"Brevity," wrote Shakespeare, "is the soul of wit." That particular bit of wisdom, however, isn't generally reflected in Asheville City Council meetings, which typically drag on and on, leaving those in attendance at -- well, at their wits' end. But The Bard would probably have approved of the Oct. 12 formal session, which clocked in at under two hours.
Still, the meeting's speed belied its import. The first of two notable matters Council members addressed was a consent-agenda item concerning a permit from the National Park Service. The permit gives the city a right of way on an NPS-owned bridge across the Swannanoa River; its approval by Council marked the end of a long-running dispute.
For two years, city officials and the NPS administrators of the Blue Ridge Parkway had been at loggerheads over the little bridge, which links Azalea Road with city property slated for use as a "beneficial landfill" site. The site will allow the city to dispose of inert waste materials, such as dirt or concrete excavated when the city's Public Works or Water Resources departments repair streets or water lines. But without the right of way, the city had no access to the property. Federal statutes, Oast told Xpress, require a review and comment period, and "By its nature, the negotiations take time."
The continuing lack of access, however, had so angered Council member Joe Dunn that in July he berated Gary Johnson, chief of resource planning for the Parkway, who'd been invited to attend a public hearing on an entirely separate topic: the forest-management plan for the city's North Fork watershed. "When are we going to get our bridge?" Dunn bellowed after Johnson had explained the Parkway's opposition to logging the watershed. "The city of Asheville has been around a lot longer than the Blue Ridge Parkway," continued Dunn.
Now, however, the two entities seem to have resolved their differences. The agreement, City Attorney Bob Oast told Council, gives the city a right-of-way permit that's valid for five years and can be renewed three times. The 20-year duration is acceptable to the city because "the fill site has a limited life [span]," Oast explained. And even after 20 years, he later told Xpress, the city could still negotiate to extend the permit, but another review period would be required.
When Dunn asked Oast if the city would face similar hurdles each time the permit comes up for renewal, the city attorney said, "No, unless things change." Council members had little else in the way of questions or comments, and they unanimously approved the resolution to accept the permit.
The last item Council members tackled was a resolution setting forth plans for the next round of annexations. The plans spell out how much the annexations will cost the city and how much it will benefit through increased property-tax revenues. The four targeted areas are: the Ridgefield Business Park, the Ascot Point Village, and properties along Long Shoals Road and Airport Road. All told, 2,831 people live in the areas proposed for annexation. Planning and Development Director Scott Shuford described the plan as a "fairly large set of annexations for the city."
In approving this phase, Council narrowly approved the annexation plan on a 4-3 vote, with Council member Terry Bellamy joining Dunn and Vice Mayor Carl Mumpower in the minority. The latter two have long opposed annexations in general, holding that the city first needs to make headway with infrastructure repairs and improving public safety within its current boundaries.
After the meeting, Bellamy told Xpress that she'd voted against the measure because the public hearings for the annexations -- the one chance the targeted residents have to voice their opinions -- were scheduled for Dec. 12 and were therefore too close to the holiday season for matters of such importance. "We usually do the annexation process in the spring," noted Bellamy. "Why are we doing it now and holding the public hearings at a time when many people won't be able to attend? I can't support that."
A pair of public hearings on the agenda seemed to have the potential for generating lengthy discussion. One concerned whether to grant Mountain Housing Opportunities a permit to expand its Clingman Avenue office space; the other had to do with Buncombe County's request to site a new EMS facility on South Lexington Avenue. But both hearings were postponed at the petitioners' request, making an already short agenda even shorter.