Asheville City Council: Like it or not

  • Vote postponed on Montford Commons tax incentives
  • City ponders retooling health benefits
  • Council considers handicapped parking changes

Early next year, nearly 700 people may become Asheville residents thanks to two involuntary annexations initiated by City Council July 27.

Capped? Concerned about the number of metered handicapped spaces being used to store cars, Council is considering stricter rules. photo by Margaret Williams


The residents in question live in the Coopers Hawk Drive area on the southtwestern edge of the city — which comprises 16 residents on 41 acres — and the sizable Royal Pines subdivision off Sweeten Creek Road, whose 388 acres encompass 670 residents.

Involuntary annexations are always controversial. Those affected are rarely happy about seeing their taxes rise and often resent the lack of any say in the process. Proponents, however, see it as a way to keep cities viable by absorbing those who use their services and live in urbanized or urbanizing areas but don’t pay city taxes.

And though Council’s action represented only the beginning of a process that will require public-information sessions, a public hearing and final approval of both annexations before they can take effect, that controversy was already plenty evident.
“The idea that people who live in the county are just users and abusers of city services is wrong, and it's insulting,” county resident Betty Jackson declared, asserting that unincorporated suburbs bordering the city limits benefit both parties.
“We work in town, we do business in town, some of us even own businesses, and all those things contribute to the city's coffers. … There's a win-win situation when you have people who live in suburbs and people who live in town.”

But Mayor Terry Bellamy argued that annexation is sometimes necessary, asserting that in many cases, the city doesn't receive its fair share of things like sales taxes.

“Asheville's not like any other city,” the mayor explained. “Seventy-five percent of sales tax collected in the city of Asheville doesn't stay in the city — that speaks volumes. We don't want to be the bad guy, but there are some realities. If people buy a shirt at the Gap in Asheville and they pay their sales tax, where does it go?” Because the state calculates sales tax based on a formula that emphasizes population and area, Asheville gets a smaller share than its economic clout might suggest.

Bellamy asked city staff to develop a document spelling out Asheville's financial situation and the underlying factors.
“Put our slides alongside Charlotte's or Greensboro's or Gastonia’s, and I think people would be amazed to see that the hub of Western North Carolina doesn't get as much taxes as people think we do.”

Council member Bill Russell, on the other hand, repeated his long-standing opposition to forced annexation in general, observing, “I don't think any one of those people would want to become part of the city, and we're about to double their taxes.”
But Council member Esther Manheimer, speaking about the Royal Pines area, countered: “This is an appropriate annexation where we can offer some services and they'll see a return for their tax dollars. Hopefully it will enable neighboring areas to see some of the benefits of being part of the city.”

“Can we even afford it?” Russell shot back.

The proposal to launch the Coopers Hawk Drive annexation was approved 6-1, with Russell opposed. Bellamy, however, joined him on the losing end of a 5-2 vote in the case of Royal Pines, citing the city's shaky financial situation. “Now is not the right time” for such a substantial undertaking, she maintained.

Seeking common ground


To hear the developers of the proposed 250-unit Montford Commons project tell it, a golden opportunity was at hand.
“This project meets many City Council goals, including the creation of work-force housing near the central business district,” attorney (and former Asheville mayor) Lou Bissette told Council. “It's near public transportation and meets the goals of walkability and sustainability. This property has been underused for many years. We ask that you seize the day and make this project happen.”

That, however, would require city support, according to developer Vince Smarjesse of the Frontier Syndicate. “You can't have just 20 acres of rental housing within walking distance of downtown and keep it affordable without a subsidy,” he told Council.
And therein lay the rub. The syndicate, which has already received preliminary approval for a federal loan, was asking for some $190,000 in exemptions from city permit fees.

But besides the permit, they're also requesting a 10-year exemption from property taxes, which would cost the city about $1.5 million all told. (The developers are also seeking a $1.8 million exemption from the county.)

That proved to be a bit much for many Council members, who spent months wrangling over how to address a $5 million deficit before approving the current budget in June. And though the Montford Neighborhood Association has endorsed the project, city staff noted that with projected rents ranging from $600 to $1,200 a month, many of the units wouldn’t satisfy the city's criteria for affordable housing.

Montford Commons would be built on a mostly vacant site between the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce and Isaac Dickson Elementary on Hill Street. The project received initial approval in 2007 but has had trouble finding private financing amid the economic downturn.

Council members generally said they’d like to see the project succeed but had doubts about the financial impact on the city.

