Buncombe County Commission

“I fundamentally believe this [zoning] is a serious, serious mistake for Buncombe County,” declared attorney Albert Sneed Jr., as he began a 25-minute presentation at the Oct. 19 meeting of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners. Sneed represents the anti-zoning group Citizens for Property Rights, who had requested equal time following a pro-zoning presentation by Commissioner David Gantt, delivered at the Aug. 17 commissioners’ meeting. Commissioners unanimously agreed, according to Chairman Tom Sobol, “to balance exactly what happened on the other side,” as they granted Sneed’s request to speak.

“People against zoning are not against zoning because they want to despoil the mountains,” Sneed asserted, adding, “Zoning is being sold on fear tactics.” Sneed said he has practiced law in Buncombe County for 26 years and has considerable experience in zoning issues. “What is wrong with zoning,” he said, “[is that it] would result in a series of decisions made in a political context by politicians.”

The consequences of zoning, Sneed predicted, will be “less affordable housing, less industry and jobs, more sprawl, more property taxes, and a divided community.” He cited various studies to support his claims — including a 1972 article by Sagalyn and Sternleib titled “Zoning and Housing Costs: The Impact of Land Use Control on Housing Prices,” and a 1997 article by Professor Bernard H. Siegan, titled “Property and Freedom: The Constitution, the Courts and Land Use Regulation.”

Sneed reminded commissioners of their earlier assertion, which Sneed said was quoted in a 1998 Land Use Planning Handout: “County Commissioners have clearly stated that they do not support countywide zoning, nor will they impose zoning upon a community where it has not been requested.”

“You changed the rules,” Sneed proclaimed, adding this warning: “You’re going to have a group of people bitter and angry for a long time. … [The zoning debate] has already been destructive to this county.”

“There is a better way,” Sneed concluded. “Your own Land Use Commission recommended restrictive covenants, voluntary scenic easements, incentives for industrial location and controlling growth with infrastructure.”

Commissioners then granted time for four citizens to speak in favor of zoning. Only one — Reynolds resident Clark Olsen — spoke. Olsen told commissioners, “I came away from an information meeting at North Buncombe High School deeply disappointed with the spirit of the meeting.” At least two citizens, he related, “claimed falsely that zoning is a socialist … communist scheme. … That’s hogwash. Zoning in the U.S. is our democratic way to make plans for how we treat the beautiful land where we live. This nation … has a long tradition of making community decisions about how land will be used.

“In our country, zoning is rooted in the fundamental proposition that ‘We, the People’ can decide how land-use can be guided in order to promote the general welfare,” he continued. “‘We, the People’ have a right to be protected from those who would abuse the land, abuse neighborhoods, and abuse my property next to theirs.”

Commissioner Patsy Keever backtracked a bit to take issue with “some of the negative things Albert [Sneed] says about politicians. I think politicians do good things. We serve the people.”

Commissioner Bill Stanley then simply urged, “Everyone go vote,’ while Commissioners Keever and Sobol emphasized that the Nov. 2 ballot is a vote “not on a plan, but on a concept.” Commissioner Gantt agreed, promising, “Before we pass any zoning plan, we’re going to get community input … to make it right for Buncombe County.”

County Attorney Joe Connolly, speaking later in the meeting, clarified the position of the county attorney’s office regarding possible countywide zoning. “It is my strong recommendation to this board that the Limestone and Beaverdam zoning resolutions stay in place, as they are now,” he said.

In a later interview, Sobol responded to the articles cited by Sneed, which claim that zoning would reduce the amount of affordable housing. “There are just as many convincing arguments and quotes on the flip side,” Sobol noted, adding, “We know that this proposed plan is not perfect. … And [Sneed] does not take into consideration that, regardless of where you choose to build, you are restricted [by the health requirements for a safe well and septic system].”

One possible change in the draft Buncombe County Zoning Ordinance, Sobol went on to reveal, would allow as many as 22 housing units per acre, if water and sewer lines are extended to the area.

Interest down, earnings up on county investments

In other new business, Matt Dotson-Smith, the county’s investment manager, presented a semi-annual Report of Cash and Investments as of June 30, 1999.

“The County’s investment portfolio is meeting our investment objectives of safety, liquidity and yield,” Dotson-Smith told commissioners.

The county investment portfolio has increased in value from $75.5 million to $78.4 million in the 12-month period ending June 30, due to general increases in revenue, according to the report.

Sustaining the community

“We have a very long way to go in understanding sustainability,” said Ian Booth of the Appalachian Institute for Sustainability. Booth appeared before commissioners to request $5,000 in county funds to help leverage additional grant money for his project. (The group already has a match of $2,000 from CP&L to begin community-outreach presentations, he revealed after the meeting.)

“We have not a day to waste,” Booth continued. “There are enormous opportunities that lie ahead for those communities, individuals and businesses who are willing to take advantage of the potential markets that surround the shift to sustainability.” “Sustainability,” he explained, is defined as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

“How will the money be used?” queried Young.

