Asheville City Council

The rapidly changing face of downtown Asheville has prompted the city’s Downtown Commission to seek an update of the ordinance that established the group’s mission. The commission officially asked City Council to approve the proposed changes at Council’s Oct. 19 work session.

Asked by Mayor Leni Sitnick to clarify the difference between the Downtown Commission and the Asheville Downtown Association, commission Chair Carol King explained that her group is interested in a broad range of economic issues that affect the city, while the ADA is concerned mainly with promotions and tourism.

A report prepared by city Planning and Development Director Scott Shuford explained the main reason for the amended document: “It was felt the ordinance needed to be updated to reflect the changing dynamics in downtown. The recommendation was to shift the focus from revitalization to … a focus on sustainable and continued development of downtown.”

King noted that the proposed changes vary in importance: “Some of it is just getting rid of obsolete passages in the ordinance, changing passive language to active language, basically just cleaning it up.”

The commission, she continued, feels the mission statement should “represent where we are right now.”

One significant change involves the number of people who serve on the Downtown Commission. King proposed lowering it from 12 to 11, to reduce the likelihood of tie votes. The discarded member, she suggested carefully, would probably be a City Council member; in the past, two Council members have served on the commission (in addition to the citizens whom Council appoints).

No one on Council seemed offended by the change, though it was soon decided that the commission should update the city more frequently on its doings.

And, though the commission feels that downtown revitalization has been substantially accomplished, a host of fresh goals have presented themselves, King revealed, such as improving water, sewer, parking, public safety and other downtown infrastructure.

Another of the group’s new initiatives, said King, is helping “appropriate organizations” market the downtown area.

Perhaps seeking to broaden the commission’s perspective, Sitnick asked that the Affordable Housing Coalition be included in the list of organizations receiving commission support, noting that, “Residential needs should be defined differently [than] business needs.”

Council member (and downtown resident) Barbara Field expressed concern about conflicts involving residents who live close to noisy, late-night businesses. Nonetheless, she said, “There needs to be [a section] in the ordinance about promoting downtown living.”

Council will review the proposed changes to the ordinance and take action at its next formal meeting.

Green means gold

An environmentally responsible city government is “good business, and good for business,” pronounced Mayor Sitnick, in response to a report read by city Waste Management Coordinator Karen Rankin, which updated Council on the city’s Environmental Sustainability Initiative, established in July of this year.

In 1998, N.C. Governor Jim Hunt challenged state agencies to “set an example of environmental stewardship in their internal operations,” as a way to “make environmental stewardship an integral part of the way government operates.”

Due in part to the city’s partnership with the Land-of-Sky Regional Council’s Waste Reduction Partners and the N.C. Division of Pollution Prevention and Environmental Assistance, Asheville is now poised to become a state leader in this area, reported Rankin.

The first goal of Asheville’s sustainability progam is to “identify current City operations/projects that promote environmental stewardship.”

Rankin mentioned several of these. When WNC’s area code changed, she noted, all of the city’s outdated letterhead was recycled into notepads for city employees. Xeriscaping (using drought-resistant plants in the city’s landscaping, to reduce water use) is another “hidden” way the city promotes environmental sustainability.

The initiative’s other goals are to promote future projects that are “both environmentally desirable and economically feasible”; to make environmental awareness part of every city employee’s job; and to create “permanent mechanisms and practices” that incorporate “environmental excellence” into the city’s daily business style.

Sitnick expressed the hope that Asheville would indeed become a leader in environmental sustainability, though she counseled that care should be taken in promoting the issue, because some people may be put off by idealistic “green” language.

Field mentioned that Kansas City now operates as a “paperless government,” with e-mail and other computer functions replacing all business documents.

To accomplish that in Asheville would necessitate “a lot of cultural changes,” she conceded, remarking that “everyone would have to know how to use a computer.”

But Rankin observed that computer literacy isn’t the only hurdle.

“It’s more of a security issue, to be able to have your papers there in front of you,” she said, gesturing toward her own.

No Council action was required on this report.

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