The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners avoids the words "zoning" and "land-use planning" the way most county residents avoid poison ivy, but "cutting development density" doesn't seem to scare them a bit.
On June 21, the commissioners adopted the county Planning Board's recommendations concerning mountainside development and amended the county's subdivision ordinance. As laid out by Planning Director Jon Creighton, the new regulations will require developers to hire a geotechnical engineer to help plan road construction on steep slopes (defined as those with more than a 40 percent grade); on slopes greater than 45 percent, the allowable development density will be cut by almost half. The engineer's recommendations must be submitted with the initial subdivision application.
Asheville has much more stringent development rules. On 40 percent or steeper slopes, developers are allowed only 20 percent of the density the basic zoning would permit, city Director of Development Services Joe Heard told Xpress. That number drops to 10 percent on slopes exceeding a 45 percent grade.
Creighton noted: "These changes are looking at those few developers out there who have problems or are going to have problems. Most developers will have a geotechnical engineer involved; we're asking that they get involved earlier."
Commissioner David Young inquired about the logic behind the density rule, asking, "What's the reason?"
"We're trying to spread things out, but it still allows the developer to maximize his property," replied Creighton.
Young then asked, "What about runoff?"
"It will help with that," was the reply.
Vice Chairman David Gantt, who was out of town on business, startled everyone in attendance when his voice erupted from a speakerphone, asking, "Where does the 40 percent come from, and what is that going to cover?"
After surprised laughter had subsided, Creighton replied, "We were talking 30, an engineer recommended 50; we compromised at 40."
"Are there other things we ought to be looking at in the future?" Young asked.
"There's always room to do more," offered Creighton. "There seems to be a consensus among engineers that we could trade off more density on shallower slopes for less development on steep slopes." In effect, he explained, this gives residential owners nearer neighbors while protecting mountain views -- which many people seem to prefer. And because building on shallower slopes is less expensive, he noted, there's also an economic incentive for developers.
Chairman Nathan Ramsey asked, "What changes would there have been in places like Avery Park and Reynolds Mountain if this had been in place when they were developed?"
"No real changes," Creighton replied, adding, "We are trying to lessen steep cuts." The wider the road and the steeper the terrain, the higher the resulting cut in a mountainside, he explained.
"There has been some discussion of one-way roads as a way to keep roads narrower," said Creighton. "We need to look at ways to incorporate changes into existing regulations."
Shifting the topic, Gantt asked, "We don't have any open-space requirements, do we?"
"No. But if we could pursue the conservation idea -- to make density happen at the lower level and limit it at the upper levels -- it would have the same effect," Creighton replied.
"We've got to get moving on it to protect what we have," concluded Gantt.
The amendments were passed unanimously. Because this involves a change in a county ordinance, a second vote is required before it takes effect.
Animal Control control
During the public-comment period preceding the meeting, Montreat resident Anna Cannon offered a pointed critique of Buncombe County's animal-control services. "I live in the county but am considered ineligible to receive help," she said. "We have bad feral cats, and I've been told that I have to pay $50 to get Animal Control to come out.
"Why are we paying $1 million per year to Animal Control but don't get service? If you call them, you have to catch the cat first." One of the cats attacked Cannon's elderly neighbor, who declined to call Animal Control because she knew she would have to catch the animal and pay for the service, said Cannon. "Why are we paying tax money for a service we then have to pay for?" she wondered.
Commissioner Bill Stanley replied: "I agree with you 100 percent. I'll look into it."
Young added: "It's the same in unincorporated areas of the county. It's not right."
Ramsey apologized to Cannon, saying he'd had many conversations with the head of Animal Control about the problem and would look into it further.
Buncombe County Animal Services Director David Long told Xpress that his agency's enforcement policies are determined by contracts with municipalities. "The only places we provide services are in the unincorporated areas of the county and in Black Mountain, because they have contracted for services. In Weaverville, we will pick up animals if they are confined and the call comes through their Police Department, because the town is invoiced for that service." In unincorporated areas, said Long, Animal Control prioritizes calls --first collecting animals that are confined, since finding and corralling loose animals is time-consuming. "It isn't necessary for citizens to catch animals, but in order for us to guarantee same-day response, the animal has to be confined. As long as that person has not been feeding the animal, there is no charge. If it is an owned animal, we charge $25 for pickup and another $15 if they want the animal euthanized." Residents, said Long, can also check out Animal Control's recently revamped Web site (www.ashevillehumane.org).
Reports and board appointments
In other business, the board received updates on the Buncombe County Cooperative Extension Service Master Gardeners program and United Way's ongoing flood-relief efforts.
County Tax Collector Gary Roberts proposed that the board adopt a new tax-collection agreement with Asheville. While this doesn't represent a change in practice, he explained, a new accord is needed because the previous collection plan was part of the Regional Water Agreement (slated to end June 30). "The essence of it is to have one bill for city and county residents," he said.
Fifteen board appointments were approved: David Bailey, Dan Bradshaw, Laura Copeland, K. Ray Bailey, Angie DeMartino, Rick Elingburg, Doug Keen, Robert Kendrick, William Mance, Melanie Mann, Dusty Rhodes and Tim Rhodes to the Mountain Area Workforce Development Board; Rachael Nygaard and Betty Budd to the Women's Commission; Douglas Evers and Jo Yates to the Nursing Home Community Advisory Board; and Bill Mance to the Economic Development Commission.