Buncombe County Commission

For years, Buncombe County has operated without an ordinance regulating multifamily housing. On Dec. 5, however, the Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 to have the planning staff draft such a law. Chairman Nathan Ramsey was the lone dissenter; he said later that the move was in response to growing environmental and public-safety concerns.

Such a stand-alone ordinance would be legally defensible, said County Attorney Joe Connolly, though he noted that it would be better to include it in a comprehensive zoning package.

“In the past, without countywide zoning, we’ve relied on [the county’s] police power for ordinances,” said Connolly, though he cautioned, “That tree is getting very heavy.” Local governments can adopt piecemeal restrictions to preserve the “health, wealth and safety of its citizens,” he explained later, and the county has used this approach to deal with things like billboards and junk cars.

Of North Carolina’s 100 counties, only Carteret and Watauga have such laws in place, said Buncombe County Planning Director Jon Creighton, adding that he wasn’t aware of any legal challenges to them to date. Creighton also indicated that drafting the new ordinance would probably interfere with his department’s work on zoning rules. “We’re to the point where we can’t get to the zoning issue, because we’re working on all this stand-alone stuff,” he said.

That got the attention of Commissioner David Gantt, a longtime proponent of countywide zoning. “If this is an attempt to stop or slow zoning, I don’t support it,” he declared. “We’ve got to have the guts to do this; we need a zoning plan that the people of this county deserve.” At Gantt’s urging, the board amended the motion to ensure that work on the multifamily-housing ordinance would take a back seat to developing zoning.

Commissioner Bill Stanley agreed, saying, “Folks, let’s get on with what we’re going to do — let’s not slow it down.”

Spay a little longer

Until recently, about 10,000 stray and unwanted animals were euthanized in Buncombe County every year, amounting to some 60 tons of dead Fido and Fluffy flesh. But thanks to the spay/neuter ordinance the county passed three years ago, that gruesome number is down 60 percent this year, to about 4,000 animals.

That was the message from Ellen Frost of the Mimi Page Foundation, which is partnering with the Asheville Humane Society, the Humane Alliance and Buncombe County Animal Control to promote local spay/neutering efforts. “People from all over the country, all over the state, are looking to what you did as far as this ordinance goes,” Frost declared. A campaign to encourage county residents to spay and neuter their cats paid off handsomely, she said, with 2,000 more felines spayed or neutered than in the comparable period last year.

But the county’s animal-control officer, Sgt. Helen Hall of the Sheriff’s Department, said there’s more to be done. “These numbers are good, but they could be better,” she observed.

“Is there a way that we can get to zero healthy-animal euthanasias in our county?” asked Gantt.

“That is our goal,” replied Hall. “We would love to see that.”

Gantt pressed her: “Can we set a time for that to occur? Five years?”

“Five years is a reasonable time span.”

Accordingly, Gantt proposed a resolution setting a target date of January 2012 for Buncombe County to achieve zero healthy-animal euthanasia; it was unanimously approved.

Burning one in Woodfin

Once upon a time, Progress Energy produced all the power Buncombe County needed. But since 1989, the utility has been importing about 250 megawatts of power each year from Ohio-based American Electric Power, according to Progress Energy spokesman Ken Maxwell. The contract with AEP is set to expire in 2009, and no bidders have stepped forward to provide that power.

“Companies are more hesitant these days to enter into long-term contracts, given the increased demand for energy in the region,” Maxwell explained later. They’re using that power to satisfy their own customers’ needs.”

Progress Energy hopes to lease county-owned land in Woodfin to build an oil-burning power plant that would come online during periods of peak demand (about 10 percent of the time), he said. Under the terms of the proposed 50-year lease, the county would charge the company $1 per year to use the property.

“We’re looking for a way to address that immediate need that we’ll feel in 2009,” Maxwell explained. “It’s not as much for growth as [for] sustaining the supply we already have in this region.”

If approved, the $72 million plant would occupy 78 acres of a 290-acre former landfill on Highway 251 in Woodfin. It would burn ultra low-sulfur fuel.

“This is clean technology,” asserted Ramsey. “As you know, people live next to power plants all across the country.”

Not everyone in the room was as enthusiastic. “Why now?” Leicester resident Jerry Rice asked the board. “What is the real need? You’re letting someone else do your planning for you, and that someone is Progress Energy.”

Nevertheless, the commissioners voted to hold a public hearing on the matter during their Jan. 16, 2007, meeting. Maxwell said his company would hold an information session the same day to further inform county residents about the proposed plant.

Other business

In other developments, the commissioners appointed local activist Julie Brandt to the Asheville Downtown Commission on a 3-2 vote, with David Young and Chairman Ramsey opposed.

Before the vote, Young urged his colleagues to keep Chuck Tessier, whom Brandt is replacing, on the commission. “Chuck has spent his life working on behalf of downtown,” said Young. “Let’s not forget that.”

John Dickson was unanimously appointed to the Land Conservation Board, and Max Haner was appointed to the Metropolitan Sewerage District board on a 4-1 vote, with Chairman Ramsey opposed.

In two other unanimous actions, the commissioners approved a resolution requiring the board of URTV, the local public-access channel, to comply with the North Carolina open-meetings law and appointed Carol Peterson vice chairman of the board, replacing Bill Stanley.

After a brief public-comment session, the board went into closed session to consider a personnel matter.

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