Asheville City Council

City Council’s lively Sept. 21 work session began with county Zoning Administrator Jim Coman‘s presentation on Buncombe County’s proposed zoning ordinance, which commenced with the following explanation: “The Buncombe County Zoning Ordinance is a very conventional ‘developing’ community zoning code. It provides a good deal of zoning detail where land use or urban-service patterns are already established, and less detail in areas where services are not provided, or land-use patterns are not known.”

That said, Coman projected a map showing the proposed zoning designations, color-coded to represent highway corridors (which included everything from low-density residential districts to heavy-industrial ones), rural areas, state-designated watersheds, national-forest land and areas already zoned by municipalities (Weaverville and Asheville).

Coman stressed repeatedly that 91 percent of the unzoned portion of the county would be designated as rural-use areas. Such regions would be considered “holding districts” allowing “a limited range and intensity of uses … where the land-use pattern is not established by urban services [such as water or sewer lines] or long-range planning.”

The more complex issue of highway-corridor zoning seemed of greater interest to Council. Though Coman maintained that commercial development in such areas would be “hub” oriented rather than strip-designed, Council member Barbara Field expressed doubt about the feasability of keeping such a promise.

Admitting that siting a commercial hub is a “delicate balancing act,” the administrator pointed out that, once the zoning ordinance is in place, property can always be rezoned, as growth dictates.

The discussion then grew more reflective, as Council debated the city’s precise role in this fiercely contested county issue. Coman maintained that countywide zoning would stabilize the city’s own land-use patterns, while Council member Chuck Cloninger observed that no city is an island, so to speak:

“Issues that affect us don’t stop at city boundaries. As residents of Asheville, [we are] also residents of Buncombe County, just as [we are] residents of North Carolina and citizens of the United States.”

Mayor Leni Sitnick concurred, noting that whichever entity owns a particular property, what is done with it affects everyone and everything around it: “Whatever happens on a [piece of] land is another person’s problem. Everyone’s got a stake.”

And when it comes to protecting individual rights, zoning can be indispensable, Field pointed out: “We’ve seen residents really use this tool when they have it.”

Council wil consider the ordinance further at a future session before deciding whether to formally endorse the plan.

The ABCs of access

Thanks to a commission made up of representatives from the Asheville City Schools, A-B Tech and UNCA (plus three at-large members), the city’s new educational-access cable channel is now up and running, reported commission Chairman Tim Amos.

The programming on Channel 21 will address local school issues, with no more than 40 percent of air time devoted to athletics, he said. This rule was revealed to be part of the project’s operating guidelines, which Amos asked Council to approve.

Funding is a key issue in this endeavor’s continued success: Lacking the needed site and equipment to produce its own shows, the commission is currently limited to airing already-taped segments, such as college-level lectures.

“We’d like to see what a budget [proposal for funding the educational channel] would look like,” said Field, suggesting that the commission could solicit money from outside sources, “like with public-radio stations.”

Sitnick voiced concern that the commission itself doesn’t reflect the diversity it promises to deliver in its educational programming. Noting that last week’s proclamation of Hispanic Heritage Month was the first bilingual announcement of a city resolution ever made, she declared, “I don’t want it to be the last,” asking Amos whether anyone of Hispanic descent serves on the commission.

“I don’t know every member’s particular background,” Amos replied. Council member O.T. Tomes queried, “Is there any way to correct that?”

“We can request that [the commission] be very mindful of having diverse programming,” Amos offered.

But Sitnick pushed for further assurance: “As time goes on, I’d like to know that there was someone on the commission representing groups that are otherwise not heard from,” she insisted.

She then moved to place the issue on Council’s consent agenda — but swiftly changed her mind and switched it to the regular agenda for the next formal meeting, concluding, “this is [an issue] that will fully affect the city and county, and I want to get the word out.”

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