Asheville City Council: Put a lid on it

  • Council signs check for Civic Center roof
  • Asheville City Council July 14, 2009
  • City considers endorsing new veterans flag
  • URTV wars come to Council

When the sun shines, the roof don't leak; when it's raining, you can't fix it.

That simple sentence sums up the Asheville Civic Center's long, painful journey. For more than a decade, the embattled building has been at the center of rancorous political debate. Should it be renovated? Torn down and replaced? Folded into some big-ticket mega-project? And all through that debate, the roof has continued to leak.

Honor and remember: Josh O'Conner and Jan Banks appeared before Asheville City Council to ask that it endorse an effort to have a new flag fly beside the North Carolina state flag and the American flag. The new flag, with the words "Honor and Remember" is aimed at recognizing U.S. military personnel who died in the service of their country. Banks is the aunt of Staff Sgt. Joe Ray, who was killed in March 2006 after an improvised explosive device tore through his Humvee during an operation in Afghanistan. Photo by Jason Sandford

A year ago, City Council took a first step toward putting a new roof on the 1974 structure, tapping the Cort Architectural Group (led by John Cort, who designed the building) to come up with a roof design.

On July 14, with the bidding process behind them and a contractor chosen, Council members authorized spending $1.8 million on the actual construction.

"I want to thank Council for this effort," said Vice Mayor Jan Davis, who's been among the most vocal proponents of replacing the roof. "Really, this is the first time since the beginning of this process, three Councils ago, that real capital dollars will be allocated to that building. The roof we had to do: It's not a sexy thing, but it is a necessity."

Davis' figures were only partly accurate: In 2006, Council set aside $1.5 million for the roof replacement and later approved another $400,000 for general interior repairs. (Unresolved design issues and a desire to explore the possibility of a living roof further delayed the process.)

Still, others on Council shared his sense of accomplishment. "I do agree with the vice mayor that you have done a great job with this," Mayor Terry Bellamy told Cort.

The additional $300,000 reflects price increases over the last three years and the fact that the architects are now recommending sealing the concrete. The Raleigh-based Owens Roofing will perform the work.

Council member Carl Mumpower once again took aim at a 2007 study commissioned by the city to determine the feasibility of giving the Civic Center a "living roof," asking Cort if that was to blame for the three-year delay. But the architect declined to take the bait, saying only that the concrete sealing probably should have been recommended from the outset. And the new white PFC roof, he emphasized, will cut heat absorption drastically and conforms to LEED environmental standards. "It's still a green roof," Cort told Council. "It's just not a living roof."

According to a staff report, $240,000 of the extra $300,000 needed will be covered by money originally allocated for interior repairs (which couldn't be completed until the roof was finished). The remaining $60,000 will come from the city's general fund.

The motion to green-light the project was approved on a 6-0 vote (Council member Bill Russell was absent for family reasons).

Council members also bade farewell to outgoing Civic Center Director Sherman Bass, who is leaving at the end of July to return to Amarillo, Texas. Bass, who began his career at the Amarillo Civic Center, will be the new director there. He took the Asheville job in February 2008.

"He has performed the yeoman's task of many changes at the Civic Center," noted Bellamy. "You were here for a short time, but you did a lot."

Topping the poles

The Mayor's Committee for Veterans Affairs is urging Council to endorse a proposed new national flag honoring veterans. Josh O'Conner, who chairs the committee, said there's a national movement afoot to adopt the new flag, but that it would be strengthened by resolutions of support from local governments.

The "Honor and Remember" flag — which features a gold-and-blue star, adorned with images of a flame and a folded American flag, on a field of red and white — was officially launched in Norfolk, Va., on Memorial Day 2008.

"It fills a gap in the recognition of our veterans," O'Conner told Council, adding that he'd like to see the flag flown at the newly rededicated Memorial Stadium. The facility already displays the American, North Carolina and black-and-white POW/MIA flags.

The idea drew instant support from Mumpower, who urged a vote that night, calling the new memorial a "perfect place to put it."

"Your group made a call for action," he told O'Conner, adding, "I don't like waiting for the federal government."

But Bellamy preferred to have the issue appear on the agenda in August, giving the city attorney time to research it and draft appropriate language. (City Attorney Bob Oast noted that a bill concerning the veterans flag is working its way through the U.S. House of Representatives.)

