Asheville City Council put a referendum on the sale of the city’s water system on the Nov. 6 ballot at its meeting tonight. Council also discussed a proposed hotel on Haywood Street and approved incentives for the Linamar plant expansion. (photos by Max Cooper)
• Council unanimously approved the referendum, reading “Shall the City of Asheville undertake the sale or lease of its water treatment system and water distribution system.” A state legislative research committee directed the city to pursue merging its system with the Metropolitan Sewerage District, but promised to hold off on forcing a merger as long as the city and MSD are engaged in “good faith” negotiations.
While Council has made its opposition to the committee’s stance clear in the past, the city claims it’s pursuing those talks: City staff met with MSD officials earlier this month, and are studying the practical financial details of a merger. However, as those negotiations might entail the city offering to sell or lease the water system, Vice Mayor Esther Manheimer asserted it was appropriate to call for a referendum, as allowed by state law, to “understand the sentiment of the citizenry.” If the referendum produced a “no” result, the city couldn’t sell the system, though the state could still act on the matter, City Attorney Bob Oast noted. Under state statute, only city voters can participate in the referendum.
“It’s a confusing situation,” Manheimer observed.
• Staff presented Council with an update on a proposed project from the McKibbon Hotel Group for city-owned property on Haywood Street. On Sept. 11, Council could decide on the sale of the property. The issue became controversial when the Basilica of St. Lawrence, which is across the street, offered to buy the property, sparking a debate about what should go on the site.
Council member Cecil Bothwell pointed to a poll conducted by PARC PAC indicating majority opposition to building a hotel, and noted that a park would be preferable.
But Council member Marc Hunt said that in the city’s own surveys, people hadn’t indicated that the spot was a priority for a park, but instead suitable for mixed-use development and a plaza. Council member Jan Davis criticized PARC’s poll, calling it biased and misleading.
• On a 6-1 vote, Council approved $1 million in incentives for the Linamar auto-parts plant expansion. The expansion will bring 250 jobs, and the city will pay Linamar the incentive funds through reimbursing it a share of the property tax it pays on the improved facility. Bothwell voted against, citing his general opposition to incentives for large corporations.
• Council heard complaints from a number of citizens, including veterans, about alleged discrimination against female veterans at shelters run by Asheville-Buncombe Community Christian Ministry, the target of a complaint filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The citizens asked the city to look into ABCCM itself and see what actions might be appropriate.
City manager Gary Jackson said he will research what the city’s authority is in the matter, and investigate ABCCM accordingly.