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Doughnuts, Beer, and Global Warming

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Crashing the meeting was Woodfin County Manager Jason Young. All about building good bridges, Chair David Gantt rolled out the red carpet, allowing Young ample time to state his case. As it turned out, the Town of Woodfin’s skeleton crew had heard about the zonings over the holidays by reading the newspapers. Young asked the commissioners to kindly consider removing the first area from consideration for the simple reason that the property owners had already voluntarily annexed into the Town of Woodfin.

The county’s Zoning Administrator Debbie Truempy indicated “issues” had prevented the recording of the zonings from being completed, but Young said the town was of the opinion that the annexation and zoning hearings had been “valid, legal, and binding.” Foreseeing quagmire, Commissioner Holly Jones quickly moved to remand that particular zoning back to staff to sort things out with Woodfin. Her peers were hip to avoiding a brouhaha; Gantt saying the only downside was leaving the areas not annexed “unprotected” by zoning.

Young said another reason for his visit was to request involvement from the Town of Woodfin in discussions about the county’s zoning of other areas that might want to voluntarily annex into Woodfin. It would be like agreeing to an informal ETJ. Young was concerned the R3 zoning allowed trailer parks. R3, he said, “invites a level of development that diminishes the investment around it.”

The other eight doughnut holes were approved, individually, as fast as one could eat a Dunkin’ Munchkin.

In a second agenda item, Anna Priest, executive director of the Colburn Earth Science Museum, asked the commissioners for $50,000. The request came outside the county’s funding cycle for independent agencies engaged in work the county would otherwise have to support at higher cost. But Priest had three reasons for her urgency.

First, the museum had requested $275,000 during the funding cycle, for relocation costs. But it was turned away in light of limited county resources and the perception that Colburn wasn’t ready to use that much money. At the time, museum representatives were asked to return when their planning process was further along. Having hired a consulting firm, which completed a feasibility study, Colburn could now present a detailed plan.

Secondly, Colburn had been awarded a $400,000 matching, challenge grant from the TDA. Commissioners Brownie Newman and Jones shared their preference that the county donate while their $50,000 would be matched (not torched).

Thirdly, the Asheville Art Museum and Diana Wortham Theatre were itching to expand into the Colburn’s space. As Commissioner Ellen Frost put it, “It helps the Art Museum the sooner Colburn can adios.”

Colburn’s plan was going to change its name to the Asheville Museum of Science (AMOS) and move out of Pack Place and into a considerably larger space in the Wells Fargo building downtown. The museum would take on exhibits from the life sciences and STEM programs. Added attractions would include a Magic Planet Theater, a take-apart dinosaur replica capable of making road trips, and “interactive displays of planetary and climate data sets” – that last item sure to help with federal grants. Further witnessing the museum’s new commitment to climate change awareness is partnerships being forged with NOAA, UNCA, and the Collider. A “small” Colburn Hall of Minerals would be retained to honor the museum’s legacy.

Frost made a motion to approve, but asked if, instead of taking the $50,000 out of fund balance, the money could come from the $500,000 capital improvement fund reserved for the Asheville Art Museum. Frost said it still grated her that the county had to take $5 million out of its fund balance to settle wrongful incrimination claims for confessions coerced by an unnamed former sheriff. The Republicans on the board, reasoning that money is fungible, didn’t see how putting a $50,000 hole here was any different than putting it there, when it had to be filled either way. DeBruhl was concerned the county might be setting a slippery-slope precedent for interdepartmental transfers.

Commissioner Mike Fryar said the request did not rise to the level of urgency of other issues the county cannot fund. Relaying a question from his wife, he asked why the museum had to change its name. He asked if the $50,000 was going to be used for anything besides rebranding, like changing signs and letterhead. Jones indicated the rebranding was worth the ask. She said tourists don’t know what the Colburn is, but AMOS would be “very clear, very exciting, so clear to the people.” She said she would be, “supporting this with a lot of cheers and raucous.”

Gantt commended the museum for getting on a trajectory to become self-funding. He believed the new location, diversification of scope, and expanded gift shop would go a long way toward that. “They don’t want to stay in the basement and be small,” he said. The $50,000 grant was approved 4-3, Joe Belcher, Fryar, and DeBruhl opposed.

In a third item of interest, the commissioners were slated to give Hi-Wire Brewing a mere $21,906 in economic development incentives. The funds were retroactively to induce the beer company to invest $1,620,000 in the community and create fifteen jobs paying an average wage of $34,000. Hi-Wire entered a similar agreement to receive $25,000 from the City of Asheville.

The staff reports included a pie chart and bar graph showing how the $21,906 would have a 20,000 percent [ED NOTE: Seriously. That’s what they showed.] return on investment while directing, indirecting, and inducing 36.1 jobs. This item was pulled from the agenda for further consideration.

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