- Buses may get bigger ads
- City to partner with Chamber on tourist signs
Sometimes you have to be content to go to Raleigh with the resolution you have, not the one you want. That's what happened on Aug. 10, when Leicester residents came before the Asheville City Council for the third time, seeking its endorsement of their incorporation effort. This time, however, they were at least able to walk away with part of what they'd requested.
As a result, incorporation advocates can now take the issue to the General Assembly with Asheville's blessing (albeit a cautious one) -- the city is asking Raleigh to require a referendum vote by Leicester residents. Although Asheville's endorsement is not required, it does increase the campaign's chances of success in the General Assemby.
In June of last year and again this past January, Council voted against supporting the incorporation of the largely rural region that lies to its immediate northwest. In each case, the hesitation was based on the size of the proposed town, which initially aimed to follow the boundaries of the 68-square-mile Leicester Township (one of 15 in Buncombe County). A second proposal lopped off some land within Asheville's extraterritorial jurisdiction but still failed to tip the scales enough to sway a majority of Council members.
The latest version calls for a much smaller Leicester, whittled down to 37.7 square miles. To achieve that, proponents abandoned a sizable chunk of land to the northwest as well as a small area bordering Asheville. And though Assistant Planning and Development Director Shannon Tuch said city staff is still concerned about the potential town's size, she called the current proposal "better and much more comfortable."
Organizer Pat Cothran said her group had worked hard to shrink the proposed town's boundaries. Speaking about the group's collaboration with Council members, Cothran added, "We've worked together well, and we've set the tone for working together as municipalities in the future."
But the new town would still cover almost as large an area as Asheville while having less than a quarter of the city's population, and Council members voiced concerns about the area's size and rural nature.
Council member Brownie Newman said he still feels that recognizing primarily rural areas as towns sets a bad precedent. "It's still far too expansive to be a good thing for Buncombe County or the state of North Carolina," argued Newman.
Vice Mayor Jan Davis, one of the Council members who met with Leicester representatives outside the Council chamber, said, "This just doesn't feel like an incorporation," noting that only one other supporter besides Cothran had attended the meeting. "I don't see a lot of people coming to the table asking for this." (Cothran, who came to Council armed with a presentation of her own, wasn't able to give it due to time constraints: Under Council rules, everyone is entitled to three minutes; to get 10 minutes, three people in the audience must be willing to give you their three-minute allotments, and that wasn't the case.)
Council member Carl Mumpower, meanwhile, noted that the current proposal had also removed language that was in the original version eschewing the use of involuntary annexation.
Pointing out that fear of annexation by Asheville was a motivating factor in Leicester's push for incorporation, Mumpower chided the group for attempting to "set up the same kind of phenomenon you are resisting."
Cothran responded that annexation concerns were only one of the reasons for the incorporation drive, but said the new, reduced size had forced their hand in the matter.
Nonetheless, Mumpower made a motion to accept Leicester's proposal -- but he added language stripping the town of annexation powers and calling for a referendum vote by Leicester residents, and the motion died for lack of a second.
Council member Bill Russell followed that up with a motion calling only for the referendum, but Council member Robin Cape felt even that was out of bounds. Saying she would not support the incorporation drive in its current state, Cape asserted, "That's not our job to put caveats in: It's our job to say yes or no."
"My opinion on that is I think Raleigh would ask for a referendum anyway," said Cothran. "But I prefer that not be part of the resolution." Russell's motion, however, was approved on a 5-2 vote, with Cape and Newman opposed.
Would you like that wrapped?
Council members narrowly approved a plan to radically ramp up the amount of advertising on city buses as a way to help underwrite the city's transit system.
On a 4-3 vote, City Council cleared the way for a new strategy that includes the prospect of full-vehicle-wrap advertisements.
Transit Marketing Coordinator Paul Van Heden championed the new plan, which he said could pump up transit revenues from $85,000 to as much as $380,000 per year. Currently, the city's transit system is subsidized to the tune of $4 million annually in federal, state and local funds.
Advertisers will have options ranging from a simple 96-inch-by-30-inch sign on the side of a bus, costing $200 a month, all the way up to a full "wrap" for $2,000 a month. In between those are "queen" and "king" designations, as well as the "King Kong," which takes its name from the way the original movie was advertised, Van Heden explained.
"We're going miles ahead of other cities in North Carolina," he told Council. "It's going to make us very competitive."
But the prospect of Asheville's buses flashing ads all over town made some Council members balk.
Davis recalled that full wraps, which cover the entire bus, had been tested once before and that residents' reaction had been negative -- and loud.
"They considered it a travesty," said Davis. "We better be prepared for that kind of reception."
Cape, who's fought against bigger billboards in Asheville, agreed.
"I would hate to see whatever brand running through town," she said. "What kind of limits do we have besides turning our buses into billboards?"
Van Heden assured Council that the full wrap would be limited to five buses at a time.
But several attempts to trim the campaign down to only small signs failed, and the original resolution was approved with Mumpower, Davis and Mayor Terry Bellamy opposed.
Another new initiative aims to make it easier for visitors to find their way around by installing new directional signs throughout Asheville and Buncombe County.
Spearheaded by the Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau, the project would place signs directing visitors to points of interest, Executive Director Kelly Miller explained.
"Having signs showing people clearly and succinctly how to get from A to B and into our parking decks, I think, is crucial," said Miller, who's also vice president of the Asheville Area Chamber Of Commerce. The visitors' bureau, an arm of the Chamber, has allocated $1.5 million to buy and install the signs, which it plans to start doing next April. The group was asking the city to shoulder half the cost of maintaining the signs -- including cleaning up graffiti and repairing other damage. The bureau has set aside an additional $150,000 for this purpose but wants the city to pick up half the tab each time a fix is needed.
That didn't sit well with Mumpower, however, who noted that unlike other cities, Asheville does not receive a portion of local occupancy taxes, and that both the Tourism Development Authority and the Chamber have resisted efforts to raise that tax and give the city a cut.
"The city of Asheville does not enjoy the revenues that most other cities enjoy," said Mumpower, adding that while he doesn't support increasing taxes, he didn't think it was right for the city to assume that financial risk. He was also skeptical that the signs would remain in pristine shape for long, noting the prevalence of graffiti in Asheville. "We can't keep up with the graffiti we have," said Mumpower. "They abuse everything."
Miller responded that the efforts to bolster local tourism increase revenues for everyone and generate more tax dollars for the city. "We want people to stay longer, spend more money and come back often," he said.
Newman, meanwhile, made a motion to adopt the program, calling it a "great use of dollars and a great partnership."
The funding match was approved on a 6-1 vote, with Mumpower voting no.