“It's a great opportunity,” noted Council member Jan Davis, cautioning, “I have some real concerns, though.”

Council member Cecil Bothwell suggested replacing a planned parking deck with surface parking to reduce costs, given the proximity to downtown and thus the availability of other transportation options.

Bellamy, too, urged flexibility, saying, “I'd like to work out a possible win-win. … I wouldn't want to miss this opportunity.”
Council members agreed to work on finding mutually acceptable terms before revisiting the matter at their Aug. 24 meeting, and Bissette said the developer would be willing to “give it one more try.”

What the health?


City Council also deliberated two ongoing concerns: parking and health care.

Health benefits for city employees are a major expense for the cash-strapped government, and Council appointed a “blue-ribbon task force” to consider the issue and make recommendations.

Bellamy specifically asked if the group would be looking at implementing benefits for same-sex domestic partners, which Council committed to in principle (with Bellamy opposed) earlier this year (see “Asheville City Council,” Feb. 17 Xpress).

Domestic-partner benefits are indeed “part of the plan” that’s due to be presented to Council next June, Assistant City Manager Jeff Richardson confirmed. Meanwhile, Council members will hear a report on the task force's progress in October.

On another front, Council was briefed on the current state of handicapped parking downtown. Increasingly, noted City Attorney Bob Oast, vehicles displaying handicapped placards are parking in ordinary metered spaces, sometimes for days at a time. But the status of metered spaces is something of a gray area in both city ordinances and state law, both of which generally allow people with disabilities to park for an unlimited amount of time in most places.

Confirming Oast’s report, Joe Minicozzi of the Asheville Downtown Association showed photos of parked cars displaying handicapped placards. Calling it “a matter of economics,” he emphasized that leaving such vehicles for extended periods of time curbs city revenues while reducing the amount of available on-street parking. Accordingly, Minicozzi urged the city to enforce the time limits in all metered spaces, regardless of motorists’ special needs. This, he said, would drive people to the decks, where reserving a space by the month costs far less than constantly feeding the meters.

Oast said he would take the suggestions into account in crafting a new proposal for Council to consider

David Forbes can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 137, or at dforbes@mountainx.com.

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18 thoughts on “Asheville City Council: Like it or not

  1. Lois Lane

    Doesn’t take me or Jimmy to figure out the City Attorney and Downtown Council are brazenly looking to victimize the disabled to perk up downtown parking opportunities for the able bodied.

    No surprise there.

    The reason so many disabled people are forced to park in “regular” parking spaces is because of the pathetically few parking spaces available for those with handicapped permits in the downtown area, and because of excessive special use permitting (ie loading zones) for downtown businesses. Not to mention all the selective enforcement during “special events” times, when handicapped spots are routinely taken by people w/out handicapped permits “for just a few minutes”. Ahem.

    I have no problem limiting the number of hours that people w/handicapped permits may park in a handicapped space, so long as there are no double standards.

    The city needs to ADD handicapped spaces if it is going to put time limits on those spaces, and it needs to enforce the use of handicapped spaces as judiciously as it enforces the loading zone spaces.

    And if I were the City Attorney, I would review the new Americans With Disabilities Act provisions a bit more closely before making wild claims that disabled people are parking “for days at a time”. With the tight budgets these days, the City can ill afford large legal settlements against it for discrimination.

  2. Frank DelGado

    Hostile takeover is more like it! I hope the City has to spend a lot of money to fix up the infrastructure in Royal Pines…instead of just get the extra tax money like they think they will. Hostile annexation is un-American, plain and simple!

  3. reasonable

    Minicozzi is incorrect re: enforcing time limits on metered city parking spaces. The state statute is only 2 or 3 sentences long and says that handicapped may park longer than any time limits imposed.

    The statutes DO NOT say they may park for free, however. That was a stupid interpretation by Asheville and some other NC cities.

    This should be an easy fix: pay for the damn metered parking for as long as you like if you have a legitimate handicapped tag. Otherwise, the City should re-read the state statute (as I said, it’s only 2 or 3 sentences long) and correctly interpret it.

    Dayum, what a bunch of freaks.

  4. reasonable

    I see you didn’t like my first post.

    Here’s the darn statute that covers this issue:

    Ҥ 20?37.6. Parking privileges for handicapped drivers and passengers.

    (a) General Parking. – Any vehicle that is driven by or is transporting a person who is handicapped and that displays a distinguishing license plate, a removable windshield placard, or a temporary removable windshield placard may be parked for unlimited periods in parking zones restricted as to the length of time parking is permitted. This provision has no application to those zones or during times in which the stopping, parking, or standing of all vehicles is prohibited or which are reserved for special types of vehicles. Any qualifying vehicle may park in spaces designated as restricted to vehicles driven by or transporting the handicapped….”

