Asheville City Council approves a stormwater plan and endorses public finance of elections

Decisions taken at the June 8 meeting of Asheville City Council:
• approved the sale of beer and wine at Bele Chere and the city’s Fourth of July 4 celebration;
• approved changes to the Unified Development Ordinance to add a table of land uses and clarify some existing contradictions;
• approved a $1.1 million Livingston Community Center contract;
• approved grants to the Asheville Design Center, A-HOPE, Asheville-Buncome Community Relations, the EDC and Asheville Greenworks.
• endorsed a state bill that would allow the option of public financing of elections.
• approved stormwater-plan enforcement rules and penalties and the requirement of basic, undisturbed 30-foot buffers; but
• did not approve requirement of any larger stream buffers.

Coverage of Asheville City Council’s June 8 meeting by Xpress senior staff reporter David Forbes, via Twitter, began at 5:10 p.m. and ended at 9:27 p.m. What follows is a compilation of his tweets.

Council chambers are entirely full for recognition of the School Success program.

Next: Recognition of Leadership Academy is up now. Program grads earned $133,000 in scholarships.

• Council approves beer and wine at Bele Chere, July 4 celebration, voting 6-1 in favor, with Mayor Bellamy against.

Council is hearing a report from the Board of Electrical Examiners. Chair Harold Garland, who is 90 years old, gets applause for his long service to the city. Jan Davis calls Mr. Garland a “special treasure”

Now it’s the Tree Commission, second of seven reports on the agenda tonight. The commission is exploring rules to curb “tree-topping” and “lollipopping” of trees.

And now, the Buncombe County Aging Plan. Growth of the elderly population is a “national, a global issue,” according to the presenter, with Buncombe identified by state officials in ‘07 as a “county to watch.” Local agencies are focusing on combatting fraud and scams against the elderly, which have risen during the economic downturn. Another aging-plan focus is making people more aware of existing health resources.

Council member (and former race-car driver) Jan Davis is now stepping up to podium for a presentation about the Asheville Motor Speedway Memorial. Davis says there is a “need for closure,” that the speedway “was one of the most legendary tracks… A lot of heritage here.” It operated from 1960-‘99. The Speedway site is now Carrier Park. Davis is thanking Council for the new memorial, saying, “We’ve broken ground now,” the effort funded by $50,000 in private donations. Davis presents a book from racer Dan Pearce to Assistant City Mgr Jeff Richardson for his help with the memorial.

Haw Creek resident Fred English says: “A memorial sounds like they’re gone… [Famed driver] Jack Ingram should get something named after him.”

Now a presentation of the city’s drought management plan. Last year was extremely rainy, and the three years before were extremely dry. The plan considers having to invoke mandatory restrictions on water use once every 5-10 years as “acceptable.”

A city planner is saying that, due to Asheville’s current “robust” water supply, conservation measures usually are needed only every 20 years. Council member Cecil Bothwell points out that if people work to conserve water, there’ll be more flexibility in times of drought.

Council unanimously approves using stimulus funds for a summer engineering intern.

And now Council is watching a video version of the city’s strategic operating plan’s third quarter report. The video touts fire education, affordable-housing grants, energy efficiency, the Asheville Police Department’s downtown patrol, the new nuisance court and graffiti removal. The strategic operating plan focuses on five areas: making the city affordable, green, safe, sustainable and doing so with fiscally responsibile government. Also it touts the city’s social media project, noting the city website’s traffic and number of Facebook fans.

Mayor Bellamy wants the city’s strategic plan video on put on YouTube.

Bellamy is expressing concerns about extra costs to city of recent Airport Road annexations.

• Council unanimously votes to close Federal Alley.

• Council unanimously approves zoning the recently annexed Underwood Road as “Highway Business” to accommodate a live music venue.

Now, Council is considering a bevy of revisions to the Unified Development Ordinance, which governs development in city. Council member Gordon Smith thanks the Planning Department, saying, “This will clarify, simplify, and make [the UDO] more efficient.”

• The UDO changes are approved unanimously, changes that add a table of land uses, and clarify some existing contradictions between different sections.

Council puts off stormwater-ordinance revisions till after its 7 p.m. break, and is now taking up $1.1 million contract for the Livingston Community Center.

• The Livingston Community Center contract passes 6-1, with Council member Bill Russell against.

• Council approves grants unanimously to the Asheville Design Center, A-HOPE, Asheville-Buncome Community Relations, the EDC and Asheville Greenworks. Vice Mayor Brownie Newman notes that most of the grants are reduced from previous years’ levels.

