- Sidewalks to somewhere
- Recycling program aims to trim tipping fees
- Pisgah View Road property sold for affordable housing
Asheville City Council Aug. 10 meeting
In the course of their four-hour Aug. 10 meeting, Asheville City Council members addressed a variety of items, including annexations, a contract for park security, a new recycling program and the sale of city-owned land in West Asheville for an affordable-housing development. Council also endorsed federal energy legislation and discussed such larger topics as homelessness and sidewalks.
Annexation plans proceed
A pair of planned involuntary annexations will place new demands on basic city services. Under state law, annexed areas must be treated the same as other parts of the city, and Council had to approve the plans for providing those services.
According to staff projections, adding Royal Pines and Coopers Hawk Drive (both south of the city) would be a net gain for Asheville. Even in the first year, the cost of the necessary capital improvements, a garbage truck, and hiring an additional police officer and sanitation workers would be $64,000 less than the $888,383 in new property-tax revenue. And six years from now, those areas could easily bring in $500,000 more than the annual cost of providing services.
But Mayor Terry Bellamy, perhaps thinking of the recent protests over inadequate sidewalks in east Asheville and a special Aug. 31 Council meeting in Haw Creek, wondered whether staff could also plan to install sidewalks in annexed areas.
“Right now we're having to go back and provide sidewalks; let's look at doing it from the get-go,” she urged, adding that it might blunt some of the opposition to being forcibly absorbed by the city.
Staff, however, responded that sidewalks are costly, and deciding which neighborhoods should get them is tricky.
And Council member Jan Davis, while voicing broad support for the idea, wondered whether this was the right time to implement it. “It's a really good thought, especially for future annexations,” he said. “We have to be very, very careful of changing our annexation policy too quickly. There are places on our borders that annex aggressively and have very limited services compared to what we already give. We shouldn't miss this opportunity [to annex the areas in question].”
Vice Mayor Brownie Newman advocated listening carefully to prospective residents throughout the annexation process and being ready to build sidewalks “in places where there's a compelling need. This process is always controversial, nothing's going to change that, but we can make people see that there's some benefit to joining the city.”
Council member Bill Russell, a staunch opponent of forced annexation, cast the lone votes against both service plans, which were approved separately by a 5-1 margin (Council member Esther Manheimer was absent). The next step in the process is a public-information meeting slated for Sept. 13.
Sidewalking the talk
Sidewalks came up again later in the meeting, as Transportation Director Ken Putnam touted the city's progress in that area: Over the past decade, total mileage rose from 132 miles to 165, and in the past few years, Asheville built 7.5 miles of new sidewalks at a cost of $1.4 million.
Council member Cecil Bothwell countered that much of that increase consists of existing sidewalks “discovered” and made more accessible by city staff. Putnam conceded the point, emphasizing that the city needs roughly 108 additional miles of new sidewalks to connect sections already in place.
For now, Putnam's staff is focusing on a few key areas — Beverly Hills, Patton Avenue near the Leicester Highway, and perhaps Tunnel Road — where those linkages are desperately needed. He added that Rep. Heath Shuler's office has expressed interest in helping fix the highly publicized “goat trail” near the VA Medical Center in east Asheville.
“We're trying to go a long way with a little money,” Putnam explained, promising, “There won't be any ‘sidewalks to nowhere.’” Bellamy asked Putnam for more details on how the city decides where to build sidewalks.
Council member Gordon Smith, meanwhile, lauded those efforts. “Our sidewalk system is an integral part of our entire multimodal transit system: We're talking about sidewalks and bike lanes and transit,” he observed. “Rather than going back and do things more than once, we're looking to get the most bang for our buck — connecting sidewalks with transit routes, for example, so we see more use of both. What we're trying to create is the most user-friendly transportation system we can.”
Less trash, more cash
In a bid to make recycling more convenient while saving money on tipping fees, the city is gearing up to launch a pilot program. In October, 250 homes in the Burton Street, Park Avenue and Norwood Park areas will receive bigger bins that can hold all of a household’s recyclables, along with smaller trash bins.
If the project proves successful and Council approves, it will be expanded citywide beginning next July, Public Works Director Cathy Ball explained. “This would be phase one of a multistage approach to improving recycling,” she said.
The pilot program will cost $5,000, but Ball said she hopes that's “more than offset” by decreased tipping fees charged by the county for trash dropped at the landfill. Bellamy asked staff to consider adding an east Asheville neighborhood to the program.
Russell, meanwhile, said, “I'm very excited about this” as a way to get more people to recycle.
A new habitat
Council unanimously approved selling 16 acres on Pisgah View Road to Habitat for Humanity for $450,000 to accommodate 55 units of affordable housing.
All told, the city has spent $650,000 on the West Asheville property, in part because two previously planned affordable-housing developments there fell through. Nonetheless, they endorsed the move, saying it would help address a key need while replenishing the city's Housing Trust Fund.
And though the financial aspect is less than ideal, noted Newman, Habitat has an excellent track record and the proposal seems to be “a positive resolution” that will provide affordable housing while enabling the city to recoup some of its losses.
• On a 5-1 vote with Russell opposed, Council endorsed federal Property Assessed Clean Energy legislation. PACE programs enable homeowners to borrow money for energy-saving improvements and repay it via a special tax assessment. But a state law allowing such programs has run into several regulatory hurdles that the federal legislation aims to clear up.
Russell said there are standard bank loans to finance energy improvements. Meanwhile, Davis and other supporters expressed interest in finding a way to use $250,000 the city put aside from federal stimulus funds to establish a local program similar to PACE.
• Council also approved a $75,000 contract with Wackenhut Security to patrol city parks. Originally on the July 27 consent agenda, the item was pulled at Bothwell's request due to concerns about private security companies in general and Wackenhut in particular.
According to Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts Director Roderick Simmons, the move will save money, Wackenhut's employees won't carry weapons or have arrest powers, and the Police Department was involved in selecting the company. Bothwell, however, remained unconvinced and voted against approving the contract.
— David Forbes can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 137, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.