It was the kind of meeting that incites longtime Buncombe County Board of Commissioners member Bill Stanley to groan, puff out his cheeks and stare at his watch. The commissioners’ lengthy Aug. 7 agenda included a number of challenges to the county’s recently issued zoning rules. The meeting lasted nearly three hours—standard fare for the Asheville City Council, perhaps, but a marathon for the board.
Since countywide zoning was approved, the Planning Board had fielded nearly 50 rezoning requests from landowners who weren’t happy with the classifications assigned to their properties. But the Planning Board had put its stamp of approval on only a few of them.
About 20 of those requests came from the city of Asheville, which wanted certain components of its water system—tanks, booster pumps and valves—zoned Public Services rather than Open Use. At the meeting, however, Zoning Administrator Jim Coman explained that leaving those properties zoned Open Use “will not have any impact on the function of the water system. They will be able to expand and continue using all of these facilities.” (The requests came from then city Real Estate Manager Ed Vess, Coman noted later.)
No one from the city turned out to speak in favor of the rezoning. Still, Commissioner David Young expressed concern that denying the request might be viewed as a provocation. “Jim, isn’t it just a slap in the face to the city of Asheville to turn down a rezoning request for their water system?” said Young. “Isn’t this an easy fix for us to make?” Coman reiterated that denying the city’s request wouldn’t “have any impact whatsoever.” The board then voted unanimously to support the Planning Board’s recommendation, denying the city’s request.
Other requests came from private individuals, including a petition from residents along Pine Forest Drive and Green Ridge Road in Weaverville that their properties be changed from Open Use to R-1. But Coman pointed out that because the properties in question aren’t contiguous, the move could be viewed as “spot zoning.”
“Is that illegal or just a bad idea?” asked Commissioner David Gantt.
“It’s illegal in North Carolina,” replied Coman.
At that point, Planning Director Jon Creighton weighed in, warning, “If we start rezoning in Open Use, we’re going to have a willy-nilly zoning plan sprinkled all over the county and doing no good.” The commissioners unanimously upheld the Planning Board’s rejection of the petition. All told, the commissioners considered seven rezoning requests, each requiring a public-comment period and a vote.
“Sorry it’s taking so long,” said Chairman Nathan Ramsey, a longtime foe of zoning. “But if it had been up to me, we wouldn’t be sitting here talking about all these rezoning requests.”
The doctor is in, and so is the money
Tuesday’s meeting also provided a chance for Vicki Ittel, Buncombe County’s new health director, to introduce herself to the commissioners. Ittel fills the vacancy created by the retirement of George Bond, who was widely praised for his creative solutions to improving health-care access in the county.
“You have my commitment to build on that legacy,” said Ittel. “Access to services is our No. 1 challenge. We’re seeing an increase in demand for service. Meeting those needs—reducing wait time, trying to get same-day services for clients—is going to take some creativity.”
Tax Administrator Gary Roberts also had good news, reporting that for fiscal year 2006-07, the county’s combined collection rate for property and vehicle taxes was 99.15 percent—2.34 percentage points higher than the state average.
“If we fell within the state average, we would have collected $3.1 million less,” noted Roberts. He credited “aggressive collection” for the impressive rate. Buncombe was also the first county in the state to accept credit card payments.
Commissioner Gantt beamed, saying, “Gary, you are a very good leader.”
County Manager Wanda Greene briefed the commissioners on the latest round in the long-running water dispute between the county and the city of Asheville.
Earlier this month, after negotiating behind closed doors, they had seemed poised to reach a settlement involving the transfer of various assets, among other things (see “Public Assets, Backroom Discussions” on page 16).
But Asheville rejected the terms of the settlement, said Greene, unhappy about wording limiting its ability to require new subdivisions to be annexed in exchange for water hookups. “The city decided that annexation within a half-mile would not meet their needs, so they turned down our offer,” she reported.
That same day, added Greene, the North Carolina Superior Court ruled against Asheville in its lawsuit against the state and county, adding that the city has filed an appeal. The case, she predicted, will be “making its way through both the appellate and Supreme Court.”
The commissioners wrapped up their lengthy meeting with a series of appointments: Teresa Harrington, Karen Oelschlaeger and Alison Karr to the Adult Care Home Community Advisory Committee; Mary Ann Hannah to the Nursing Home Community Advisory Committee; Tracey Bleeker to the Farmland Preservation Board; John Kisner and Michael Robinson to the Historic Resources Commission; and Chris Eller and Mike Goodson to the I-26 Design Oversight Committee.
The board’s next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 21, beginning at 4:30 p.m.; public comment will begin at 4 p.m.