In a marathon session, Asheville City Council last night passed the controversial Larchmont development, considered budget cuts, gave URTV another year’s funding and declared a “Google moment.”
Here’s the summary of Asheville City Council’s March 23 session, as reported via Twitter by Xpress staff reporter David Forbes:
Mayor Bellamy leads standing ovation for outgoing CFO Ben Durant.
City Mgr Gary Jackson: City already putting off replacing police cars, “not repairing buildings…going to catch up with us later” Council member Esther Manheimer absent from budget worksession, Bill Russell attending via phone.
City staff recommending cutting overtime, temps, contracts, reducing training, transit subsidy. Jackson: “We have lost flexibility” but cuts will reduce budget gap from $5.6mil to 3.3. Another $1.5 mil in cuts could come from police/fire overtime, 8-10 fulltime staff spots, funds to outside agencies. City could also cut 12-14 part-time spots and cost sharing for co-sponsored events. City staff recommending cutting overtime, temps, contracts, reducing training, transit subsidy. Through addl fees and charges, extra funds from parking fees, budget gap shrinks to $1 million. Staff: City’s $ gap could be filled by cutting more staff, salary freezes – or 1 cent propery tax increase.
Council agrees to first $2.3mil “tier” of reductions, incl cuts in overtime, services, freeze on vacant positions. One proposed measure is having co-sponsored events share cost of necessary police, fire. Mayor concerned about police, fire overtime reductions “there are some services people expect”
City employs about 1,000 people, to put staff cuts in perspective
City Mgr recommends transit service cuts, business license increase, shifting non-emergency offices to 4 days/wk to fill final gap Staff: 1 reason transit needs funds so badly is because fed gov treats Asheville as pop 200,000 city due to flaw in calculations Vice Mayor Newman, Council member Davis: business license fee inscrease should leave small biz unscathed. Council member Bothwell: “Know I’m probably alone here,” but wants to consider property tax increase. Staff: 1 cent tax increase would mean $20 more a year for avg taxpayer. Russell against increasing business fees or taxes. Council balking at proposed transit cuts, wanting more targeted scaling back on less-used routes
Smith: “From what I’ve heard here, we haven’t gotten to 0” will need more tax or funds from reserves if no cuts
Bellamy asking about necessity of social media positions “Do we really need someone to Tweet right here?”
Four council members favor considering cutting $50,000 from housing trust fund, Smith, Newman against. Jackson: “You’ve given [staff] a clear idea of what’s untouchable” property tax rate, taking more $ from reserves. Council considering phasing in 9% water rate increase it had previously balked at. Council continuing budget worksession to April 27
During break, Mayor Bellamy giving tour to school kids: “We have police here because big people don’t always listen”
Children from Evergreen kindergarten classes thronging council chambers to deliver Pledge of Allegiance/Earth Pledge
Council approves 5-0 resolution of support for “Google moment” on 1: 30pm March 25. Ben Teague, Econ Develop Co: #googleavl would bring “green jobs, clean jobs…be a creative boon” “Google moment” is official encouragement for those citizens who haven’t applied to do so.
River District design committee looking to redevelop more of riverfront, make area more livable. Friends of Nature Center presenting gift of $59,400 for renovation of otter exhibit. Missing Council members Esther Manheimer and Bill Russell have entered the chambers.
Council about to consider controversial Larchmont affordable housing apartments. Mountain Housing Opportunities, the Larchmont’s developer, now offering to build sidewalk down to Merrimon Ave.
MHO atty Wyatt Stevens: Institutional zoning meant for office, medical facilities, change to denser res zoning for Larchmont appropriate. Stevens pointing to other housing in area as or more dense to counter suggestions scale of project inappropriate. Stevens: Housing built under current zoning would “not be affordable…and not what you need.” Stevens: APD, fire dept have no concerns. Increase in traffic negligible.
Anti-Larchmont spokeperson Larry Holt: “60 units is excessive,” would support if project scaled down to 36 Holt: “Affordable housing, workforce housing not the issue with us” scale of the Larchmont is. Project too dense, will harm quality of residents’ life, character of neighborhood. Anti-Larchmont rep James Gardner: “Still don’t know why developer can’t make less than 60 units work. Process not entirely transparent.” “Awkward situation, people of good will on both sides,” but project scale not appropriate. Gardner: “Think of us as strange breed of friendly gadflies” trying to draw attention to problem.
