Two weeks after Buncombe County began doling out $9.3 million from its nearly $51 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds, the city of Asheville took the next step in spending its own $26.2 million allocation.
During their meeting of Sept. 14, members of Asheville City Council voted unanimously to approve 11 categories for the pandemic relief spending, a move informed by a pair of work sessions and a public hearing on the matter.
Local organizations can submit projects in the following categories for grants from the federal funds: affordable housing, care for aging residents, climate change, city infrastructure, domestic violence prevention and assistance, food systems, homelessness services, public engagement, revenue losses, small business recovery and workforce development.
Before the vote, Council member Kim Roney asked that climate change, which had not been included among the categories listed in a staff report prior to the meeting, be added to the funding priorities. She said the city was “experiencing overlapping emergencies” in regards to climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic and other issues; she has previously criticized other Asheville leaders for their slow action on climate.
“While some of the categories may have other funding options, I’m concerned that we’re making a bet that federal infrastructure funds might get passed to the state and that they won’t be already absorbed at the state level,” Roney said. “I am appealing to my colleagues to consider our own climate justice initiatives by adding climate change to the categories as part of our Council goals for both an equitable recovery from the pandemic and reimagining public safety.”
Around $4.97 million of the city’s ARPA money has already been allocated to fund emergency noncongregate homeless shelters, support public restrooms and assist Homeward Bound of WNC in creating an 85-unit permanent supportive shelter. Another $2.75 million has been earmarked for administering the funds and replacing city parking revenue lost during the pandemic.
A proposal to spend another $9.2 million in ARPA funds toward the purchase and conversion of a Ramada Inn in East Asheville into a low-barrier homeless shelter would leave roughly $9.33 million for other initiatives.That proposal, however, stalled last month after Council members decided they needed more time to address some community members’ concerns about the location of the shelter.
A request for proposals of projects to be supported through ARPA will open Friday, Sept. 24, and run through Monday, Nov. 1. The city also plans to conduct community outreach and hold an information session for applicants sometime in October. Council is slated to vote on staff recommendations for funding awards in December.
In other news
Council members unanimously approved a conditional zoning to allow a 72-unit condo complex off of Cedar Hill Road and Pisgah View Road in West Asheville. The 5.29-acre site currently holds 10 individually owned townhomes. According to a staff report, seven of the new units will be deed-restricted to those earning 80% of area median income ($60,100 per year for a family of four) for 20 years.
Council also voted to appoint three members to the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority and one member to the Planning and Zoning Commission after conducting public interviews of candidates earlier Sept. 14.
The new BCTDA board members are Michael Lusick, vice president of the Hospitality at FIRC Group, Inc that owns the Haywood Park Hotel; Matthew Lehman, who works as the general manager at Grand Bohemian Hotel Asheville; and Larry Crosby, who manages The Foundry Hotel. The authority’s enabling legislation required all of the vacancies to be filled by professionals working in the lodging industry.
Geoffrey Barton, director of real estate development at Mountain Housing Opportunities, was appointed to P&Z. One vacancy remains on the commission, for which Council will re-advertise.
Following the board appointments and public comment, Council went into closed session to discuss two lawsuits. The first was brought by the city against former Asheville Police Department Captain Mark Byrd; the captain has previously sparred with the city over alleged discrimination and his firing by former APD Chief Tammy Hooper, which was overturned by the Civil Service Board in August 2019. The second lawsuit was brought by former Asheville Fire Department Division Chief Joy Ponder against the city, alleging harassment by AFD Chief Scott Burnette.
The next formal meeting of the Asheville City Council will be held Tuesday, September 28, at 5 p.m.