Buncombe County Commission

The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners concluded its work for 2005 with a brief meeting focused on a minor tweaking of township zoning ordinances.

On Dec. 6, the board held public hearings on amendments to the Limestone and Beaverdam zoning ordinances. The changes were mandated by a new state law, which Zoning Administrator Jim Coman said represents the first comprehensive revisions to the state’s general statutes concerning local government since 1923. Coman described the five changes as “a minimal revision of Limestone’s ordinance to bring it into compliance with the new state statute.” The proposed tweaks for Beaverdam served the same function, he said.

Jupiter resident Don Yelton offered the only critical comments during the hearing, and they were directed at an entirely different issue. “You cannot ban cell towers,” he insisted. “The rule banning all cell towers in Beaverdam is illegal.”

Asked about the matter by Commissioner David Young, Coman explained that while state law prohibits such commercial exclusions countywide, it permits them in a particular section of a county.

But Yelton insisted that federal law flat out prohibits interference with telecommunications. He further observed that the ban results in spotty cell-phone reception in Beaverdam.

Addressing yet another concern, Yelton also asked the commissioners to change the county’s development rules to specify that new wells cannot be closer than 50 feet to a property boundary. “Otherwise, if the soil proves to be bad for drainage, it can result in the taking of property rights of a neighbor,” he maintained. Under certain soil conditions, noted Yelton, the permitted distance between a well and a septic field can be 100 feet, and in such cases, positioning a well within 25 feet of a property line could impose development restrictions. Instead, he proposed a 50-foot limit, which would evenly split such restrictions between the two property owners.

“What about the well location issue?” queried Chairman Nathan Ramsey.

“I didn’t know that to be a problem,” replied Coman. But Yelton called out from the audience that he had faced that problem himself.

“Will you look into that?” Ramsey asked Coman.

The board also approved an amendment to chapter 70 of the county’s Subdivision Ordinance, which Coman said was “pursuant to the same state law as the Zoning Ordinance changes. The new rule says that building permits may be denied for lots that have been illegally subdivided.”

Ramsey asked if this had been a problem in the past, and Coman said: “Yes. And now those subdivisions that have been done illegally will have to bring their roads up to county standards before building permits can be issued.”

All three revisions passed unanimously.

The changing face of Buncombe County

Planning Director Jon Creighton informed the board that staff had negotiated a new contract with Land Design, the company that produced the county’s current Comprehensive Land Use Plan.

“The last land-use plan was adopted in 1998, and it is time to update it,” said Creighton. “We would like to get the plan under way and get the plan back to you with public comment in late spring or early summer.”

“I think it’s a good idea,” said Young. “We have grown rapidly in recent years.”

Creighton agreed, saying, “Yes, the utilities and roads require an updated plan.” He mentioned the need for utility expansions as well as planning for schools, housing, commercial development and other concerns.

“I don’t think there’s any question that growth is going to happen, and this will let us get out ahead of the curve,” added Vice Chairman David Gantt. “The land-use plan is basically a voluntary agreement,” he noted. “There’s nothing to force anyone to comply, but this establishes what we want to see happen, what kind of place we want Buncombe County to be.”

Gantt, who serves on the MSD board, also said: “The Metropolitan Sewerage District does not want to lead the land-use parade. They want to hear what the county wants to do and base their plans on that. The Sewerage District wants to hear from us on this.”

That triggered a mild criticism from Ramsey, who said: “I think this board is making a mistake in not stating what type of growth we want to see. Growth that is bad growth to some people is good growth to others. I think this board needs to make the decisions, because we are the ones who stand for election; we are the ones who communicate with the public.”

Young concurred, noting, “In the end, we will make those decisions.”

But Ramsey wasn’t done. “The great challenge we all face is how to preserve our scenic beauty,” he continued. “We have to remember that if a 100-acre farm and forest has 50 houses built on it, it won’t look the same.”

In public comment at the end of the meeting, Yelton returned to this theme, suggesting that the county take photographs from mountain peaks “and then superimpose images of development on all the developable lots, and let people see what this place is going to look like in 100 years.” Such images, he predicted, would have a strong influence on decision-making related to development.

Reappointments, appointments and a report

In a good-humored exchange, the board named Commissioner Bill Stanley to the post of vice chairman, a position he’s held more than once in his decades as a county legislator. Gantt passed a virtual gavel to Stanley, and Ramsey joked that Stanley’s bonus check was in the mail. (In fact, there is no pay increase associated with the position.)

David Gantt and Jon Creighton were reappointed to the Metropolitan Sewerage District board. Other appointments included: Alice Coppedge (Historic Resources Commission), Lorraine Poe (Mountain Area Workforce Development Board) and Karen Gettinger (Adult Care Home Community Advisory Committee). Five vacancies remain on that committee, noted Ramsey, urging interested citizens to volunteer.

Referring to a story in that day’s Asheville Citizen-Times, Gantt asked for a “point of privilege,” saying, “In the media, there has been a great deal of attention to budget cuts in daycare.” He then invited Fran Thigpen, the county’s director of child-care services, to address the board.

“Due to state budget cuts, we had to send letters to 200 families stating that their day care would end at the end of December,” reported Thigpen. “The good news is that today we have gotten news that we won’t have to cut those.” On the other hand, she continued, “The bad news is that we still have 350 people on the waiting list for daycare assistance.” Serving those people, she noted, would require funding that isn’t likely to be available any time soon.

In the ensuing public-comment period, Candler resident Jerry Rice addressed this shortfall. “Special-needs kids are particularly in need of daycare help,” he said. “The need for daycare is keeping some kids out of school to take care of siblings. When you say you’ve got 300 children needing services, my question is: How are you going to sustain this next year and the year after? We need a much bigger plan in place than what we are discussing here today.”

On a more positive note, Rice said that he’d recently attended a weeklong, statewide meeting on mental-health issues. “Buncombe County,” he reported, “is light-years ahead of the rest of the state, due in part to the appointment of Mandy Stone to the Mental Health Task Force. We are doing things now — and I’m not talking about the LME, but Buncombe County — that will stand us in good stead in years to come.”

Shortly after 5 p.m., the commissioners went into closed session to consider legal matters that County Attorney Joe Connolly said would not result in any action being taken by the 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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