Council is taking up a proposed endorsement of a state bill allowing municipalities to publicly finance elections. Bothwell, author of the resolution, says public financing is the “only effective campaign finance reform” and that cities should have option for this.

Bruce Mulkey, of WNC for Change, speaking in support of resolution, says “I don’t see this as a partisan issue… Voters want fair elections.”

• The motion to endorse the state bill that would allow the option of public financing of elections passes 5-2, with Davis and Russell against. (Davis tells Xpress during Council’s meeting break that he doesn’t think resolution has been vetted enough, that he has concerns about which candidates would get financed.)

The city is seeking more applicants for Civic Center Commission.

And Council is back in session after its break.

Revision of the city’s stormwater ordinance:
Revision of the city’s stormwater ordinance is the only item left on agenda. Public works director Cathy Ball says: Most debate is over the buffer rules, whereas most parts of resolution are administrative, and are unanimously supported.

The new buffer requirements, which got the backing of the majority of Watersheds Committee, exceed state minimums. The city Planning and Zoning Committee recommended 30 foot buffers and LEED standards for development near streams. However, Ball has major concerns about the proposed P&Z rules; she fears they will lead to loss of aquatic buffers and won’t get state approval.

Other possible options include 30-to-50-foot buffers depending on either density or slope in the area.

Watershed Committee member Pete Hills-Branden says: The new buffer rules are a “political decision… Nobody is addressing stormwater system.” He adds that buffer rules don’t work for small lots, saying, “I think it’s going to backfire.” Hills-Branden is arguing that a less rigid buffer rule using a variable formula can work well, as planners have expertise to interpret it. “This is a political exercise,” he says, adding that he’s not convinced “great big buffers on every disturbance” will help water quality.

WNC Alliance director Julie Mayfield is endorsing proposed ordinance, saying she would like even larger buffers on steep slopes. She says she would also like to see “undisturbed buffers” specified in the ordinance.

CIBO President Rod Hudgins says: Large buffers near streams will harm affordable housing and that the state minimum is the best option. He says that Council’s decision “will open — or shut — the door for many residents.”

Asheville resident Max Swicegood says: “My concern is that something will be passed that leads to more bureaucracy,” but that doesn’t repair the system. Two weeks ago Swicegood, on behalf of CIBO, urged the city to change the stormwater management plan.

Mountain Housing Opportunities Director Scott Dedman says he is against the 50-foot buffer, pointing out how it would limit affordable housing, business.

Avl resident Ned Gardner is supporting the importance of buffers “that would provide more protection for our streams.”

Watershed Committee member Barber Melton says the city needs 30-50-foot buffers on slopes, and that we’ve “got to start somewhere, [we] can’t keep cleaning up these messes.”

Committee member David Hurd says: These rules are “as much art as science,” and that Council needs to err on the side of overprotective regs.

Local developer Jerry Sternberg (who was is also on the committee) says: Buffers equal the city taking property without compensation, and that a flat 30-foot buffer is best.

Enka resident Jerry Rice says: “The politicians don’t know much; my concern is that buffers will catch contamination; we need to think.”

Another committee member proposes a formula for buffers on slopes rather than suddenly “jumping to 50-feet at 15 degrees doesn’t make sense.”

• Council votes to approve the stormwater-plan enforcement rules and penalties unanimously.

Council member Esther Manheimer proposes passing a basic 30-foot buffer, and then to modify this by an amendment. Her proposal calls for a blanket 30-foot buffer, but allows staff to grant exceptions for small homes, saying this is a”a good compromise.”

Cathy Ball speaks, clarifying the importance of the rules, noting that Asheville has 1,300 square miles of streams.

Russell says he feels doubts about buffers. Davis says: “We’re already doing more than the state minimum, and it’s working.”

• A motion for requiring basic 30-foot buffers passes 5-2, Russell, Smith against.

• A motion specifying that buffers must be undisturbed passes 6-1, Russell against.

• A motion to expand the size of the buffers farther fails 2-5, with only Bothwell and Smith voting in favor.

Patton Avenue property owner Albert Anderson is saying he had two break-ins, for which the Asheville Police Department would not send forensics. “We need better protection,” he says.

Vets for Peace representative James Latimore wants Council to consider a resolution calling for the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq.

Jerry Rice says that City Council is better than the Buncombe County commissioners at respecting free speech and citizen comments. He adds that the city and county need to come together to monitor puyblic-access URTV, because URTV’s current board of directors isn’t providing oversight or good management.

