Council continues ban on cell towers in neighborhoods

Asheville City Council members took the following actions at their Nov. 9 meeting (see below for a compilation of live dispatches via Twitter from Senior News Reporter David Forbes).

• Voted unanimously to continue a ban on cell-phone towers in residential areas, except for publicly owned properties

• Delayed voting on updating a new community center at Livingston Street Park, citing need for more community review

• Voted unanimously to pull contract with Matrix systems to install key card, camera security systems due to lack of license; passed a motion to award the contract to RHS systems

• Unanimously approved a rezoning request for Enka Center — a mixed-use development including commercial, industrial/warehouse uses, expansion of city sports park

• Voted 4-3 to allow projects to apply for development incentives if they meet sustainability/affordability requirements and fit in certain transit corridors, Bothwell, Russell, Davis against

• Set neighborhood meetings for March (south Asheville) and August (West Asheville)
summary by News Editor Margaret Williams; Twitter reports by Senior News Reporter David Forbes

3:24 p.m. On my way to City Council 3:30pm work session, 5pm meeting

3:27 p.m. Asheville City Council’s Nov 9 meeting about to start (work session first), agenda, live Twitter feed at

3:39 p.m. City staff talking about “need for air and light between buildings” in new design guidelines

3:41 p.m. Other factors include “respect for skyline,” stepping floor size back as height increases

3:46 p.m. Vice Mayor Brownie Newman concerned formula for taller buildings may hamper creativity

3:46 p.m. Council member Cecil Bothwell doesn’t like proposal to raise minimum size for Council review to 175,000 square feet

3:47 p.m. Newman also wants to encourage development downtown by taking more projects out of “politicized” review process

3:48 p.m. Newman adds that setbacks, design guidelines will balance less projects going before Council review

3:50 p.m. Council member Gordon Smith: likes guidelines, add “predictability” to process, less reliance on personal preferences of Council

3:53 p.m. Bothwell appreciates downtown master plan guidelines, “can see a lot of work’s gone into this”

3:54 p.m. Now onto affordability/sustainability guidelines

3:55 p.m. 1st proposal, which got best public response: extend existing density bonuses, incentives to any affordable/sustainable project downtown

4:01 p.m. Newman: New York one of the most energy efficient cities in US, need to encourage more downtown construction

4:03 p.m. Smith: need to consider ease of review process, possible tax incentives to encourage such development

4:04 p.m. Bothwell: Generally “in favor of using the broadest guidelines for broadest areas” rather than different rules for different areas

4:08 p.m. Bothwell: “I see that there’s a need to raise it” wants to keep it at 100,000. Newman: we need to encourage dwntwn development

4:08 p.m. Mayor Bellamy wants to consider min size for Council review at 150,000 sq ft. Newman, Davis, Bill Russell want 175,000

4:09 p.m. Newman: contentious review process “absolutely does discourage” needed, dense development downtown

4:11 p.m. Correction: Bothwell said “I don’t see that there’s a need” to raise min size for Council review

4:14 p.m. Staff will present design, process parts of master plan proposals to Council in two weeks

4:16 p.m. Council member Esther Manheimer: Wary of changing elements of master plan too rapidly, need to respect work of consultants, committees

4:17 p.m. Manheimer: Understands staff wants to defer to Council, “but sometimes it must feel like watching a teenager drive a car”

4:18 p.m. Bellamy says she disagrees. Manheimer: “don’t want to mess with something when 100s of hours, good work gone into it”

4:19 p.m. Staff: tradeoff for less Council review in plan is stricter guidelines

4:22 p.m. Work session adjourned

4:26 p.m. For you locals (or wonkish political addicts, I know my own), welcome to the latest round of #avlgov

4:27 p.m. Council begins its main meeting at 5. More on what they’ll be discussing:

4:57 p.m. Council meeting about to begin

5:01 p.m. And we’re off, Bellamy says she’ll try to keep “agenda moving pretty quickly”

5:03 p.m. Bothwell giving invocation by reading cosmologist Martin Rees, citing importance of accepting change, breaking down barriers

5:05 p.m. Proclamation recognizing WNC Nature Center’s Zoo and Aquarium re-accreditation

5:08 p.m. City Manager Gary Jackson: accreditation looks at care of animals, safety, “rigorous review” of performance

5:17 p.m. Praise for WNC Nature Center continues, Bellamy praises achievements, cleanliness, “explaining how the otters live”

5:18 p.m. Standing ovation for Nature Center

5:20 p.m. Now, proclamation for City Schools Champions Day (Nov. 12)

5:24 p.m. Also, Nov. 14-20 is National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, Vice Mayor Newman citing lack of affordable housing one cause

5:27 p.m. Community book read, food drive, other “awareness raising” activities, says Homelessness Initiative head Amy Sawyer

5:28 p.m. Council delays voting on updating new community center at Livingston Street Park, citing need for more community review

5:30 p.m. Question over compensation level for ABC Board members. Davis defending, says amount has stayed same, board professional