Resident Mike Lewis: “MHO done a superb job, it will be an asset to neighborhood” but traffic situation in dire need of correction. Resident Lawrence Hall: “Not opposed to project, opposed to scale, safety concerns.” Resident Laura Bowers: “Affordable single-family housing, small apartments more in keeping w our neighborhood” than project. Resident Robbie Switzer: Dense affordable housing like project needed along Merrimon to increase access to mass transit. Resident Denise Hauser: “Density makes for a more sustainable city,” project needed in neighborhood. Resident Paul Zurich: Project “the right thing to do to use this site… we all know about the critical housing shortage” in area. Resident Stan Taylor: “A lot of ppl in this country have distrust of the gov,” county didn’t advertise property transparently. HUB board member, resident Steve Cochrane: “this project is almost a textbook perfect example” of good development. Resident Deborah Miles: W/out affordable housing like Larchmont, Asheville could end up like Key West, w workers having to bus in. Resident John Combs: “Deeply disturbed council would strik down” existing rules/zoning “to meet city goals.” Resident Tina Schwartz describing dire state of traffic in area, Larchmont “will overwhelm the neighborhood.” Resident Gary Schwartz: City staff have already decided “the project is a done deal, they’re all but singing kum-ba-ya”
Resident Robert Todd: “city has 2 choices for growth: annexation or density” Project is in good location. Resident George Perry: “This has been openly and transparently discussed,” time for council to approve. Resident Beverly Nivens: “We live in a city, that means density,” project better than other options. Resident George Perry: “This has been openly and transparently discussed,” time for council to approve
Council taking break, chose to extend public comment time on Larchmont approx another 40mins
Barbara Melton touting how project meets city’s plans, esp its location on transit corridor. Neighbor Sharon Molds: “I just think it’s too many people and too much traffic,” would like less units. Resident Andrew Tashie: “whole deal has unsavory smell to it” process was hidden from neighborhood. Resident Dean Pittelman: “Larchmont, Merrimon is a mess… going to be traffic issues.” Activist Steve Rasmussen: This controversy example of why vesting more power in planning and zoning should be reconsidered
Traffic Engineer Ken Putnam: Staff considering various traffic calming measures in area, but need residents’ go-ahead. Manheimer, who lives in N. Asheville, quizzing staff, saying there’s need to solve traffic situation in area. Staff asserting they spent “an enormous amount of time” communicating with residents, developers, opponents
Bothwell: More density on Merrimon will help traffic, project “part of how we have to start building this city out” Smith: Excited about project, voting for it, “will become an integral part of the community” MHO Atty Stevens: “This building will be beautiful,” look better than many in area, raise property values Council member Davis: “Unlike some of my colleagues, I think most people drive cars,” overflow parking important.MHO working to secure overflow parking at neighboring Suntrust bank
Manheimer: “No matter how I vote, 50% of my neighbors will be mad at me” but supporting project. Audible muttering of “vote already” by some in council chambers as discussion continues. Larchmont project passes unanimously
Bothwell making motion to rescind appt of Holly Shriner to planning commish, Newman notes move is against council rules. Russell: “I don’t think this is fair or within our rules.” Rescission of Shriner’s appointment wasn’t on agenda. Davis: “Whether you like Mrs. Shriner or not, she got 4 votes… we had other candidates there just as conflicted”
Activist Steve Rasmussen: Trust in gov damaged by Shriner’s undisclosed conflicts of interest, appt needs to be reconsidered. Newman didn’t vote for Shriner, but defending process as transparent
Bothwell: Shriner didn’t reveal extent of dealings with Merrimon properties. “It should all have been done in a more public way.” Bothwell withdraws motion, will ask Shriner to voluntarily withdraw, reapply.
Consideration of 1-yr agreement w URTV (now known as WNC Comm Media Ctr) now before Council. New agreement: URTV must obey open meetings, record laws, withdraws Council from appointing board members. Manheimer, Russell recuse themselves from URTV decision. Newman, Bellamy think Council should keep appointing URTV board members, Davis believes should treat as a private contractor. Bothwell compares URTV agreement to contract “with utility we’re paying.” Council changes agreement to retain board appointments. Alan Rosenthal reading letter from ex-URTV board member Davyne Dial, asking not to renew deal, saying transparency insufficient. Ex-URTV producer John Blackwell says bad management has led to decline, asking Council not to renew agreement. URTV producer Chris Chiaromonte: Council should sign agreement, URTV doing excellent job, should get more money. Rasmussen: Council should maintain board member, “shouldn’t withdraw oversight of this money… esp in light of controversy” Council passes URTV agreement 5-0