Asheville City Council: Keeping a safe distance

  • Health Dept. reports on H1N1
  • Asheville City Market headed to Pack Square

It will be up to a new Asheville City Council in a new year to determine what level of protective buffers will be installed around Asheville's streams. That decision by the current Council came at its Nov. 10 meeting, weeks after a Planning and Zoning Commission vote recommending that the city return to the state minimum of a 30-foot buffer for any grading or digging involving more than an acre.

In 2007, the city adopted similar language for 30-foot buffers, but it adopted them for grading projects of any size. There had been a push to extend to a 60-foot buffer, but Council members complained that the one-size-fits-all nature of the ordinance didn't recognize variations in Asheville's topography or the different kinds of property uses in the city. Since then, at the request of Council and city staff, a Watershed Policy Committee has been hashing out new, potentially stricter language. While one faction of the committee advocated larger buffers that would vary in size depending on the grade and use of the property, others stuck to their position that any buffer violates the rights of property owners. That led to gridlock on the issue when it was presented to P&Z. The committee's discussion and research, though, did lead to the development of a matrix of factors to consider when determining buffer size and type. That matrix did enjoy strong support from city staff — if not earning the unanimous support of the group itself.

But on October 22, P&Z voted to back the state minimum, which was padded by some environmental requirements for builders.

The P&Z vote surprised and disappointed many who served on the policy committee and who had advocated stronger language. And a staff report by Public Works Director Cathy Ball advised Council to put off holding a public hearing and voting on the matter until city staff could analyze the ramifications of the P&Z recommendations.

In addition to the 30-foot state buffer, the P&Z recommendation also mandates sustainable construction practices, such as the use of pervious parking surfaces on streamside lots of over an acre. The committee also recommended requiring property owners to grant the city easements on all streamside properties that fall in the path of the planned greenways listed in the Greenway Master Plan.

"We need to do some investigation into the legality of some of [the modifications]," Ball said, advising that the public hearing be put off until January. Additionally, she said, the North Carolina Department of Natural Resources still has to sign off on any new ordinance, which Ball says will take time as well.

But Mayor Terry Bellamy said she had heard from some community members who said they would like to see Council vote on the matter before new members are seated in December. That would mean voting on the P&Z recommendation at Council's November 24 meeting, since on December 8, newly elected Council members Esther Manheimer, Gordon Smith and Cecil Bothwell will be sworn in to replace Carl Mumpower, Robin Cape and Kelly Miller.

Bellamy said she wanted to see the Council closest to the issue make the decision.

"This Council has wrestled with this issue for a while, so that's why I wanted to have it finish with this Council," she said. (In fact, the initial Council vote on stream buffers took place in 2007, before the election of Bill Russell later that year or the appointment of Miller in 2008. See "Asheville City Council," Aug. 29, 2007, Xpress.)

But Bellamy also said that if Council chose to grant Ball's request for more time, then Ball should wait to give her presentation so as not to involve two Councils.

"If you want to wait until January, I don't want to hear it tonight," she said.

Vice Mayor Jan Davis, didn't push for either date but came forward in support of the P&Z plan.

"I kind of like the Planning and Zoning recommendation. It looks like it was going with the state minimum and then they added some environmental improvements to it," he said.

Council member Brownie Newman said he was for waiting.

"I think we should give staff time to look at the recommendation by the P&Z for its legality," he said. "I don't think we should rush it."

Cape, who will be leaving Council next month, agreed.

"I'd rather make sure that staff has the time to do it right," she said. "It doesn't matter to me if it's done on my watch."

There was no formal vote on the issue, but a round of nods from Council members indicated they would prefer to hold off until January for both Ball's full presentation and the public hearing. The decision means the issue will come before what is widely considered a more environmentally minded group, at least a few of whom are likely to resist installing the state minimum buffer. Meanwhile, members of the policy committee championing more stringent rules plan to use the extra time to build community support.

The new flu

Outbreak of the H1N1 flu moves in a series of progressively severe stages, Buncombe County Health Department Director Gibbie Harris explained in an update to Council, and Western North Carolina is currently in Phase 2, with Phase 3 likely before spring. Although vaccines have arrived in Buncombe County — more than 1,000 people were vaccinated the previous weekend alone — supplies run out quickly and delivery has been sporadic, with little advance notice.

"Receipt of the vaccine for H1N1 is sort of a rolling prospect," Harris said, with the health department sometimes finding out only the day before a shipment arrives. But production of the vaccine is stepping up, she said: "Hopefully in December, we will have as much as anyone wants."

The downside, she said, is that vaccines for the seasonal flu are dwindling, as drug companies turn their attention to H1N1 vaccines.

Meanwhile, the department is continuing a series of H1N1 clinics and is working on efforts to move some vaccine shipments from the health center to other distribution points.

Harris noted that most flu cases in the region so far have likely been H1N1, since the traditional seasonal flu season hasn't begun yet. And the quickly changing H1N1 flu is anticipated to be stronger in its next phase. But the presence of two different illnesses and two different vaccinations, she said, is causing confusion in the community. While the elderly are the most susceptible to seasonal flu, young children are more likely to have serious reactions to H1N1. "It's really changed our message to the public as to who needs the vaccine and who we need to make it available to," Harris said.

Meanwhile, the health department is putting out a message that focuses on preventing the spread of the illness: Wash hands frequently, cover coughs and sneezes and call in sick to work in the case of illness. Employers, Harris said, can help by allowing sick workers to stay home, even if they don't have any paid sick days.

Packing produce

The Asheville City Market, the fresh food market presented by the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project, will get a new home for the month of December, moving from the parking lot of the Public Works Building to Pack Square. The move makes way for fireworks that will be launched from the market's original South Charlotte Street location for Seasonal Sizzle at Seven. The fireworks displays, held on the first three Saturdays in December, come thanks to a $40,000 donation from the Grove Park Inn. The displays are aimed at drawing shoppers and diners downtown during what is considered to be a slow month. This is Sizzle's second season. Last year, the Asheville City Market was forced to close early to make way for a literal truckload of fireworks, but this year, the market is moving altogether. Asheville is easing the transition by waiving the $14,000 to $17,000 in fees typically associated with holding an event at Pack Square. The request to waive the fees passed unanimously.


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One thought on “Asheville City Council: Keeping a safe distance

  1. JWH

    In reference to the City Market, I think if you review the footage or the minutes you will see that the waiver was for $1,400 to $1,700, not the $14,000-$17,000 amounts as stated above.

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