm-raised and comes from places like Wisconsin, but the most valuable roots on this side of the Pacific are still dug wild from the lush, north-facing cove woods of Appalachia.

Taylor will visit Malaprop’s in Asheville at 7 p.m. on July 21 for a reading and signing. On July 22, at 1 p.m., he will appear at Osondu Booksellers on Main Street in Waynesville. For more information, visit www.divineroot.com.

— Kent Priestley

Not all bozos on this bus

The City of Asheville has unveiled three new programs aimed at increasing bus ridership in the city to help address air pollution, parking and traffic congestion problems. Council members Bryan Freeborn and Brownie Newman hosted a July 11 community meeting to present the city’s plan.

The first piece of the plan has already begun, with six evening routes that reach 45 percent of city residents, running from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday. “In every transportation forum or public discussion we have held, evening routes are the number-one request from residents,” Newman told the audience.

In order to encourage first-time riders, the buses will be fare-free on all routes, Aug. 14 to Nov. 11. According to Newman, other cities have used this ploy to get folks on board and a high percentage continue to use transit systems after fares resume.

Transit and Parking Director Bruce Black told the audience, “During the Hurricane Katrina gas shortage, our ridership increased tremendously, and many of those newcomers continued to ride the bus after the crisis passed.”

The third incentive plan involves partnership with employers, dubbed the Pass-Port program. Businesses of any size can sign up to receive bus passes for employees. The cost to the business is 49 cents per ride, versus the regular cash price of 75 cents. It is hoped that this will provide an attractive benefit for employees, a lower-cost alternative to provision of parking spaces. The city already furnishes passes to its own employees and is particularly keen on including large employers such as Buncombe County in the program.

A representative of the Grove Park Inn said that his company is enthusiastic about the new transit plans, despite the fact that the new evening routes do not directly serve their location. He said the Grove Park will institute a shuttle service to ferry employees to transit stops.

Newman, Freeborn and Black also outlined numerous improvements currently underway including route information signs at bus stops, shelters, new route maps and retrofitting of all 18 large diesel buses with pollution-control gear. The retrofit, being done for free by Caterpillar International, will reduce particulate pollution by one ton per year per bus, or 18 tons annually. Black said, “Five new buses, on order now, will already be equipped with the anti-pollution devices.” He also noted that the latest research shows that the new diesel buses deliver more health benefits per dollar than natural gas buses — which offer slightly reduced emissions but with a big increase in purchase and operating costs.

— Cecil Bothwell

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