    The rest of the statute has no bearing on this issue.

    Minicozzi is incorrect in stating the time limits should be enforced. Everyone else advocating free handicapped parking is incorrect in their belief of that inaccuracy.

    No where in the State statutes does it say “free parking.”

    It’s really very simple.

  5. Barry Summers

    The city needs to ADD handicapped spaces if it is going to put time limits on those spaces, and it needs to enforce the use of handicapped spaces as judiciously as it enforces the loading zone spaces.

    Maybe also review who has these handicapped cards, and how are they given out. These cards are all numbered, right? And/or they have expiration dates?

    I can’t tell you how many times I have seen perfectly healthy looking people climb out of their vehicles in the handicapped spaces. I know I have heard co-workers tell the stories about getting one of these cards “because I know a guy at the County”…

    Don’t make life harder for genuinely handicapped people without first going after those who cynically abuse the system.

  6. There are people who are handicapped, but don’t particularly “look” handicapped. Brain damaged or breathing / heart problems for example.

    You cannot get a handicapped cards without a Doctor’s referral. They do have an expiration date….and the physician must issue a request for renewal. The cards are dated and numbered…and are tied into your car registration.

    Some folks may have reprinted an authentic handicap card using a scanner….that would be illegal and an abuse.

  7. Lois Lane

    I travel cross country with a handicapped hang tag with a fair amount of frequency. But I’ve never seen this kind of bigotry and flat out hostility against disabled patrons as I’ve witnessed in Asheville this week from the City Attorney & downtown business people.

    Do they not recognize that people with disabilities are downtown patrons just like anyone else?

    Let’s see some actual legitimate evidence of people with handicapped permits using downtown metered parking as “storage” please, instead of these vague claims and accusation that only fuels hatred and hostility towards people with disabilities.

    If this is truly a problem, do what other metros do: put a time limit on how long a car w/a handicapped permit can remain in ANY space, metered or handicapped.

    Not that hard is it?

    Or is it that the City Attorney & downtown business people just love to hate disabled people?

    That sure is how it is looking to this disabled visitor who frequently patronizes downtown businesses.

    And is seriously rethinking why I should continue to do so, in this anti-disabled parking pogrom climate the downtown businesses and the City Attorney seem to be on. And for what?

    How about a study instead? Like tell us how many metered spaces there are downtown, and how many handicapped spaces there are downtown? Do a survey of how many handicapped permits are being used for a year, and where they are being used, to inform us as to where the greatest needs for disabled access are and where they aren’t being met?

    Why this hating on disabled people?

    As to the ignorant and ill informed comment above about “able bodied” people getting out of cars with handicapped permits, let me say this: learn what “invisible disability” means.

    And that is what is at the root of this, pure and simple.

  8. Invisible disabilityOneRiotYahooAmazonTwitterdel.icio.us
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    Jump to: navigation, search

    Invisible disabilities are disabilities that are not immediately apparent.

    Some people with visual or auditory impairments who do not wear glasses or hearing aids may not be obviously impaired. (Some may wear contacts or have a cochlear implant instead.) A sitting disability is another category of invisible impairments. Sitting problems are usually caused by chronic back pain. Those with joint problems or chronic pain may not use mobility aids on good days, or at all. Other examples include Asperger syndrome, attention disorders (ADD/ADHD), brain injuries, chronic pain, chronic fatigue syndrome, chemical sensitivities, fibromyalgia, epilepsy, and repetitive stress injuries.

    Invisible disabilities can also include chronic illnesses such as renal failure, diabetes, and sleep disorders if those diseases significantly impair normal activities of daily living. If a medical condition does not impair normal activities, then it is not a disability.’

  9. Hank Kenny

    Geez Louise. The elephant in the room here is the involuntary annexation of Royal Pines! This is flatout an evil thing to do unless the residents vote to do it. North Carolina is just one of the few states that allow this. Asheville did just fine years ago before so many northerners came here and wanted to grow the town and raise taxes. I say, NO NEW TAXES AND NO INVOLUNTARY ANNEXATIONS!

