Local elected officials say they want Asheville and Buncombe County to be considered a breastfeeding-friendly community to boost lifelong health for residents, but does that intention line up with today’s reality for nursing moms?
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.
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.”
“Don’t just think that this is going to be somebody calling on the phone about a bar down the street or their neighbor next door,” said Council member Keith Young. “This opens up a larger door. I am totally not comfortable opening up a new pathway into our criminal justice system.”
A 170-room proposal on Fairview Road was voted down 6-1, with only Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler dissenting, while a public hearing on a 56-room project on Biltmore Avenue was continued at the developer’s request until March 26. Council members Vijay Kapoor and Julie Mayfield raised concerns about the former hotel’s place in longer-term plans for Asheville.
“Unless you are using the city and county tools and financing from either the city’s housing trust fund, the county’s affordable housing fund or some kind of funds from a taxpayer project,” real estate developer Kirk Booth told around 40 people at the Council of Independent Business Owners’ Dec. 6 breakfast meeting, “it’s not going to happen.”
Due to construction cost increases that made rentals infeasible, the Kassinger Development Group proposed a for-sale condo plan. Of 64 total units, 33 would be affordable, with the city providing support through a $1.28 million Housing Trust Fund loan and a $375,000 discount on the land itself.
Todd Okolichany, Asheville’s director of planning & urban design, said the city’s Unified Development Ordinance was in need of an extensive and holistic review. While the city has made “Band-Aid edits,” he explained, the last major revision of Asheville’s main development code took place in 1997.
After Mayor Esther Manheimer and Council members Keith Young and Brian Haynes shared their intent to reject the project, attorney Wyatt Stevens pulled the building from consideration on behalf of his clients, local hoteliers Pratik Bhakta and Monark Patel.
Offered in response to public demand for greater transparency in the city’s finances, the work sessions allow each governmental department to explain how it uses its portion of more than $180 million in spending. The sessions also provide a forum for Council members to seek information on specific budget items, such as Pack Square Park maintenance.
The effort was sparked by the French Broad River Metropolitan Planning Organization, of which Asheville is a dues-paying member. Last fall, the MPO offered the city $157,500 (to be matched with $25,593 in local funds) for a corridor study of its choosing, with the goal of reducing automobile congestion and creating “an alternative to the auto-oriented cycle.”
At the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce’s 13th annual Elected Officials Reception on Aug. 16, local politicians acknowledged that the intensity of recent city and county government scandals have sometimes pushed other issues to the side.
On Aug. 13, the Planning & Economic Development Committee recommended that staff throw out the kitchen sink from the current definition. Council members Gwen Wisler, Vijay Kapoor and Julie Mayfield moved to adopt a new “maximum flexibility” definition for kitchen spaces.
No additional changes made their way into this year’s budget as Council decided to adopt the ordinance in a 4-3 vote. Mayor Esther Manheimer, Vice-Mayor Gwen Wisler, and Council members Vijay Kapoor and Julie Mayfield all voted in support of the budget. Members Brian Haynes, Sheneika Smith and Keith Young voted against the plan; all three had shown hesitation about a police funding increase during previous work sessions.
Established based on recommendations from a special Council-appointed Blue Ribbon Committee, the new group will be charged with improving human relations and equity throughout Asheville’s government — including the Asheville Police Department, which has drawn fierce criticism in recent months from Council and the public over its response to the beating of a black Asheville resident by a white former APD officer last year.
The Asheville City Council will make one of its most consequential decisions when it hires its next city manager, a powerful administrator with broad authority for most aspects of city government. To inform its search, the Council is gathering input from residents.
In the letter, Kapoor writes that he will ask Council to “reconsider” its actions at the upcoming meeting on Tuesday, June 19. Speaking with Xpress, he clarified that he’ll be calling for the motions to be rescinded and their substance explored through the normal committee process.
By the end of a six-hour session, Council had approved multiple items showing an unprecedented level of urgency for policing reform. Multiple split votes, however, showed the concern of some members over the process of making those changes.
With the potential of tax revenues from the proposed acquisition of Mission Health by a for-profit company looming on the horizon, members of City Council’s Finance Committee heard several proposals on March 29 that would help balance the city’s FY 2018-19 budget.