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.
The $1.4 million program, unanimously approved by Council members at their Feb. 26 meeting, offers no-interest loans of up to $40,000 for low- and moderate-income borrowers to make down payments on single-family residences within Asheville city limits.
Even accounting for the fossil fuels needed to generate the electricity they will use, said Council member Julie Mayfield, each vehicle will produce 54 fewer tons of annual carbon emissions than one of Asheville’s current buses. Once all five buses hit the streets, the total emissions savings of 270 tons will make up a third of the city’s annual carbon reduction target.
Four items on Council’s consent agenda aimed to improve how Asheville residents move about the city — and, thanks to a resolution supporting a statewide initiative for passenger rail in Western North Carolina, potentially across the country. The N.C. General Assembly could provide $890,000 to fund a bus connection between Asheville and Amtrak’s terminal in Salisbury.
City Manager Debra Campbell called the Feb. 12 capital budget briefing “food for thought” as she encouraged Council members to focus and prioritize their objectives. “This is why we’re presenting this information,” she said. “We’ve got some tough decisions that we need to make over the next several years.”
At Asheville City Council’s Jan. 22 meeting, Mayor Esther Manheimer said the city would re-advertise its vacant city attorney position — after she and her colleagues unanimously approved an additional $300,000 for outside legal services. The role has been filled on an interim basis by Sabrina Rockoff since the departure of Robin Currin in September.
“When I say I literally have physical anxiety about supporting this project, that is real and true,” said Council member Keith Young, citing his concerns over a lack of affordable housing in the Riverwoods development. “A part of me really feels like I’m letting folks down by approving this project.”
You asked, they answered: sage advice from Buncombe County Commissioner Al Whitesides, Dr. Carl Mumpower (chair of the Buncombe County GOP), Abby Roach (aka The Spoon Lady), former City Council member Cecil Bothwell, Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer and Asheville City Council member Julie Mayfield.
Upgrades to the tangled web of interchanges from the I-26 intersection at Interstate 40 through the gnarled conduit of traffic on the Bowen Bridge have been on the N.C. Department of Transportation’s radar since at least 1989. Along the way, business groups, community members, environmental advocates, designers and elected officials have all weighed in with differing visions about how the project should function and look — and whether it should happen at all.
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.
According to interim City Manager Cathy Ball, Council held a closed session vote on the amount of Hooper’s $118,000 compensation. Mayor Esther Manheimer, Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler, and Council members Keith Young, Sheneika Smith and Brian Haynes all voted in favor of the agreement, while Vijay Kapoor and Julie Mayfield voted in opposition.
A quarter-cent sales tax on all purchases in Buncombe County would be earmarked for transit improvements, as required by state law, while a 1 percent tax on prepared foods and beverages bought in the city could be used as general funds. Both taxes would require approval by voter referendum, projected to take place in 2020.
To alleviate congestion and improve traffic flow, the N.C. Department of Transportation is in the early planning stages for widening Sweeten Creek Road from Rock Hill Road to Hendersonville Road.
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.
“Now Asheville has joined the community of cities and counties taking responsibility for the climate into their own hands, rather than waiting for our state or national government to take the lead.”
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.
The resolution would commit city government to meeting all of its energy needs from 100 percent renewable sources by the end of 2030. A previous version also called for all energy demand in the city to make the renewable transition “as soon as practicable,” but this goal is absent from the language Council will vote to approve.
“Oh happy day,” proclaimed Council member Sheneika Smith after the unanimous appointment vote for the city’s most powerful unelected official. “As an organization, as a city, and even the county is rejoicing today.”
Reid Thompson has lost the most recent battle in his 13-plus-year fight with the city of Asheville. But the war, suggested Thompson’s representative and urban planner Joe Minicozzi, is far from over. “He’s got to file a civil suit to get his civil rights upheld,” Minicozzi said. “You can’t enforce the law on one side of the street and not enforce it on the other.”