Sustaining community: A conversation with Asheville City Council member Sage Turner

Editor’s note: As part of Xpress’ monthlong Sustainability Series, we reached out to all candidates running for Buncombe County Board of Commissioners as well as Asheville City Council. Conversations with those who participated will appear throughout our four April issues.

“As an incumbent, I bring experience, including 10 years of affordable housing expertise and leadership for the city and four years  with the county, where I oversaw [administration] of federal funds, housing projects, policies, grants and zoning,” Sage Turner told Xpress during the March primary. Turner, who has served on Council since December 2020, placed second in the primary. Come November, the incumbent will be vying for one of three open seats.

Asheville City Council meets on the second and fourth Tuesday of the month at 5 p.m. in the Council chambers located on the second floor of City Hall. The elected body approves the city’s annual budget and determines the tax rate, among other responsibilities. To learn more about Council’s role and authority, visit

Xpress: What misconceptions do community members have about the role of Asheville City Council?

Turner: There are layers of government in Asheville that can make our management and maintenance understandably confusing and frustrating. For example, many of our major roadways like Patton Avenue, Hendersonville Road, Biltmore Avenue, etc., are owned and maintained by the state of North Carolina. We cannot expand roads, add crosswalks or install speed bumps without the N.C. Department of Transportation taking action.

Affordable housing has layered complications, too. The state of North Carolina prohibits its cities from requiring affordable units to be built in new complexes. The state also bans rent control and prevents us from accurately monitoring and enforcing illegal short-term rentals.

We often see confusion around tourism taxes, too. The state of North Carolina authorizes an autonomous tourism authority that controls the $40 million in tax revenue, and Council cannot vote on or change how it is spent. To make it more confusing, the county has one piece of control over the situation. The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners can vote to reduce the tourism tax rate at any time. Not how the money is spent, but how much is collected, currently 6%. In my opinion, they should offer to reduce the rate to 2% or move it to the 8% max allowed if and only if the funds are split 50/50.

What can local leaders do to promote thoughtful community dialogue about complex and difficult topics such as the opioid crisis, crime, housing and health care? 

Information sharing and ongoing dialogue are critical to community building, particularly around complex issues. We local leaders need to collectively do better to inform the community of our long-term plans, including schools, pools and ballparks. But also sheltering, assistance programs, short-term rentals and changes with our hospital. Cities have access to resources, meeting spaces, online sharing platforms and experienced colleagues both in our area and in other cities that can help inform and educate from their perspectives. We need to continue and improve upon our efforts to host these discussions, engage with the community, go out into the community and provide information and follow up when needed.

What can the city and county do to help small businesses thrive?

Some ways are obvious, including continued investment in and support of programs like Mountain BizWorks, Black Wall Street AVL and Asheville Downtown Association, which incubate, educate and build coalitions among small-business owners.

Less obvious ways are land use, advocacy, purchasing and safety. Safety needs have risen. Workers left to walk alone to remote parking lots at night need increased protections. Shoplifting has risen to a frustrating and expensive level; business districts need greater public safety presences.

Purchasing is a way everyone can support local. When catering lunches, pick local businesses. When hosting events, rent from locally owned facilities. When ordering supplies, shop local. It matters and it adds up.

Land use is a big one. Asheville has become too reliant on tourism and travel to maintain businesses; we need a land use approach that infuses residential populations throughout business districts and bolsters local support and less tourism and travel reliance.

Advocacy and policy work. When we changed the hotel review process, I urged us to require 50% of the ground floor to be built as commercial space that local businesses could rent. Council then awarded points to hotel review criteria for renting to local businesses. Right now we are evaluating a BID — business improvement district — that would allow the business district to have a special tax collected from the district and with spending controlled by the district businesses.

If you could give raises to one city department, which department would you like to see receive it and why?

Anyone earning below the current living wage. We are still trying to catch up with the increases in living wages.

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One thought on “Sustaining community: A conversation with Asheville City Council member Sage Turner

  1. Enlightened Enigma

    What a disappointment this one has been… another non leader out the door please.

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