Buncombe County Commission

“The industry has changed,” Zoning Administrator Jim Coman told the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners at their Nov. 15 formal session. “When the current ordinance was written, the primary problem was billboards. Now there are lots of small, plastic signs all over the roadsides.”

Coman also cited another problem with the old law, which dated back to 1988: It required the county to give owners of out-of-compliance signs 30 days’ notice before removing them. But the new signs are so cheap that owners don’t even want to pick them up, he said. “Many of the weight-loss or ‘We Buy Ugly Houses’ signs have out-of-state numbers, making the owners hard to track down,” added Coman.

To address these issues, he proposed amending the ordinance to allow the county to pick up small signs immediately. Owners would then be notified and given 48 hours to collect their property, after which the county would be free to dispose of it. Coman emphasized that real-estate signs and those announcing one-time events would be deemed temporary and therefore exempt from the new rule.

Posting signs on N.C. Department of Transportation rights of way is illegal to begin with, but the state doesn’t have enough personnel to enforce the law. DOT District Engineer McCray Coates sent the county manager a letter expressing support for the proposed amendment, noted Coman.

Board of Commissioners Vice Chairman David Gantt, presiding in Chairman Nathan Ramsey‘s absence, said, “It’s taking advantage of a beautiful place when people put signs up.” Other commissioners readily agreed, and the measure passed unanimously.

Before stepping down, Coman cautioned: “I will give everyone a warning that these signs will not disappear overnight. There are many signs on many roads; it will take time.” He added: “You need a pickup truck to collect these signs, because they really get filthy out there on the roadsides. I collect some of them myself, and I had the county shop make me a 6-foot pry bar, so I can reach signs way up on telephone poles.” Gesturing to emphasize his point, Coman (who stands more than 6 feet tall) gave every impression that few signs would be beyond his reach.

Fairview residents John Ager and June Patterson, who had spoken in favor of the proposed ordinance during the earlier public-comment period, seemed thoroughly pleased with the revised ordinance, as did several of their neighbors in attendance. Patterson, in particular, has been urging the commissioners to pass a tougher sign law for at least three years.

No support for Red Oak Community Center

During the public-comment comment period preceding the meeting, several supporters of the proposed Red Oak Community Center took issue with a letter circulated via e-mail by County Manager Wanda Greene. After months of talks with the community group, which wanted the county to help it acquire the former Red Oak School from the county Board of Education, Greene concluded that the cost was too high. Her letter, addressed to both the commissioners and community-group members, recommended against county investment in the project.

Bob Graws said he felt the group, which has applied for 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, should be given more time to raise funds. Paul Lankford maintained that a $190,000 cost estimate for immediately needed repairs is high; the gymnasium and restrooms could be brought up to code and put back into service for about $60,000, he said. Both men said two commissioners had told them that if they raised $30,000 (which the group did back in July), the county would help out.

Gantt explained that while it was unfortunate that one commissioner had suggested the $30,000 figure, that didn’t make it the board’s official policy. None of the speakers named the commissioners in question.

Although the community group had been easy to work with, said Greene, the numbers just don’t add up. Besides the $190,000 in repairs, she noted, the Board of Education wants $160,000 for the building, and the $30,000 the group has raised to date doesn’t come close to covering that expense. Greene said she was sad to have to make that decision, “but in my job I have a fiscal responsibility: I have to be careful with taxpayers’ money.”

In the general discussion that ensued, Commissioner Carol Peterson praised the community group’s hard work but took strong exception to their written statement that she had agreed to the $30,000 proposal made by Ramsey. “I was present at that meeting,” she confirmed, “but I did not state any position in regard to any dollar amount.”

Gantt suggested that the group wait until it had obtained its nonprofit status and then see if the Board of Education would give them the building. County Attorney Joe Connolly indicated that they might be required by law to sell it. But Commissioner Bill Stanley asserted, “They could sell it for a buck.”

Graws said the group had already pursued that strategy, and their request had been met with derision. Most of the disappointed Red Oak supporters exited the chamber before the start of the formal session.

Drug benefits

Wendy Marsh of the Council on Aging told commissioners about her group’s efforts to educate the public about the new Medicare prescription-drug plan. “The plan is very complicated,” said Marsh. “There are many things that need to be considered before choosing an option. We are giving people assistance in choosing wisely.”

The sign-up period for the new plan runs Nov. 15 through May 15, 2006. Although participation is optional, people who are eligible but don’t sign up by May 15 will pay a significant penalty if they decide to do so later. “But if you sign up by May 15, you will be covered from Jan. 1,” she said.

The Council on Aging, said Marsh, has begun presenting information sessions to help county residents sort things out. “We are being inundated with seniors,” she reported. “We are having everyone show up at 9 a.m.; sometimes we have 50 people.”

Still, Marsh did her best to sound a positive note. “Don’t panic — you have until May 15 to sign up,” she said. “We are a small nonprofit and are the only group helping people understand the new system. If you come to one of our clinics, you may have to wait, but we want to help you.” The day the sign-up period began, she noted, the Medicare Web site was so swamped it was taking Council on Aging volunteers 40-50 minutes per client to look up information.

The nonprofit plans to continue offering the clinics through Dec. 9, said Marsh. Medicare recipients can call 277-8288 and request a list of clinic sites and times.

Gantt reiterated that the new plan was very complicated and was considered to be “doughnut” coverage. This refers to the fact that the plan covers only the first $2,250 of medication costs, then stops until the total out-of-pocket expense exceeds $5,100.

Giving shelter

Attorney Chuck Cloninger, who serves on the Asheville Humane Society board, presented a contract detailing a charitable gift from Bob and Ann Lewis to the county. The Lewises, who own Deal Motor Cars, were offering the county about three acres of land as the site for a new animal shelter — provided that the Humane Society and the county each agree to cover 15 percent of the annual maintenance cost of a prospective access road that would be shared with the dealership.

The commissioners unanimously approved the contract and instructed Greene and Connolly to work out the details.

The commissioners also made the following board appointments: Gary Higgins, Marjorie Mears, Mary Love, Laurie Moorhead, David Brigman, Daniel March, Phillip Gibson, David Gantt, David Quinn, Deirdre Hewitt, Shirley Shultz, David West, Christopher Poole, Bridgett Cannon, Stephen Sloan, Johanna Young, Charles Smith, Deborah Love, Pat Carver, Elizabeth Teague, Robert Sipes, Karen Cragnolin and Kieran Roe (all to the Environmental Advisory Board); Linda Levi (Nursing Home Board); and Cesar Romero (Adult Care Home Community Advisory Board).

About Cecil Bothwell
A writer for Mountain Xpress since three years before there WAS an MX--back in the days of GreenLine. Former managing editor of the paper, founding editor of the Warren Wilson College environmental journal, Heartstone, member of the national editorial board of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, publisher of Brave Ulysses Books, radio host of "Blows Against the Empire" on WPVM-LP 103.5 FM, co-author of the best selling guide Finding your way in Asheville. Lives with three cats, macs and cacti. His other car is a canoe. Paints, plays music and for the past five years has been researching and soon to publish a critical biography--Billy Graham: Prince of War:

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