Others also warned against undue haste. Council member Brownie Newman reminded his colleagues that in 2007, this same committee had supported a city ordinance requiring that American flags in Asheville be flown in accordance with the U.S. Flag Code. "We acted on other recommendations from this committee on flags, which I agreed with and supported," he said. "And there was some deal of controversy on the issue."

Putting the matter on a future consent agenda, said Newman, would enable the community to offer perspectives that Council members might not have thought of.

On a modified motion by Mumpower, Council unanimously approved placing the proposal on the consent agenda for the first formal session in August.

The heat goes on

The drama surrounding local public-access channel URTV has finally made its way into the Council chamber (for the bloody details, go to www.mountainx.com/topics/find/URTV). Two weeks earlier, Alan Rosenthal had appeared before Council leveling accusations at URTV producer Dale Joyner and objecting to her possible appointment to the nonprofit's board. Recognizing the level of dysfunction and bad blood within the organization, City Council had postponed action on the appointment until more information could be gleaned.

Now, with URTV once again on the agenda, Rosenthal — who says he formerly worked as a private eye — was back, making more accusations concerning both Joyner and fellow producer (and periodic Council critic) Christopher Chiaromonte. The latter two also spoke, along with recently suspended producer Harry Maroni. And as each, in turn, described the others' professional malfeasance and personal transgressions, emotions ran so high that it gave Cape an idea.

"We're missing a great revenue opportunity," she observed. "We should film this and have a realist TV show: This is incredible drama."

Throughout those comments, Council members repeatedly tried to wrangle the discussion back in the direction of Council's responsibilities. Under URTV's charter, City Council appoints two board members, as do the Buncombe County commissioners, and both bodies allocate a portion of the PEG money, collected via cable-TV bills, that funds the public channel.

Davis, who chairs the city's Boards and Commissions Committee, outlined Council's options for putting out the URTV fire. A Council-funded performance review of the URTV board, he said, would be "fairly pricey." Alternatively, said Davis, the committee could ask the URTV board to submit its own written plan for ways to address its problems.

Yet another option would demonstrate Council's real authority: holding off on renewing the channel's funding come November.

"That seems like the more normal course of action," Davis suggested. And, he added, URTV unilaterally decided to expand its board from 11 to 13 members, a move he'd like them to reconsider.

Mumpower, who also serves on the Boards and Commissions Committee, encouraged URTV members to file written complaints so the committee — which he said expects to discuss the issue at its next meeting — can start trying to sort them out.

Land and water

Asheville's long-running feud with Buncombe County over water issues has tended to obscure another lengthy water dispute, this one with Henderson County. But on July 14, Newman asked his Council colleagues to support a new card the city might play in the latter case.

Henderson County has backed off on its efforts to buy the Mills River Water Treatment Plant, built on land it transferred to Asheville as part of a 1995 swap. But the county's ownership of 137 acres near Bent Creek that it received in return still hangs in the balance. The agreement gave Henderson County 10 years to build a water-treatment facility there, or the land would revert to Asheville. But the original transfer was delayed for about six years, so the county has not yet relinquished the property.

At this point, most of the loose ends in the dispute have been tied up, reported Newman, but Henderson County leaders would like to recoup some money in the deal. Although Asheville could just sit tight and wait for the property to to be returned sometime in 2011 or 2012, Newman said the city has a stake in reclaiming it sooner.

"If we could get it back into Asheville's jurisdiction sooner," he told Council, "there's a lot of value there."

Under a proposal developed by Newman, Bellamy and Davis, if Henderson County returned the property now, they'd be entitled to 20 percent of whatever Asheville received for selling it. But if the city opted to hold onto the land, no money would change hands. And that's certainly a possibility, considering the parcel's potential as a site for a water-treatment plant or an addition to the city's greenway network, Newman told Xpress.

Council unanimously authorized proposing the deal to Henderson County.

Brother, can you spare a home?

On a 5-1 vote with Mumpower opposed, City Council approved the sale of 7.19 acres on Brotherton Avenue to the local affiliate of Habitat for Humanity to develop 22 affordable homes. According to a staff report, the city acquired the West Asheville property in 1999 and has invested $527,000 in it, including improvements. Habitat will pay $467,500, and the deal is structured as a loan, with the organization paying back the city incrementally as the homes are sold. Council unanimously approved a similar plan in 2007, but the deal fell through.

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