Tradition demands that Asheville City Council members' annual retreat start on a Friday, just after lunch, and run through Sunday afternoon. But the new millennium may bring a change: At Council's Oct. 5 work session, Vice Mayor Ed Hay led the charge for a shorter retreat.
"How important is [meeting on] Friday?" he asked city staff, who had proposed that the year 2000 retreat take place, as usual, Friday-Sunday, Jan. 28-30, and, once again, be held at Highland Lake Inn in Flat Rock. Hay argued that starting on Saturday would save time and money.
"[The meeting length is] a function of how much business we have to do," replied City Manager Jim Westbrook.
Council member Barbara Field interjected that she'd rather get down to Highland on Friday night and get started, rather than "hav[ing] to drag in on Saturday."
And Mayor Leni Sitnick suggested that, rather than cutting out Friday, maybe Council members should plan on an early departure on Sunday.
Council member Tommy Sellers -- who, along with Earl Cobb and O.T. Tomes, was awaiting the primary election results -- wryly noted, "There's a slight possibility I may not be able to attend."
Cobb added that the entire discussion was also "provisional" for him. (Election results later that night showed that neither had won the primary.)
And Field asked whether the Jan. 28-30 date coincides with the Super Bowl.
Westbrook said he wasn't sure, but observed, "It always seems to work out that way."
Council directed staff to consider a shorter retreat, depending on how heavy the agenda is. Two or three new Council members (depending on the results of the November election) will join with three or four veterans to help staff set next year's agenda. Meanwhile, staff are already recommending that the retreat focus on budget issues.
It's the time of year when City Council members pause to ponder the truly weighty issues: how to schedule meetings around the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year holidays.
Traditionally, Council takes a two-week break from its weekly schedule at Christmas and New Year's.
Hay noted that he'll be back at work in time for a Jan. 4 session, and asked whether Council should hold a meeting that Tuesday.
But no one warmed up to the idea, so they directed staff to schedule no meetings on either Dec. 28 or Jan. 4.
Council members also told staff to move their Tuesday, Nov. 2 session (election day) to the next day. As for a community meeting tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 30, Hay and other Council members said they were ready to confirm it, because they wanted to get back on schedule with the community meetings. (It is Council's policy to hold fifth-Tuesday meetings at various locations in the community; the rotation schedule for Nov. 30 suggests a West Asheville gathering.)
A Chamber request
The Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Commission have asked Council to consider formally redirecting a portion of its annual $100,000 grant to the Chamber to the EDC this year, City Manager Jim Westbrook informed Council members on Oct. 5. He noted that staff would like to study the request further, before discussing it at length with Council members (who made no initial comment on the Chamber's request).
At their Oct. 5 work session, Asheville Council members indicated they will probably adopt two amendments to the Unified Development Ordinance. Both amendments streamline the somewhat convoluted UDO, which was adopted in 1997:
One change would revise the required notification process for major improvements to existing structures in any of the city's historic districts (Montford, Albemarle Park and Biltmore Village). In the proposed amendment, owners of property located within 150 feet of a proposed project must be notified. The UDO's standard notification range is 400 feet, but city staff pointed out that some of the historic areas are relatively small, and property owners outside the district were often getting notices.
The second amendment redefines major and minor projects, and makes it clear that the Downtown Commission and the Historic Resources Commission need not review minor downtown projects. The amendment defines as minor any project involving existing historic landmarks (there are 10 downtown, including City Hall). Both these amendments were unanimously approved by the city's Planning and Zoning Commission last month. City Council members will probably approve them, as well.