Buncombe Commissioners brief: Nov. 17 meeting

After a tense public hearing that saw one person thrown out of the chambers, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners reinstated countywide zoning in a 4-1 vote.

Eight months after the N.C. Court of Appeals struck down the county’s zoning ordinance on grounds of insufficient public notice, county staff had a new ordinance and maps ready for the commissioners’ approval.

But that same ruling also reinvigorated the anti-zoning movement. During a long and contentious public hearing, many speakers — some wearing “Let us Vote” stickers calling for a referendum on the issue — accused the county of ignoring the will of the people and infringing on basic property rights. Before the hearing, Chair David Gantt asked critics to “be respectful of one another.”

The rhetoric still became heated.

“This is what happens in communist countries,” West Asheville resident Hope Herrick asserted.

Enka resident Jerry Rice framed the zoning push as an attempt to push the poor out and bring the well-heeled in.

“We want to provide a haven for the rich and famous,”  he said. “We’ll rape our mountains to give the wealthy what they need. This zoning isn’t going to hurt the rich: They’ll buy their way to the top of the mountain no matter what it costs. If you’d given the people in the community the opportunity to speak, they would have had the same questions to ask you, but you never gave them the opportunity. You don’t represent the people you claim to represent. You didn’t want to have a big audience because you didn’t want to have red faces like baboons going out of here today. But I tell you one thing: History will show how many baboons are sitting behind those desks.”

The comparison to a simian was too much for Gantt, and he banged his gavel.

“Let’s go, Jerry, cut it out,” he said.

“You’re the political figure and you can get it, take it or leave it,” Rice replied.

“We told you the rules, you’re finished,” Gantt declared.

“I hope you’re finished at the end of your term,” Rice shot back, before a sheriff’s deputy escorted him out of the room at Gantt’s direction. (In the picture above, Rice is shown after the expulsion.)

“If you’re going to be like that, we’re not going to respect your right to be here,” Gantt declared.

Other speakers took issues with the new ordinance’s ban on manufactured homes in some of its residential districts — a prohibition not in its 2007 predecessor — which, they said, will harm a valuable source of affordable housing. Others said the county had given insignificant notice about the issues, citing the size of signs announcing the hearing.

While the vast majority of the speakers opposed zoning, some praised the step.

“I want zoning; I want my property to be zoned so that someone can’t come and put a racecar track or a cement plant next to me,” South Buncombe resident Mary Lou Davies said.

None of the commissioners offered a comment before they cast their votes. Vice Chair Bill Stanley was the only dissenting vote.

In other developments at the meeting:

• The commissioners also got an earful from residents of the Mills Gap Road area, near the contaminated site of the former CTS of Asheville plant, about what they see as unacceptable delays in cleaning up tricholoroethylene in the ground water.

“To see the way the government is taking care of the people in this community is a disgrace, it’s dishonorable,” resident Aaron Penland said, asking again for the county to place residents of Chapel Hill Church Road — where a contaminated well was recently found — on city water.

Penland said that, contrary to the county’s assertion that there is no imminent threat to Chapel Hill Church Road residents — and thus no need to put them on city water — the well had tested extremely high and probably indicated spreading contamination.

Department of Social Services Director Mandy Stone did say that the director of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources has responded to a county request for more information about the public-health dangers of the contamination, and agreed to press the Environmental Protection Agency to release more information.

Frue repeated the county’s frequent assertion that its powers in the situation are limited by state and federal law and that the county has no standing to directly sue CTS for compensation.

“As for the imminent threat, we’ve been told there’s no danger to wells that aren’t testing positive; we have to trust the EPA and DENR on this, they have the expertise,” Frue said.

• The board also approved the sale of county property at 785 Merrimon Ave. to Mountain Housing Opportunities to build a 60-unit affordable housing complex. The project is scheduled for completion in 2012.

— David Forbes, staff writer

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9 thoughts on “Buncombe Commissioners brief: Nov. 17 meeting

  1. Thats our Jerry Rice. Keep holding their feet to the fire…they deserve the scrutiny you and other watchdogs give them.

  2. Don Yelton

    David Gant can’t take it. He is like a dog that chased a car and caught it and does not know what to do with it.

    Freedom of expression and the right to address your government is out the window in Buncombe and Asheville.

    This is the beginning of showing just how far these progressives will go. It takes all 5 of the commissioners to let this happen.

    YOU heard me right, all 5 of them.

  3. J

    WHAT??? The county sold county property??? They sold county property that could be used as a park, and now people will live in buildings on top of a ridge, and these buildings could obstruct our view of the mountains and tower over Merrimon? It’ll add to light pollution, and noise pollution, and add homes in an area that is already teeming with bears due to the over building?

    Was this land sold properly? Were the proper ads run in the paper? Did Otto DeBruhl keep track records and register the deeds properly? Should he stop and examine the entire process?

    Where is Gordon Smith when you need him?

    Ooooohhhhh….that’s right. This land wasn’t being sold to a developer that Gordon doesn’t like.

  4. riceakneko

    My father Jerry Rice has a longer record of service to his community than the entire board as a collective, both in quantity and quality. He has been cursed openly by board members, had a swing or two taken at him, but he still shows up to keep them honest.

    When Zoning comes up for debate, no one wants to talk on the side of the government because there is nothing to be said. The citizens have spoken with a vote and were ignored, and now the knife is being twisted by the blatant greed of the local government. They have their own agenda to follow, and the best intrest of the citizens does not seem to fit in to it.

    Watch closely for conflicts of interest in all areas of our local political arena, with regards to Zoning. You can be assured you will find a few in the near future.

    Check out the youtube jump to see Gantt losing his composure and professionalism.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hk5wLEwJIpY

    “In general, the art of government consists of taking as much money as possible from one party of the citizens to give to the other.”
    – Voltaire (1764)

  5. The really sad part is, many, many folks are not paying attention, or are stuck in their own partison-ism to really see what is going on.

    Jerry Rice is a true local hero and role model for being a watchdog of the powers that be. I know he will never let ’em get him down.

    Davyne Dial aka “babydoll,lol”

  6. Alan

    Way to go Jerry! I wish I had been there to back him up, but I had just returned from visiting family and wasn’t quite up to speed yet.
    Zoning harms the environment by forcing workers to commute from residential zones to job zones. Plus single family homes use more energy than condos, and steel recycling centers are greatly hindered.
    And selling that county property will reduce commuting distances for people who would otherwise live in Old Fort or Mars Hill which will reduce exhaust and prevent extra I-26 lanes.

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