Quick facts

UNCA is apparently moving forward on its pledge to create a campus that serves residents of all ages. Chancellor Jim Mullen reported at Asheville City Council’s Dec. 14 work session that, in addition to its new building for the Center for Creative Retirement, the university is looking to create opportunities for young kids, as well.

“It could be North Carolina’s first [multi]generational campus, where you have kids in tutoring and mentoring, and just there to be part of the college experience,” said Mullen. “If you can get children on a campus at an early age, it can inspire them.”

Asheville City Manager Jim Westbrook noted that city staff are looking into ways to utilize the university’s many athletic fields in their plans for a new youth center.

“Of course, the city doesn’t have the money to cover the cost of the building, but I feel it would be easy to track down some grants,” said Westbrook.

Councilwoman Barbara Field asked Mullen to consider a partnership with the city in renovating the Civic Center, saying she would welcome “something joint on [the university’s] campus, as well as in the city.”

All Council members agreed that exploring a cooperative youth center is a good idea.

A glass house in Pack Place

Expressing a need for more space to accommodate students, the Colburn Gem & Mineral Museum wants to expand its Pack Place space into the area known as the “courtyard.”

Museum representative Dan Lazar told Council he anticipates increased demand for earth-science education, due to new state core-curriculum requirements, and the museum is already operating at near capacity — with about 12,600 visitors per year. The proposed addition would include 700 square feet of renovated space inside the current museum, plus a 750-square-foot, one-story glass structure to be built between the Pack Place elevator and the museum’s front doors. The latter would require a waiver of building restrictions by the city.

“Space in Pack Place is very precious,” said Councilman Ed Hay, who also serves on the Pack Place Board. He went on to recognize the many entities that will be affected by the building project. “We’ve worked very hard to get all the [Pack Place] partners in on [the decision],” he explained.

Councilwoman Field, an architect, asked to see the building’s plans and spent five minutes scrutinizing the new designs. “You’ve got a lot of wasted space,” she told Lazar, “and I have a problem with creating an alleyway for the fire escape.”

Council will vote on the waiver resolution at its Dec. 21 meeting.

Stand up and be counted

Mayor Leni Sitnick asked Council and city staff to be on the lookout for suitable candidates to serve on the Census Complete Count Committee, which will be responsible for getting the word out to residents about the upcoming national census — to be taken in April of 2000.

“It’s very important that we do a good job with this,” Sitnick said. “Really, it means more money coming into the city.”

City staffer Carl Ownbey handed out an operations guide prepared by the U.S. Census Bureau which he jokingly called “50 Ways to Use a Census.” The guide stipulates that the mayor must appoint a chairman for the committee, and together, they must appoint chairs in media, education, recruiting, special housing, religion, business, community relations and government.

The committee is expected to begin work in January.

“People are going to have to work real hard for a very short time,” Sitnick said about the four-month stretch until the census starts.

Term-limit question

Council was divided over a request to allow Buncombe County Board of Commissioners Chair Tom Sobol to serve a third term on the Regional Water Authority board.

The commissioners want Sobol, who has served on the board for the past six years, to continue representing the county, because of his experience in dealing with water issues. But the Regional Water Authority bylaws impose term limits for board members — stating that an individual can serve only two consecutive terms. Council, the Board of Commissioners and the Regional Water Authority would all have to concur, in order for Sobol to serve another three-year stint.

“I think we should do this to accommodate the county commissioners — plus, this is an elected official,” said Vice Mayor Chuck Cloninger.

But Council member Brian Peterson expressed reservations about setting such a precedent. “I have some concerns — and nobody likes Tom more than I do,” Peterson said. “[But] why should we make an exception for an elected official, vs. an [ordinary] appointee?”

This comment ruffled Field’s feathers a bit. “I disagree with term limits,” she shot back. “They don’t recognize all the wonderful things about experience, wisdom, tenure and knowledge. When you’re approving a $20 million budget, you want someone … with experience in there.” She went on to describe how often she had sat on boards, only to have her term expire just as she was becoming well versed on the issues.

The big catch is that Sobol’s current term on the Board of Commissioners expires in 2001; after that, he would be an appointee to the Water Authority (but no longer an elected official).

“I have a real difficulty believing there is only one commissioner who could fill this position, and do it well,” said Mayor Sitnick. “I have conflict over this.”

Council is expected to make a decision on Sobol’s third term at their Dec. 21 meeting.

Y2K, Asheville-style

At Council’s Dec. 14 work session, a half-dozen city staffers waited more than three hours to discuss the city’s Y2K preparations. But the moment City Manager Jim Westbrook approached the lectern to speak, Mayor Leni Sitnick interrupted, asking whether he also planned to make a presentation during Council’s Dec. 21 formal session (which will later be broadcast on Channel 20). After Westbrook replied that he hadn’t planned on doing that (but would do whatever she wished), Sitnick explained, “I’ve already had several hundred phone calls [related to Y2K]” — and went on to argue that it might be a good idea for staff to videotape their presentation, so as to “reassure people.”

New Council member Brian Peterson joked about Sitnick’s proposed delay: “Do we want to wait until January to do this?” The Dec. 21 meeting — Council’s last of the year — is chock full of public hearings and looks to be a long one already.

Regardless of the potential for a marathon Dec. 21 session, Council members all agreed to Sitnick’s suggestion, in the end.

“The bottom line is, we’re ready,” concluded Westbrook.

At her downtown architectural firm, Council member Barbara Field couldn’t resist adding, “We’ve put on our letterhead, ‘Y2K complacent.'”

For more details about city and county preparations, see “Tick tock: It’s time for Y2K,” elsewhere in this issue. Also, city staff report that residents with questions and concerns about water, traffic signals, streets, sanitation and other city services can call Asheville’s Customer Service Division at 251-1122 on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, starting at 10 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 31.

— Margaret Williams

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