“Yes, ABC [Alcoholic Beverage Control] stores are considered essential retail. You’re welcome,” deadpanned Fletcher Tove, Buncombe County’s emergency preparedness coordinator, during a March 26 press briefing on the county’s COVID-19 response.
One ordinance to be approved by Asheville City Council 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.”
Sixth time’s a charm? Asheville City Council approved new affordability conditions for the RAD Lofts mixed-used development slated for the city’s River Arts District, the latest in a string of conditional zoning amendments approved by Council since 2013.
Buncombe County Board of Commissioners Chair Brownie Newman declared a local state of emergency due to the increasing number of cases of COVID-19 in North Carolina. The move followed a statewide emergency declaration from Gov. Roy Cooper just two days earlier. Mayor Esther Manheimer subsequently declared a state of emergency for the city of Asheville.
After more than a month of being criticized by patients and elected officials at a series of public meetings, HCA Healthcare is responding to allegations of inadequate staffing and poor service at the Mission Health facilities it acquired last year. But even as the company speaks out, nurses from its Asheville hospitals rallied Sunday, with calls for a union to improve working conditions at the medical facilities the company acquired last year. Buncombe County Commission Chair Brownie Newman and Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer issued a joint letter supporting the nurses’ efforts.
“Other than a new roof, the exterior shell and a few walls here and there, we’re looking at a brand-new facility,” said Chris Corl, general manager of Harrah’s Cherokee Center — Asheville, as he displayed concepts for the auditorium developed by the Nashville-based Earl Swensson Associates. He described the plan as “not a renovation, but a transformation.”
After months of haranguing City Council over the wording of a climate emergency resolution, over 40 protesters with Sunrise Movement Asheville occupied the government building on Dec. 6 to demand that Mayor Esther Manheimer and her colleagues pass the document as written by the climate justice group.
Leadership Asheville pulled in some high-octane local speakers for the final installment of its summer Buzz Breakfast series held on Aug. 14. The composition of the panel reveals some key trends shaping the power dynamic that’s emerged over the past year.
On Friday, Sept. 6, said Council member Julie Mayfield, the city will hold an affordable housing work session to explore options such as tiny homes and housing voucher acceptance for long-term rentals. Mayfield also announced that Council plans to discuss whether the city should temporarily ban new hotels in the city during its Planning and Economic Development Committee meeting on Thursday, Aug. 29.
The net proposed operating budget stands at $190.31 million, a 5.4% increase over last year’s adopted budget. Campbell said the spending plan aligned with the priorities outlined by Council members in March during their annual retreat, which focused on transit and affordable housing.
Around 100 people attended Asheville City Council’s nearly five-hour meeting on March 14, during which 27 speakers declared both resistance and support for the conversion of the Flatiron Building into a hotel.
Parks and Recreation Director Roderick Simmons fielded criticism over the parking changes from multiple community members and athletic groups. The city’s efforts to reduce the burden of event parking in the East End, Edgehill, Hunt Hill and Oakhurst neighborhoods, they said, had hampered their access to the athletic facility.
City Chief Financial Officer Barbara Whitehorn proposed that Asheville institute a program of regularly issued general obligation bonds to support capital improvement projects, while Council member Julie Mayfield discussed a property tax increase to boost Asheville’s operating budget.
Incumbent Asheville City Board of Education members Shaunda Sandford and Martha Geitner faced tough questions from Asheville City Council at an interview session on March 26. But at Council’s regular meeting that same evening, the two were unanimously reappointed to four-year terms on the board. James Carter was selected to fill a two-year vacancy created by the resignation of board member James Lee.
At a budget work session on March 26, city CFO Barbara Whitehorn reported that Asheville can expect to receive $2.5 million in property and sales taxes from the health system in fiscal year 2019-20 — only half of the $5 million initially estimated by the Buncombe County tax office — then $5 million instead of $8 million for every year to follow.
Asheville City Council will be asked to add its piece of a $39.7 million redevelopment puzzle on Tuesday evening. The 2016 General Obligation Housing Bond will provide $1.82 million, while $1.38 million will come from the city’s general fund and $1 million will be spent from the Affordable Housing Capital Improvement Program.
In conjunction with Buncombe County voters and members of Raleigh-based lobbying group Common Cause North Carolina, the mayor will discuss how gerrymandering splits Asheville voters and advocate for nonpartisan districting reform. The press conference takes place at Pack Square Park on Tuesday, March 26, at 10:30 a.m.
Mayor Esther Manheimer pointed to the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority’s recent commitment to long-term planning around hotel occupancy taxes as a key factor in her support for the project. “That is the kind of change that I needed to see personally before I would move forward with considering another hotel,” she said, joining Council members Vijay Kapoor, Julie Mayfield and Sheneika Smith in the approval vote.
“This may hurt some feelings, but you can no longer operate the city of Asheville like it’s the Oprah Winfrey talk show, where you get a car and you get a car,” said Council member Keith Young, referencing the daytime TV host’s famous giveaways. “As much as we love all these programs and trying to help the public good… this is the time to close the bank.”
While Mayor Esther Manheimer recommended in October that local hoteliers Pratik Bhakta and Monark Patel resubmit their proposal to Asheville City Council in at least “a year’s time,” the two aren’t waiting. Their hotel is back on the agenda for Council’s meeting of Tuesday, March 12, less than five months after its first consideration.