You would have thought Asheville City Council members were rushing home on Sept. 8 just to catch Cardinals first-baseman Mark McGuire hitting home run number 62 (a new major-league, single-season record) that evening.
Whatever the reason, though, Council members wrapped up their formal session in less than 30 minutes (even most work sessions this year have been at least three-hour deals). “I can’t believe the lightning with which we’re going through this agenda,” observed Mayor Leni Sitnick at 5:20 p.m. — only minutes before the meeting ended.
Afterward, one meeting observer joked with a city staffer who was packing up his notes: “Y’all are going to do [such short meetings] from here on out, right?”
“I wish,” the staffer replied.
Brevity aside, however, Council members did take care of a few things that evening. For instance, several of them asked for directions to UNC-A’s Kellogg Center in Henderson County, where Council members and city staff had scheduled a fall mini-retreat (a four-hour meeting) for Sept. 11.
Here are some of the highlights of the Sept. 8 session (Vice Mayor Ed Hay was absent, due to a family emergency):
“Informal discussion and public comment”
Sounds fancy, but that’s the title of a recent addition to Asheville City Council’s regular agenda. Roman numeral VIII on the agenda formally sets aside part of each meeting for hearing from the public (and even Council members) on any subject that might be of interest to city officials.
A public-comment period had previously been scheduled at the end of each meeting, under the heading “Other Business.” But after spending 40 minutes hearing from cannabis advocates on Sept. 11, Council members created the new agenda item and adopted a new rule for public comment: Anyone who has something to say to Council members, or some issue to bring before them for consideration, has 10 minutes to let a spokesperson present their case (or three minutes each for three speakers).
“Other business” will now serve primarily as a chance for city staff and Council members to bring up minor Council business (such as asking for directions).
Two speakers took advantage of the public-comment period on Sept. 8.
Mickey Mahaffey invited Council members to attend a roundtable and afternoon dinner for local homeless people, held every Sunday afternoon at Trinity Episcopal Church in downtown Asheville. Mahaffey, a spokesperson for the group, said the roundtable is a chance for Asheville’s homeless to discuss the problems and issues they face every day. Fifty to 60 people attend the roundtable each week, he reported.
Mahaffey also offered his services to help the city with its litter problem. Telling Council members that he lives outside and sees, firsthand, such litter as hypodermic needles and broken bottles, Mahaffey remarked, “With a town so full of environmentalists, we should have a better report card than this.”
Mayor Leni Sitnick suggested, “Give me a call: I can bring you up to date [on what the city’s doing about litter] and plug you in to wherever you think you’d like to work on the problem.” Sitnick recently held a roundtable on litter and is working with city staff and residents to address the problem.
Council members also heard from Jean Moore, Buncombe County’s district administrator for North Carolina’s Guardian Ad Litem program. Program participants and officials, Moore told Council, were “disappointed” to hear that one of the marijuana advocates who addressed Council on Aug. 11 claimed to be or have been a guardian ad litem. Moore said she had checked both local and surrounding-area records, concluding, “At no time was Mr. [Dan] Waterman a volunteer in the state.”
Guardian ad litem volunteers represent abused and disadvantaged children in the courts and social-services arenas.
Postpone Tolula Lane hearing
Asheville City Council members voted 6-0 to postpone a public hearing on rezoning city-owned property on Tolula Lane, off Asheland Avenue.
Victoria Investment, Inc., has an option to purchase the 2.3-acre parcel from the city, but has asked that the property be rezoned from an RS-8 (residential, single-family, eight units per acre) to an Office designation, City Planner Mike Matteson explained before the Council meeting. An attorney for Victoria had requested the postponement in a letter to Mayor Leni Sitnick, saying that he would be out of town on Sept. 8.
But two local residents, Gary Schwartz and George Young, asked Council to proceed with the hearing: “The Planning and Zoning Commission categorically denied [Victoria’s] rezoning request. We see no reason to continue … to a later date,” said Young. And Schwartz pointed out that several residents had attended the Sept. 8 meeting specifically for the zoning hearing.
But Council traditionally honors first-time postponement requests from either side of a rezoning issue. On a motion by Council member Chuck Cloninger, they voted to postpone the public hearing until Sept. 22.
After the meeting, Matteson reported that P&Z had voted 5-1 to deny Victoria’s request, based on residents’ argument that office use would negatively affect the adjacent residential area.