Council considers COVID-19 emergency changes on March 24

Asheville city seal

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to accelerate, Asheville City Council plans to vote on a suite of emergency actions during its regular meeting of Tuesday, March 24. Perhaps most striking is an ordinance that would grant Mayor Esther Manheimer the authority to proclaim any new regulations deemed “reasonably necessary to maintain order and protect lives or property during a state of emergency.”

The ordinance references the authority granted by state law under G.S. 166A-19.31 and would expand the license the mayor currently has under Asheville’s own code of ordinances. While the city’s state of emergency is in effect, Manheimer already possesses the ability to impose a citywide curfew, prohibit public demonstrations and regulate the sales of alcoholic beverages and gasoline, among other powers.

Council members will also vote on changes to how city business is conducted. One motion would allow up to three Council members to participate in meetings by phone; Manheimer, as well as Council members Sheneika Smith and Keith Young, are expected to participate remotely on March 24. In addition, City Manager Debra Campbell is slated to receive authority to cancel any regularly scheduled Council meetings throughout the emergency.

And in the morning of March 24, Council’s agenda was amended to consider joining the Buncombe County-led “One Buncombe Fund,” an emergency pool of relief money that could support “individuals and small businesses that have been impacted by COVID-19.” If Council approves the city’s participation, a public hearing would be set for Tuesday, April 14, to consider a $100,000 allocation from Asheville’s general fund.

Members of the public will not be able to comment on these motions during the meeting itself — or at any other meetings for the foreseeable future. Council has suspended public attendance at all meetings until further notice, and the last of the emergency measures up for consideration would require all comments to be submitted by 5 p.m. the day before a meeting via a Google form or phone call to a voice mailbox at 828-259-5900.

In other business

Three public hearings set for the meeting have been continued to Tuesday, April 14. The suspended business includes a land use incentive grant for affordable apartments on Collier Avenue, a historic landmark designation for the Lewie Muller Griffith House on Woodland Road and an amendment to the Unified Development Ordinance to update open space requirements.

However, Council members will still conduct the required second reading for an ordinance approving conditional zoning changes to the RAD Lofts project. Those changes, which shifted affordability requirements for the 243-unit mixed-use development, passed their first reading on March 12 in a 4-3 vote, with Council members Smith, Young and Brian Haynes in opposition.

Consent agenda

Including the COVID-19 emergency changes. Council’s consent agenda contains seven items, which will be approved as a package unless singled out for separate discussion. Highlights not mentioned previously include the following resolutions:

  • Add $60,000 to the city’s transit operations consulting contract with Irvine, Calif.-based InfraStrategies. According to a staff report available before the meeting, that money has already been budgeted and will “support implementation of the 2018 Transit Master Plan by providing additional technical and professional support to city staff.”
  • Call on the N.C. Department of Transportation to incorporate certain design elements in its plan for the I-26 Connector. The resolution specifically mentions the east side of Patton Avenue and the Jeff Bowen Bridge, which city planners hope to transform “into a dense, urban, multimodal, mixed-use corridor.”
  • Approve an $828,000 contract with Raleigh-based Kimley-Horn & Associates for engineering services on a number of water line replacement projects. The contract covers approximately 24,500 feet of existing water lines in the Beacon Village and Rainbow Ridge areas and along Barnard Avenue, Sevier Street, Hill Street, Joyner Avenue, Pearson Bridge and Thompson Street.

Asheville City Council meets at 5 p.m. in Council chambers on the second floor of City Hall at 70 Court Plaza, Asheville. A previously scheduled budget briefing set for 3 p.m. in the same location has been canceled. The full meeting agenda and supporting documents can be found here.

Edited at 10:45 a.m. on March 24 to include details about the new “One Buncombe Fund” agenda item.

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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the Green Scene editor and a reporter for Mountain Xpress. His work has previously appeared in Capital at Play, Edible Asheville, and the Citizen-Times, among other area publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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6 thoughts on “Council considers COVID-19 emergency changes on March 24

      • bsummers

        Can we give all extraordinary powers to Carl Mumpower? The ensuing chaos would be fun to watch, if nothing else.

        • NFB

          But doesn’t he already have extraordinary powers? I mean, he’s not a mere mortal, is he? Isn’t that why he ‘s constantly thanking God he’s “not like other men?”

  1. Susan Harrison

    Why only allow up to three council members to participate by phone? The entire council can and should meet via online meeting, using Zoom or a similar platform. People in the community are already doing that to stay safe, and it works well. The council should also allow public comment via online meeting, Twitter, email, etc. Broadcast the meetings on the radio and internet. These are easy problems to solve, leaving no excuse for conducting city business behind closed doors.

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