Buncombe Commissioners: Buncombe reinstates zoning

  • Property owners have 90 days to appeal zoning decisions
  • Stanley to continue as vice chair

It was the last meeting of the year, and the Buncombe County commissioners had few items on their agenda. True to form, they kept it short and sweet: The whole meeting took less than an hour.

Another go: Commissioner Carol Peterson gives Vice Chair Bill Stanley a handshake of congratulation after he was elected to another year in the number-two spot. Photo by Jonathan Welch

The principal issue up for consideration was the second reading of a retooled zoning ordinance. On Nov. 17, the commissioners approved the law by a 4-1 margin. But the state requires a second vote before certain significant actions, such as implementing zoning, can take effect.

In 2007, the Board of Commissioners had approved an earlier version of the zoning plan, which was greeted with a similar wave of criticism. But last March, the North Carolina Court of Appeals declared that ordinance invalid, ruling that the county hadn't adequately notified the public and had failed to give the Planning Board sufficient time to evaluate the law and its accompanying maps.

The Nov. 17 meeting was tense, as anti-zoning activists turned out in force to denounce the proceedings and call for a referendum (one speaker was ejected by sheriff's deputies). After hearing those criticisms, however, the commissioners cast their votes without explanation (only Vice Chair Bill Stanley opposed the measure).

This time, though, things were considerably more sedate, and while their votes didn't change, board members were more vocal about the reasons for their positions on the issue.

"I'd like to talk about why I support zoning and why I think this is important for our community: The bottom line is that we need to have some say in what our communities look like," said board Chair David Gantt. "We need to have a structured way that, when there are disputes about what's next to you, we can resolve them peacefully with the possibility of a win/win instead of a win/lose, which is what happens when someone else has total control over what's next door to you. Zoning isn't going to be the answer to everything, but it's a tool we can use."

Gantt also countered criticisms that zoning gives less power to the poor and infringes on basic property rights. "I took about seven pages of notes in the last meeting; there were some very impassioned speakers," he noted. "There's presumption that the little person has rights as to what their community looks like right now. The fact is, they have absolutely none. I've seen porn shops near churches, concrete plants near communities; I've seen a shooting range right in somebody's backyard. You have no control over what goes next door to you."

In addition, Gantt took issue with the calls for a referendum. "Folks, this isn't California or Oregon; you vote for us, and the buck stops here," he asserted. "There have been three elections since the nonbinding 1999 referendum [which rejected zoning]: Think about how our community has changed in that time. This zoning plan is not perfect, but if we keep going down the road [without a zoning ordinance], we're going to have problems. We've got to have rules, and the time has come.

Stanley, meanwhile, elaborated his reasons for opposing zoning: "Several years ago, we spent a lot of money and time developing land-use plans. We went out into the community, and I felt like we had enough ordinances and codes to take care of these problems we're talking about," he said. "Some of the other members of the board feel we don't have enough, and I'm not mad at any of them over this thing. I hope everybody heard the chairman say that if you don't like the way you're zoned on this map, you can come to us and appeal it. Every citizen can appeal their spot of this county. The buck does stop here."

Stanley also emphasized that he was keeping a promise, saying, "When I ran this last time, I told folks I wouldn't vote for zoning, and I won't."

With the 4-1 vote, zoning took effect immediately. The law gives county residents 90 days (until Monday, March 1, 2010) to appeal their property's zoning.

During the public-comment portion of the meeting, however, anti-zoning activists once again lambasted the board's decision. "You've turned your backs on your community, on the Constitution and on the brave soldiers fighting for our freedoms," charged West Asheville resident Hope Herrick, who had previously likened zoning to communism.

Other complaints focused on a section of the ordinance banning manufactured homes in residential districts. Representatives of the N.C. Manufactured and Modular Homebuilders Association said the ban would hinder efforts to provide affordable housing.

"These homes give low-income people a chance to build real equity," Tom Crest, president of the statewide organization's western chapter, told the board. "It's a very negative thing to shut them out like this, and you should repeal that part of the ordinance. For many people, this is affordable housing."

Stanley to continue as vice chair

Every year the board appoints a vice chair to fill in if the chairperson is absent. Traditionally, this post rotates among board members. This year, however, the commissioners unanimously voted to keep Stanley in the post.

By far the longest-serving member of the board (he was first elected in 1989), Stanley is now serving his sixth four-year term. Known for his terse but often outspoken manner, Stanley has seen his share of controversy over the years, including his adamant support for the county's sale of public parkland to a private developer in the Parkside brouhaha. He once branded federal environmental officials "scoundrels" for what he saw as delays in cleaning up the contaminated former CTS of Asheville site, and he publicly sparred with Commissioner Holly Jones over the Interstate 26 connector project.

But whatever disagreements Stanley may have had with his colleagues, he typically represents Buncombe at meetings of the N.C. Association of County Commissioners, and they seemed to have no qualms about keeping him in the No. 2 position.


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