As of March 8, the Vance Monument had been standing in downtown Asheville for 123 years. Barring the unforeseen, it won’t make it to 124.
That being so, during its Tuesday, April 6, meeting, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners will consider a vote to authorize up to $35,000 in county funds toward the re-visioning process that will follow the monument’s demolition and removal.
The funds represent half of the $70,000 price tag shared between the city and county to hire a consultant to facilitate the process of determining what’s next for the location. The vision process will include a community engagement component that could begin as early as June and aims to answer questions about possible replacements for the monument, including who will design the new features. The consultant will also include the “intersection of equity, inclusion and placemaking” throughout the design and visioning process, according to a March 23 presentation by the city of Asheville.
Demolition of the monument will take place during the spring and summer, while the visioning process is expected to last through fall. Results of that process are expected to be presented in document form by the end of 2021. The cost-sharing does not include construction expenses for the renovations.
On June 9 and June 16, 2020, the Asheville City Council and Buncombe County Board of Commissioners passed a joint resolution to establish a task force to recommend action regarding the removal or repurposing of the Vance monument. The task force voted on Nov. 19 to remove the monument, followed by a vote from the Commission to accept that recommendation on Dec. 7, with Council voting in support of the recommendation Dec. 8.
In other news
Following Gov. Roy Cooper’s Executive Order 204, which eased restrictions on indoor mass gatherings, county staff has developed a plan to allow up to 25 residents to attend meetings of the county board in person.
The plan would reserve 10 seats for the public in the county chamber and would use room 310 as overflow for the public. Room 330 would be reserved for staff and presenters until their agenda item is presented. Staff recommends that a mask mandate and social distancing be enforced during the meetings.
The plan calls for gradually increasing the number of residents allowed to attend the meetings, per the state’s guidance, and allows residents to continue to call into the meetings to participate in public comment until all indoor capacity restrictions have been lifted.
Commissioners will decide whether to implement the new plan or keep the current process in place until all restrictions are lifted.
The commission will also conduct a public hearing on a one-time $100,000 economic development incentive for Systems Logistics, which plans to create 47 new jobs with hourly pay averaging $32.17 through an expansion of its Arden-based facility. The company is eligible for the incentive based on the Buncombe County Economic Development Policy for meeting job-creation targets.
Commissioners will also hear a presentation from Asheville City Schools regarding student capacity. A report prepared for the state Department of Public Instruction shows that the system has 29% more capacity in its school buildings than is required for current students. Projections for six to 10 years in the future show that the excess capacity will come down to about 20% more than required for the expected number of students. The reduction in capacity will result from the closure of the Asheville Primary School and Lucy S. Herring Elementary (formerly Vance Elementary) campuses rather than an increase in student enrollment.
Consent agenda and public comment
The board’s consent agenda for the meeting contains nine items, which will be approved as a package unless singled out for separate discussion. Highlights include the following resolutions:
- To approve the February 2021 tax collection report. As of February 28, the county has collected 97.88% of taxes levied, totaling more than $209 million. However, the collection rate for individual property tax, 69.98%, is significantly below the collected percentage of 80.22% as of the same time last year, due to a significant amount of motor vehicle registration tax revenue outstanding.
- An $8,300 budget amendment to fund the Visit NC Farms app, a statewide agritourism application created by the N.C. Department of Agriculture that allows residents and visitors to locate farms closest to them.The grant includes $4,250 from NCDA, $800 from the Buncombe Farm Bureau’s nonprofit board and $3,250 from Buncombe Farm Bureau Insurance.
- A $20,000 budget amendment from the Volkswagen Corp. as part of a 2016 lawsuit settlement for falsifying vehicle emissions data. The company was ordered to fund electric vehicle infrastructure across the country, including in North Carolina. The county plans to use the funds to add four additional electric vehicle charging stations to the county parking garage on College Street, which will cost $26,926. The remaining expenses will be covered by existing funds in the Sustainability Office’s budget
Public comment will only be permitted through live telephone calls at the start of the meeting; no in-person comments, emails or voicemails will be accepted at this time. Those planning to comment must sign up online or call 828-250-4001 by Monday, April 5, at 3 p.m. All commenters will receive three minutes to address the board.
The commissioners will also hold a briefing at 3 p.m. to discuss the county’s COVID-19 response and other topics. The full agenda and supporting documents for the regular meeting can be found at this link.