  10. joe Minicozzi

    Reasonable is correct (and I completely agree with you by the way). Your suggestion was also the recommendation of the Downtown Commission – its simple. If you park at a meter, pay for it regardless. No one is suggesting limiting time, just pay for the use of a metered space. The statute states nothing about the parking being “free”, but it is longer than 2-3 sentences. The entire statute is a couple of pages. As Reasonable points out, the ADA Act is about ‘accessibility’, not about poverty. If people just had to pay for the meters, the problem would take car of itself, though we’d still have to deal with the issue of folks clogging up the designated H/C spaces.

    Also, regarding our research, its the folks that store their cars (sometimes for days or weeks) on the public street, which in the end, actually denies access to folks that need those spaces for the shorter trips. In a study The Downtown Association ran from Jan. to Mar, we found 44 cars in a sample of three areas (around Grove Arcade, along Haywood to Pritchard Park, and around City Hall/County Building) as the “repeats” in that their cars were there at 8AM, 1PM and 4PM. We even sampled some areas at night and on weekends and in some cases, those cars never moved from the same spots. We still continue to photograph and collect data, and the repeats are still the same from the study period. There are also office workers that are using the street for their own personal parking space. In some instances, they are workers where they have accessible parking spaces given to them by their employers, they just choose to use the street instead. The meters on the street are for convenient drop-in/short-term visits to downtown during the day, and quick access. Longer term parking should be in garages or surface lots. Those lots also have ample handicapped parking that is available & accessible.

    If anyone needs details on the study we ran and the repeat storage of cars on the street, please email and we’ll send it over. Thanks.

  11. John

    I’m sorry. Doesn’t the issue at hand concern handicapped tagged cars remaining in spaces for days at a time? How does the city taking action qualify as discrimination? Are the disabled shopping for 72 hours? I mean if they are shopping at 4am for three mornings in a row then OK but I not sure they are doing that…

  12. reasonable

    Thank you, Joe. Glad to hear about what is going on re: the meters. As any year-round downtown resident like me knows, the situation is out of control and needs correcting. The solution is indeed simple.

    About the 2-3 sentences of the State statute, I was referring to only those first sentences that address metered parking and handicapped. The rest of the statute rambles on about a good many other topics.

  13. It’s not unreasonable to expect the meter maids to mark vehicles then ticket after they’ve stayed beyond the expiration time. This is done elsewhere. There are not enough handicapped spaces downtown and someone “squatting” is an abuse to all citizens, handicapped or not.

  14. Henry Kennesaw

    Hostile takeover annexations are flatout un-American. Period.

    Parking meters: pay the meter or pay the fine.

    Politics: vote Miller for US Rep this fall.

  15. I already pay for the services they claim they will provide! My neighbours do as well and have been for decades! If a city council was given unlimited power to kick city residents out of the city, there would be outrage. The idea would be considered absurd. Yet in North Carolina, a city council with no relationship to citizens who live in unincorporat…ed areas can generally do whatever it wants to bring those citizens into the city. Based on the level of recourse provided to property owners in state statutes, nearly every state in the country (48 states) has abandoned North Carolina’s outdated approach to forced annexation. The primary purpose of forced annexation, according to the North Carolina Supreme Court, is for municipalities to provide meaningful services to the annexed areas, but the p[roblem is that the League, instead of apologizing for failure and seeking REAL reform, they ask for incentives to provided services to neglected areas while the ones who have had services for decades get swept up regardless of the fact that they are not actually receiving any services they didnt already have! in other words, they want to get paid to do what they were supposed to be doing in the first place.
    Also, in NC, thereis NO OVERSIGHT on forced annexations. the logical oversight would be to allow counties to approve annexations. If municipalities want to annex an area, it should be their burden to pay the costs of water and sewer infrastructure.
    It is not too much for every North Carolinian to be treated equally regardless of weather they live in cities or not. It is baffling that in a democracy, and especially such a “progressive” city that something like the right to vote is something that is scorned so badly!

  16. Gordon, Esther, and Cecil-are you going to also be paying the extra $150 a MONTH I will have to come up with to pay the more than doubling of my taxes for services I already pay for?

  17. RBernier

    If you want all the good things that Asheville has to offer they must find a way to pay for them.

    Anex,Anex,Anex more out in the county….

    Good work Cecil & Gordon, they will be voters down the road.

    Keep the numbers coming in – hit their pocketbook & then they will ask questions.

    RB
    RB

  18. T100C-1970

    Ooops.. I almost told Gordo and Cecil how to annex Biltmore Forest — Fortunately for BF residents, I caught myself before revealing he secret.. (HINT: It’s NOT using the APD SWAT team to overwhelm the 10 person BFPD and then intimidating the remainder of the residents into dissolving the Town and requesting annexation)!

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