The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners continued its hard slog through a pile of rezoning requests at its Sept. 4 meeting. This time, the board considered 11 such requests from property owners unhappy with the results of the zoning ordinance passed last spring.
After weighing both the recommendations of county staff and the Planning Board’s opinion in each case, however, the commissioners approved only one—Greystone Properties’ request that two parcels in Ridgecrest be reclassified from R-2 to “public service,” a more liberal category that, in the words of Zoning Administrator Jim Coman, permits “a wide variety of commercial uses.”
“Have you gotten any objections from the neighborhood?” queried Commissioner David Gantt.
“No, sir, I haven’t heard a word,” said Coman.
During the public-comment period, Candler resident Jerry Rice urged the commissioners to take a considered approach to rezoning requests. Otherwise, he warned, the county “is going to look like a speckled hen.”
Among the requests that failed to gain approval was one from Starnes Cove property owner Jim Kelton (see sidebar, “Zoning Rubber Hits the Road”). He wanted the zoning ordinance amended to allow the construction of rooming houses and vacation rentals as a conditional use in areas classified R-LD (low-density residential), which are “deemed valuable for their scenic value and situated on slopes and fragile soils.”
“It seems to me that we’re making a big change for one person,” said Commissioner David Young. That view narrowly prevailed as the board upheld the Planning Board’s recommendation, rejecting Kelton’s request on a 3-2 vote, with Commissioners Gantt and Bill Stanley on the losing end.
In a related matter, the board approved an amendment to the zoning ordinance prohibiting the use of travel trailers as permanent residences but allowing them as temporary single-family homes. Chairman Nathan Ramsey was on the short end of the 4-1 vote, observing, “We had a neighbor who lived in a travel trailer for a very long time.”
Mary Leonard White and James Fox of the Flood Damage Reduction Task Force gave a presentation on the group’s recommendations for upgrading the county’s ability to deal with the kind of major flooding experienced in September 2004 in connection with Hurricane Ivan. White pinpointed several areas where the county needs to do a better job of coordinating with the city of Asheville: installing and maintaining physical flood-control measures; educating area residents about flood hazards; improving city/county communications during crises; and amending the emergency-response capability.
More than half of Asheville lies within the Swannanoa River watershed, which was hit hard in 2004, with flooding in much of Biltmore Village, south Asheville and points east. In order to mitigate the dangers of future flooding, said White, the task force recommends that no new construction be allowed in flood-prone areas. She also urged the county to allocate money to buy at-risk properties, which could be converted to green space or buffer zones.
“If we don’t look ahead, we’re making a big mistake,” said Gantt. “We’re going to end up paying if we don’t make some changes.”
White agreed, adding that the specter of future floods “haunts me.”
A brilliant strategy
General Services Director Greg Israel delivered a dose of good news as he took stock of the county’s ongoing energy-conservation efforts.
Since 1997, he noted, Buncombe County has replaced 1,000 conventional light fixtures in county buildings with compact fluorescents. To date, this has saved the county nearly $250,000, with continuing monthly savings of $2,400. “We’re trying to get completely away from incandescents,” said Israel.
The county is also switching to premium-rated electric motors in heating and air-conditioning units. Often using ceramic rather than metal bearings, they yield 8 percent energy savings, he said. Although they cost roughly 15 percent more per unit, Israel explained, the lower energy costs pay off over time. Other energy-saving strategies include more aggressive maintenance of the county’s heating, ventilation and air-conditioning units; replacing conventional roofing with reflective (light-colored) roofs; upgrading building insulation; switching to propane-powered lawnmowers; and computerizing the HVAC controls.
“In some buildings, we’re getting a 30 percent reduction in HVAC costs,” noted Israel.
Perhaps the most ambitious effort, though, is replacing the roughly 500 windows in the Buncombe County Courthouse. The ongoing is projected to cost $1.3 million, all told—which was the building’s original cost in 1923 dollars, noted Israel. He expects the thermal-pane windows to generate savings of 30 percent.
The commissioners also unanimously appointed four members to the Weaverville Board of Adjustment: Wilma Carlisle, Jim Eaker, Zane Cole and Ann Franklin. At 6 p.m., the board went into closed session to consider a legal matter. Due to a scheduling conflict, the commissioners’ next meeting, on Tuesday, Sept. 18, will start at 3:30 p.m., with public comment beginning at 3 p.m.