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On the role of government

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By Leslee Kulba-

“Where is common sense in this world today?” asked Lisa Landis. The Buncombe County Commissioners had just agreed to award New Belgium Breweries a total of $8.45 million for choosing to locate in Asheville, and they were about to close a halfway house for recovering addicts. Landis asked what the county would be paying in indirect costs for public safety and social services for the addicts that more conscious policies wouldn’t be creating. Landis said as a recovering alcoholic she was unable to touch beer. Alcohol ruined lives. Although statistics vary, Landis referenced some that say drugs or alcohol play a part in over 90 percent of crimes committed. The county had been told their $650,000 annual donations to New Belgium would support a $175 million investment in local construction, and the creation of 154 direct jobs and 260 induced jobs. The direct jobs would pay an average salary of $50,000. Over the thirteen-year term of the contract, the county expected to collect millions in state and local income and sales taxes. 1200 construction jobs would be created with a combined income of $41 million collecting $3.9 million in new state and local taxes. Read more…

New Belgium’s CEO Kim Jordan and the company’s Director of Sustainability Jenn Vervier attended the meeting via prerecorded video. The public hearing had been scheduled for New Belgium’s sustainability day, and so they had to be at the company’s Ft. Collins, Colorado headquarters. Persons speaking on behalf of the awards told how the economic development incentives lured the company to Buncombe County, but the opportunity to redevelop a brownfield had been the deciding factor for the site. Much was said about how sustainability played into the corporate brand, but Don Yelton said federal grants for remediating the brownfield also played into the attraction. New Belgium is the third largest craft brewer in the country and the seventh largest all-around brewer. It serves twenty-nine states, and it was looking for an eastern outpost to reduce its carbon footprint. The tract they selected was a former junkyard in the River Arts District. Those who were involved in the two-year recruiting process described the revitalization the brewery would provide as a “game changer.” A lot of infrastructural improvements will be needed, and New Belgium will develop its site to include a greenway in a park-like setting. The site will feature a tasting center. The company’s visitors’ center in Ft. Collins attracts 175,000 visitors each year. Assistant County Manager Jon Creighton saw no reason why the eastern center would not attract the same volume. Ever conscious, the company decided to locate its warehouse off-site to reduce concerns about traffic. The commissioners approved the grants unanimously and enthusiastically. The second public hearing considered a simple rezoning request for a 0.3-acre parcel near the Ridgecrest Conference Center. The property was zoned single-family residential, but it was housing a recovery facility. Technically, the commissioners were only supposed to review the appropriateness of the land use, but they made an exception for very dramatic circumstances. The planning board had done the same and recommended changing the zoning, but staff recommended denying it. The parcel happened to be across the street from another recovery house, First in Blue Ridge. The drama opened as Joseph Martinez, representing that facility, said First in Blue Ridge was licensed by the state. It underwent federal inspections to maintain its grants. Martinez asked half a dozen men in suits to stand up to demonstrate the changes their facility makes in the lives of addicts. He then said the house across the street was not certified. A spectrum of complaints, ranging from sexual exploitation to abuse of food stamps, had been lodged against it. The clientele from the house in question came in late, and so several were seated on the floor. They wore jeans and dressed like most kids these days. Several took the microphone to say how they had built a social network through the house and were flying straight for the first time in their lives. Some had tried other programs, but this was the first that was helping. All clientele held jobs and were working toward becoming self-supporting. Jennifer Hollowell, who ran the home, said she had indeed been in a relationship with a client, and that was why she lost her license; but she did not consider that a crime. Several of her clients pointed out that Holowell was a graduate of the First in Blue Ridge program. Commissioner Bill Stanley said he supported the right of land owners to do as they see fit with their own property. He was the only commissioner to vote in favor of the rezoning, which directly translated to keeping the home open. Seeing the way the vote was going, Commissioner Carol Weir Peterson said she sincerely hoped members from the county’s human services department would reach out to those who were about to be cast back into the streets.

 

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