The funds will allow AIS to give presentations about sustainability to civic groups, clubs and organizations; purchase technical equipment; and prepare databases and mailing lists. The group works in partnership with Mars Hill College and Dr. Grainger Caudle, an authority on sustainable economic development. AIS has a Web site at www.main.nc.us/sustainable that focuses on the sustainable use of energy and water; it has had more than 18,000 visitors since July.

Before the vote, County Manager Wanda Greene expressed concern about the balance in the county’s contingency fund, from which the $5,000 would have to come, and objected to considering grant requests “outside of the normal [funding] cycle.”

“I can’t vote for this,” Stanley said, adding, “The Sustainability Task Force would love to have you come and speak,” referring to a group that periodically hosts the mayors and vice-mayors of all municipalities in Buncombe County and other officials.

On a motion from Keever, seconded by Gantt, commissioners voted 3-2 to grant the request, with Young and Stanley voting no.

School-bond-referendum report

The recent $45 million school-bond referendum may have won a landslide victory, but it did so with less than a 15-percent voter turnout, according to figures presented by county Finance Director Nancy Brooks.

Of the 134,365 registered and qualified voters, 14,326 cast votes in favor of the bond proposal, Brooks reported, and 5,213 voted against it.

Good news for low-income patients

Project Access — an award-winning initiative by Buncombe County physicians who volunteer their time and services to the needy and uninsured — has received many awards and numerous requests from throughout the country for information on how to replicate the successful project, according to Dr. Suzanne Landis, a primary-care physician and co-chair of Project Access. In July 1999, the American Society of Association Executives awarded Project Access their 1999 Advance America Award of Excellence, and in May 2000, the National Innovations in Health Care conference at Harvard University will feature Project Access as a model program.

“Eighty-six percent — an all-time high — of physicians [who are members of the Buncombe County Medical Society] are volunteers with the program,” Landis said.

Pornography called “a major polluter”

Those who produce and market pornography for monetary gain are “major polluters of society today,” asserted Gail M. Harding of the Community Council for Biblical Values. “Many of us have experienced sexual abuse as children and never told anyone. I know I never did,” said Harding.

Commissioners approved a proclamation declaring Oct. 31 to Nov. 7 as Pornography Awareness Week, and urging citizens of Buncombe County “to become more aware of the growing problem of pornography and its effects on our society.”

Harding accepted the proclamation — presented by Commissioner David Young — on behalf of the Community Council for Biblical Values and others, whom she classified as “many area Southern Baptists and ordinary folks who are concerned about the negative effect pornography use has on the men who are addicted, on the women who are perceived as sex objects, and on the children who are emotionally injured for a lifetime.”

Harding went on to quote from Boys’ Town Executive Director Father Val J. Peter, who testified before the U.S. Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography in 1986 that: “Pornography is not the affliction of the hungry, the homeless or the indigent. It is the pathology of a rich society — rich in resources and poor in love, care and judgment.”

Geographic Information Systems Day proclaimed

Commissioner Gantt read a proclamation declaring Nov. 19 “Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Day 1999.”

“Computerized Geographic Information System technology provides a more efficient and effective means for managing geographic information, as compared with [traditional] cartographic methods,” the proclamation read, further urging citizens “to become aware of how this technology can become more widely and wisely used.”

Board appointments:

Commissioners unanimously appointed citizens to serve on the following boards:

• Workforce Development Board: Paul Rhodes of Enka, representing organized labor. Rhodes is affiliated with the WNC Central Labor Council, according to the Clerk to the Board Kathy Hughes. “We have been trying to get someone [from organized labor] for quite a while,” she noted.

• Tourism Development Authority: John Winkenwerder, representing large hotels. Winkenwerder is a manager with Ramada Inns.

Public Comment

Commissioners failed to satisfy Jerry Rice, a longtime Board of Commissioners watcher who objected at an earlier meeting to a discourteous comment about him made by Commissioner Stanley and caught on videotape at a Sept. 21 community forum at Enka High School. Rice had asked commissioners at the Oct. 5 regular meeting to take action to discipline Stanley.

But on Oct. 19, commissioners stated they were done with the matter. “We have to live and forgive, and move past this,” Young told Rice. Gantt and Sobol agreed, calling the matter closed with Stanley’s formal and public apology, and Rice’s acceptance of the apology.

“It is not our job as commissioners to censure one of our own,” Keever said. “It is the job of the public.”

“As a board, you have a duty to follow the Code of Ethics,” Rice said. “You have not done your job.”

Gerald Dean, a general contractor in Buncombe County, didn’t want to lay the matter to rest, either. Dean pressed Stanley to admit that he had called Dean “a liar” at the previous meeting. During that prior exchange, Dean first charged Stanley with lying, saying he had denied calling Rice an “S.O.B.” before being confronted with the evidence on videotape.

“Some of the things going on up here would make a preacher cuss,” Stanley told Dean. “I’m only human. I can only take so much.”

The deteriorating exchange between Dean and Stanley was met with guffaws from the few citizens still remaining in the room.

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