Asheville City Council

Old news sometimes comes back to bite you. Several years ago, Asheville City Council members agreed to give Henderson County 139 acres of Bent Creek property, valued at $1 million. According to Asheville Mayor Leni Sitnick, it was a “way to sweeten the deal” — the city got Henderson County property on the Mills River, for developing a new water-treatment plant. Henderson, in turn, gets the chance to develop a sewage-treatment plant or other industrial facility on the Bent Creek land.

But as Brevard Road resident Frank Rosa remarked during Council’s July 13 formal session, “I can’t think of a worse place to put a sewage-treatment plant.” The property, which borders the French Broad River, Interstate 26 and Brevard Road, lies near such key tourist attractions as the Blue Ridge Parkway and the North Carolina Arboretum. “We’ll have a nice smell for the Arboretum. … This property needs to be [developed] as a park … anything but a sewage or smokestacks. Somebody blew it big time, is all I have to say.”

Sitnick had to agree. She noted that the fine print of the deal had slipped past her and Council member Barbara Field, both of whom served on City Council at the time.

What to do about it now? Having already voluntarily annexed the property, Council’s next step was to zone it. City staff and the Planning and Zoning Commission had recommended making the property RS-2 — the strictest category on the books, one that forbids sewage-treatment plants and limits the property to residential uses (the land is surrounded by single-family homes). Several Council members, however, countered that the property should be zoned industrial, a classification that does allow sewage plants.

Said Council member Chuck Cloninger, “I don’t think, in good faith, we can deed the property to Henderson County [with it] zoned against the one thing they can use the property for.” According to the amended Water Agreement involving the city and Buncombe and Henderson counties, Henderson has 10 years from the date of transfer either to develop the property for a sewage-treatment plant, or to transfer it to a local authority that can, such as the Metropolitan Sewerage District. Otherwise, the property would revert to the city.

Cloninger suggested limiting potential uses of the property by placing restrictions on the deed — which is scheduled to be transferred before the end of July — so that the site could be developed only for sewage treatment.

Council member Earl Cobb suggested a more drastic step: Buy back the property. “What we’d like to do is back out of the deal, but morally, we can’t do that.”

Taking a more pragmatic tack, Vice Mayor Ed Hay observed that it’s unlikely Henderson County will build a sewage-treatment plant on the land (the county has no immediate plans to do so). And if they don’t, in 10 years, the land would revert to the city, without Council having to do a thing.

Field, who sits on the MSD board, noted that MSD, too, has no immediate plans to build another treatment plant. In a recent meeting, she reported, board members were told that MSD’s French Broad River plant is operating at less than 50-percent capacity, and can serve the area for another 50-75 years.

“Then I’ll be back in 75 years to argue about it,” Sitnick quipped.

Cloninger suggested that Sitnick send Henderson County officials a letter informing them of Council’s concern about development of the land, and asking that they carefully consider the design and potential impact of anything built there.

Sitnick agreed.

Cloninger moved that Council zone the property industrial. Seconded by Field, his motion passed 7-0.

Topless mathematics

Do the math: Adult establishments in Asheville must be at least 1,000 feet from the nearest church, school or home. That’s the length of three-and-one-third football fields, according to City Council member Tommy Sellers (or roughly one-fifth of a mile or 5 city blocks, as Council member Barbara Field.

This restriction has been on the books for at least five years, but on July 13, Council declared that all adult establishments are now conditional uses in Highway Business, Regional Business and Commercial Industrial districts. That means adult establishments are prohibited in all other zoning districts (such as residential neighborhoods), and City Council has the final say-so whenever a property owner seeks a permit to build a new one or expand an existing one.

“This, I hope, is the last step in what has been a long road,” observed City Attorney Bob Oast. He has coached Council through a yearlong process of investigating what additional regulations the city could impose on topless bars, adult bookstores and other adult establishments. A few months ago, for example, Council established stricter clothing restrictions for nonperformers working in such establishments. Oast remarked that the conditional-use standard gives Council “a degree of discretion” it did not previously have. (Up until last year, requests for permits to build or expand adult establishments required only city-staff review).

On a motion by Sellers (seconded by Earl Cobb), Council adopted the conditional-use standard, 7-0.

About Margaret Williams
Editor Margaret Williams first wrote for Xpress in 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987 and completed her Masters of Liberal Arts & Sciences from UNC-Asheville in 2016. Follow me @mvwilliams

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