By Leslee Kulba –
The Buncombe County Commissioners added to their agenda a matter requiring a vote. Typically, it is considered discourteous, if not underhanded, for an elected body to vote on items without alerting the public to their intent. The practice has an air of presumption that those elected know more than any single unelected person can bring to the floor.
This time, however, the action was harmless, as it was only a request for more public input. Commissioner David King had requested that the item be added. In the interest of being as transparent as possible under the circumstances, Chair David Gantt read the resolution under consideration during the commissioners’ pre-session.
The NC DOT had intended to upgrade New Leicester Highway (Hwy 63), creating a four-lane divided thoroughfare between Newfound Road and Betty Drive. The stretch between Betty Drive and Gilbert Road would then be converted to a three-lane road with any number of roundabouts. The package, which would include curbs and gutters on both sides of the street, was estimated to cost 428,900,000.
A public hearing hosted by the DOT at the Newfound Baptist Church December 6 failed to satisfy citizens in the Leicester Community. During general public comment, long-time activist and defender of property rights Peggy Bennett shared why parties to be affected did not think this was a good idea. The grassy median would introduce to an otherwise drivable road an artificial need for U-turns. Miles would add up every time anybody made the fancy turns to go in and out of the post office. Bennett suspected right turns on red lights would waste untold man-hours, not to mention fossil fuels, by requiring unnecessary extended delays. The post office was just one example. Neighbors would endure the same hassles to get to the church or to their homes.
The plan at first called for five roundabouts, but it now only includes two or three; one of which is to be in front of the fire department. Bennett drew laughs when she asked if anybody had heard of such a thing.
Worst of all, the widening of the road, as planned, would require six businesses near Alexander Road to shut down, and 33 homes would be lost. Bennett deemed the “narrow” median, 23 feet wide, excessive. To address Bennett’s concerns, the commissioners agreed unanimously to sign a resolution requesting the DOT to work with concerned citizens to arrive at a more agreeable course of action.
In Other Matters –
The commissioners were asked to consider a rezoning of a couple parcels on Leicester Highway near Old County Home Road. Matthew Lyerly requested the residential designation be changed to a commercial one. Lyerly’s brother, Spencer, explained he wished to build a shop to cut down on commuting time for his business. The only other potential commercial use for the foreseeable future would be the construction of warehouses. This only provided ammunition to neighbors who opposed the change. As Commissioner Brownie Newman explained, the board could not consider specific uses in rezoning decisions.
A few neighbors did not approve of the change. They feared if the proposed uses were not bad enough, something bad enough could ensue. One instructed Lyerly that he could make more money by subdividing the lot and selling off parcels.
The objection that received the most attention was a property line dispute. The commissioners belabored for several minutes the concept that zoning applies to parcels, and there was no way a survey adjusting the property line was going to cause the zoning to leak onto adjacent property. Attorney Michael Frue and Assistant County Manager Jon Creighton couldn’t stress enough that property-line disputes were to be resolved by the property owners, and at no time is it the county’s responsibility to verify surveys of plats when presented with a request for rezoning. Only Mike Fryar voted against the rezoning.
During the pre-session, Vice Chair Holly Jones requested an opportunity to interview candidates for boards and commissions. With few exceptions, the commissioners in recent history have agreed to appoint the list of names appearing on the printed agenda. Newman asked what the procedure was for deciding who would be interviewed. Since Frue indicated there wasn’t one, Newman voiced concerns about public perceptions, and Chair David Gantt shared the mindset. At Frue’s suggestion, the commissioners agreed to consider formalizing a procedure at their retreat in April.
For a bit of comic, albeit serious, relief, Janet Burhoe-Jones asked the commissioners how much the county spent on President Obama’s last visit, which she described as a lunch outing. Observing that the president likes to dine on the fare from the same restaurant when he visits, and that his star-power is driving business to the same spot, she asked for equality of opportunity. There were a lot of BBQ restaurants. She suggested he try Okie Dokie’s in Swannanoa next time.