5:32 p.m. Consent agenda (including ABC board matter) passes unanimously

5:33 p.m. Newman, however, adds “this is higher than any other board I know of,” wants more info

5:35 p.m. On to the board updates, first up: WNC Regional Air Quality Agency

5:39 p.m. The board enforces fed, state and local air regulations, including tighter rules on open burning

5:42 p.m. Board head David Brigman: “the pollution we create here is what we breathe” especially due to geography, which traps pollution

5:43 p.m. Brigman: Area meeting EPA standards

5:46 p.m. Brigman: air pollution on downward trend

5:50 p.m. EPA standards being reconsidered, Bellamy: “can’t set something that’s unattainable” region, state would lose transportation money

5:52 p.m. Next update, the Community Action Opportunities group

5:54 p.m. Group’s purpose to “help people on limited income transform their lives”

6:03 p.m. 2nd presentation where “time’s up” buzzer has gone off. CAO representative continuing to talk about roof replacement, head start

6:06 p.m. Bellamy cutting off presentation, promises Council will look at material

6:08 p.m. Stimulus update, city wants to pull contract for Matrix systems to install key card, camera security systems due to lack of license

6:09 p.m. Motion to withdraw contract passes unanimously, so does motion to give contract to RHS systems

6:10 p.m. Now Maggie Ullmann from city Office of Sustainability on city’s carbon footprint

6:13 p.m. City spends $5.3 million on energy. Saved $336,216 by reducing energy use, reductions equivalent to 76,026 planted trees

6:15 p.m. Ullmann: Energy expenditures on buildings dropping sharply, but vehicle fleet has increased due to older vehicles on road for longer

6:19 p.m. Last presentation: Bothwell on volunteer sidewalk cleanup. He’s got a video.

6:20 p.m. Bothwell: “Perfectly good sidewalks were getting covered up with debris”

6:21 p.m. Bothwell’s been working with Z-Link sidewalk recovery project, Starnes, Cumberland Avenues some examples

6:22 p.m. Bothwell on video: “We cleared sidewalks all summer,” says 50 volunteers helped

6:24 p.m. Z-Link launching new effort in wake of city rules requiring property owners to cleanup sidewalks

6:25 p.m. Room applauding Bothwell’s efforts

6:26 p.m. Staff briefing Council on four initial zonings for properties annexed in round of annexations earlier this year

6:29 p.m. The zonings all pass unanimously

6:32 p.m. Now a somewhat larger (and more contentious) rezoning: Enka Center, partly based in old BASF plant

6:34 p.m. Proposed mixed-use development including commercial, industrial/warehouse uses, expansion of city sports park

6:38 p.m. Project needs exception to city zoning rules on parking and transportation modifications

6:39 p.m. Staff believe the project will be a good “regional commercial center”

6:41 p.m. Developer Martin Lewis: Project has used 3 1/2 years of my life. Cautiously optimistic

6:42 p.m. Lewis: But economy remains dicey, though site ready. “When is project going to take place? We don’t know”

6:45 p.m. No public comment during hearing. Manheimer thanking developers for cleaning up brownfield site

6:48 p.m. Manheimer has additional conditions, which she’s discussed in advance with developers, including greenway easement

6:52 p.m. Lewis: We agree with conditions. Manheimer makes motion to approve

6:52 p.m. Other conditions: bring parts of project not in city limits in as they’re developed, guarantee part of project for ball field

6:58 p.m. Smith: “This [project] is the kind of thing we love to see, this is a place-making kind of project”

7:01 p.m. Rezoning for Enka Center passes unanimously

7:02 p.m. Council moving “transformational” development ordinance up in the agenda to get done before 7pm break

7:05 p.m. Rules allow projects to apply for incentives if meet city guidelines for workforce/affordable housing, near certain areas

7:09 p.m. Guidelines were developed in response to request for incentives for Montford Commons

7:14 p.m. Newman wants standard for “financial viability” withdrawn, says it’s too subjective

7:17 p.m. Economic Development Director Sam Powers: there are industry standards, ways to analyze acceptable rate of return

7:18 p.m. Newman still thinks its too vague, thinks same thing about energy standards. “We need crisp guidelines”

7:22 p.m. Bothwell on energy standards: “Do you buy one EnergyStar refrigerator and qualify?”

7:26 p.m. Council debating delaying whole package again or approving without financial need requirement. Bellamy: “Let’s wrap this up”

7:27 p.m. Now Bellamy wants to look at extending development corridors to Long Shoals Road

7:34 p.m. Newman against extending corridors too far out, worried it could help big-box retailers

7:42 p.m. Bellamy asking Council to hurry up, Newman has “one last question,” feels proposal hasn’t gotten enough review

7:42 p.m. Bellamy ok with sending it back, so’s Manheimer

7:44 p.m. Bellamy: “How about we approve it,” then send to staff. Already have Montford Commons as test case

7:45 p.m. Newman, to Bellamy: “You don’t think it needs more discussion? It needs more refinement”

7:46 p.m. Bellamy: “Let’s approve this,” asks Newman to rewrite it himself, if he think it needs additions

7:46 p.m. Bothwell says he’s uncomfortable with very idea of incentives to developers

7:48 p.m. Motion passes 4-3 w provision for revision in future. Bothwell, Russell, Davis against.