Former URTV producer John Blackwell says: There are a lot of ways to run public access, including more economic options than the current URTV set-up.

Herbert Johnson comments that URTV “has no oversight, no transparency.” He wants to see URTV’s financial records.

Former URTV board member Davyne Dial says, “There’s a pattern of removing or shutting anyone up who asks questions. … We want you to know there are problems.” She says URTV has some of the largest deficits among N.C. public-access channels.

Manheimer says: Asheville no longer has lobbyists at the federal and state levels, noting that there are “opportunities we’re probably missing” due to that. Council member Gordon Smith thanks Manheimer for bringing the issue up so Council can consider it in future.

Post-Council meeting news: Did four City Council members violate state open-meeting law after the Council session?

(At 9:59 p.m.:) Now, Esther Manheimer, Bill Russell, Gordon Smith and Brownie Newman are drinking together at Pack’s Tavern, in seeming violation of the North Carolina open meetings law, because four Council members constitute a quorum. Arguing that their gathering does not violate the law, Manheimer says it’s a social gathering, without discussion of city business.


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12 thoughts on “Asheville City Council approves a stormwater plan and endorses public finance of elections

  1. Council members do not have the luxury of “social gatherings” amongst themselves. They are public servants and cannot come together as a quorum in any capacity without public notice.

  2. Bill

    What is a Meeting?

    In addition to determining what government bodies are covered by the North Carolina Open Meetings Law, you’ll need to figure out which of their gatherings or activities constitute an “meeting” for purposes of the law (and therefore must be open to the public). The North Carolina Open Meetings Law requires that the official meetings of public bodies be open to the public. The law defines an “official meeting” as a gathering of a majority of members of a public body “for purposes of conducting hearings, participating in deliberations, or voting upon or otherwise transacting the public business” of the public body. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143-318.10(d). The term “official meetings” applies beyond formal meetings called to take public action, and include gatherings to weighh and reflect on the reasons for possible decisions and information-gathering sessions.

    The Open Meetings Law does not cover a gathering of the professional staff of a public body. It also does not cover a social or ceremonial gathering, so long as the public body does not use the gathering as an excuse for getting around the open-meetings requirements.

  3. Jeff Fobes

    Comment from @Ashevegas (Jason Sandford) on Twitter:
    [Meeting like that at Pack’s Tavern is] bad form on Council’s part, but technically, they’re right. if they’re not talking business, they’re not in violation. The county commissioners used to do the same – gather at the steakhouse that used to be where the chamber building is now.

  4. “It also does not cover a social or ceremonial gathering, so long as the public body does not use the gathering as an excuse for getting around the open-meetings requirements.”

    I have every confidence that “Bill” can confirm for the rest of us that nothing even obliquely of the public’s business was either discussed, winked or nodded at this social gathering; which otherwise would constitute a closed session only allowed under statutory conditions.

    Thanks, “Bill,” for your assurances.

  5. Bill

    Not a thing was discussed that would have violated open meetings laws. It was great to talk about non-city business, we invited David to sit down with us, and for that matter, anyone should drop by to chat. It’s a hoot!

  6. Bill

    And…I think it’s not “bad form” to have personal relationships with your co-workers. Might do a lot of good for other politicians of the world. And what crazy kind of “Fab-4” idea do you think the four of us could come up with anyway? It’s all good…Relax! Cheers!

  7. “Not a thing was discussed that would have violated open meetings”

    So, you have a regular monitor that attends all social gatherings where a quorum is present to report to the public that “not a thing was discussed”?

    These are not merely “co-workers,” as you dismissively put it. These are elected officials doing the public’s business.

  8. Jeff Fobes

    Thanks for weighing in on this Mr/Ms Bill. But having been around for a few abuses of governmental powers in Asheville and Buncombe (including quorums of elected/appointed officials meeting without public notice), I’m hesitant to TOTALLY relax when clocked in as a journalist, especially if on the “government” beat.

  9. It’s funny! After the Council meeting is over, a policeman stands between the public and the council members up front. I wanted to distribute a notice about The Journey coming up this Saturday to each member. Instead I was prevented by the policeman. Too bad I didn’t know I could have met them at the Pack Tavern! Is the public that dangerous that we must have a policeman standing between us and them?

  10. Debt Settlement

    The policeman episode is really very funny. i enjoyed going through the article. It offers numerous insights of life as well.

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