7:50 p.m. Bellamy apologizes for length [of meeting], promises to be out quickly. Council goes into “7pm” recess/closed session at 7:49

8:11 p.m. Council emerging from chambers, smell of food wafting out. Major item left: allowing cellphone towers in some residential areas

8:13 p.m. Council briefed on new rules for cell towers, incl possible expansion to residential areas, 3rd time Council’s considered matter

8:15 p.m. New revisions add rules for setbacks, lot size, co-location to allowance of towers in some residential areas

8:17 p.m. Staff: Changes required by fed, state allow that prohibit local restrictions from harming service

8:20 p.m. Planner Shannon Tuch suggests considering rules for relaxing restrictions for towers on city-owned property

8:26 p.m. Manheimer: Studied cell-tower zoning in crafting city’s original ordinance as lawyer. “Extremely concerned” about towers in res areas

8:27 p.m. Manheimer: “By allowing cell towers into res areas, open the door” to loss of property value, security for residents

8:28 p.m. Manheimer thinks even if city allows towers, will still be vulnerable to lawsuit challenges

8:29 p.m. Manheimer makes motion to accept new requirements, w/out expansion into residential areas. Davis seconds

8:32 p.m. Beaverdam Susanna Aedile holding petitions supporting ban, believes “neighborhoods will suffer greatly”

8:32 p.m. Aedile: Letting celltowers into areas like cemeteries is disrespectful to dead, “harms natural beauty”

8:36 p.m. Skyway Drive resident and retired developer/preacher Tyler Martin: “Towers decrease value of homes,” children shouldn’t be near towers

8:37 p.m. Martin: “If they build that tower, it costs me money”

8:38 p.m. Beaverdam resident Andy Bladstein: “One of few things we have left is our neighborhoods” cell towers “will destroy them”

8:46 p.m. Beaverdam resident noting they have cell service in area, says problem w some cell companies’ technology

8:49 p.m. Beaverdam res Dave Pestel: Evidence of cell tower health damage “inconclusive” but “it might happen, so bravo” in considering the ban

8:51 p.m. Atty Patsy Bryson, who’s representing US Cellular: If Council passes this motion, will violate fed, state law

8:53 p.m. Bryson: “Respectfully urge that this motion fail. You are in violation of fed, state law” and we’ll proceed accordingly

8:54 p.m. Bryson: Only heard from one neighborhood, coverage issues all over city. You pass this, we want a legal justification in writing

8:59 p.m. City Atty Bob Oast: As state law doesn’t allow placement only on city-owned property, residential ban may violate federal law

9:02 p.m. Bellamy: Got some e-mails from other neighborhoods supporting towers

9:03 p.m. Bellamy: “If we pass this, we’re saying it’s ok to not have service in some areas” Issue will return

9:04 p.m. Bellamy: most areas that have banned cell towers in residential areas are flat, “they can do that” we need to increase service

9:06 p.m. Bellamy adds friendly amendment calling for searching out other ways to increase service

9:11 p.m. Continuance of ban on cell towers passes unanimously

9:18 p.m. Bryson to Xpress: Want written opinion from city. “Ball’s in their court” As for lawsuit “We’ll consider our options”

9:20 p.m. State legislative update now. Oast: Assembly will mostly be occupied w budget

9:22 p..m Oast: Think we’ve reached agreement on exact boundary w Woodfin, want cable franchise rules revised, ability to use water to annex

9:25 p.m. Bellamy: Council members will submit desired issues, discuss on Dec. 14

9:26 p.m. Russell: We should use a work session to consider these issues, due to complex issues like annexation

9:27 p.m. Oast: “Legislators put a lot of weight on the votes these items get… Look for unanimity”

9:29 p.m. CLARIFICATION: Council unanimously voted to continue ban on cell towers in res areas except for publicly-owned property

9:31 p.m. Council now taking up vote on new process for appointing planning board members, will interview during reg meeting

9:31 p.m. New process passes unanimously

9:36 p.m. Council discussing schedule for community meetings in neighborhoods around city. Smith commending effort

9:39 p.m. Newman says dialogue process to review area’s issues before meeting there works well

9:41 p.m. Meetings in South Asheville next March, West Asheville next August

9:46 p.m. Smith touting locally-owned social Thurs, 6pm

9:46 p.m. Meeting adjourned.

About Margaret Williams
Editor Margaret Williams first wrote for Xpress in 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987 and completed her Masters of Liberal Arts & Sciences from UNC-Asheville in 2016. Follow me @mvwilliams

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

One thought on “Council continues ban on cell towers in neighborhoods

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.