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Asheville City Council tends to quality of life concerns

Since then, a group to be known as the Asheville-Buncombe CLT was formed, and officers were elected. The group’s informal mission was to, “commit itself to figuring out – through consultation, representative governance, and ongoing communication and regular frequent interaction with local residents and nonprofit organizations – how to build as much local ownership and accountability as possible in the neighborhoods in which the CLT would operate.” City council was also asked to sign a letter supporting the organization’s application for 501(c)(3) status.

The program will focus on neighborhoods undergoing gentrification and support rent-control programs that only require one upfront infusion of cash from the city. Next steps for the organization include grant writing, education and outreach, and capacity building.

Moving right along

Asheville City Council approved regulations for bistro lighting; that is, bulbs strung like big Christmas tree lights now used to create a festive mood in outdoor dining areas. The style had not been anticipated when the city’s ordinance was written, so small conflicts were arising. Restaurant owners wanted to be hip, but existing ordinances required outdoor lights to have 90-degree cutoffs.

Putting little umbrellas over each bulb would pose a fire hazard, and enclosing the dining area would ruin the ambiance. Eliminating all lighting would not be safe. The ordinance allowed unshielded lights emitting 15 lumens, but most-bistro bulbs being sold were rated at at least 25 lumens.

Local astronomers, like Bernard Arghiere and Domic Lesnar, however, did not appreciate the deterioration of the night sky. Both spoke at Tuesday’s meeting of city council. They were fine with the part of the ordinance exempting sports field lighting from the standards. But they wanted more regulations for the bistro lights, such as limits to the number or density of bulbs a facility could hang. Arghiere said there should also be something like a curfew and prohibitions on using the lights in winter when outdoor dining areas are typically closed.

Principal Planner/Zoning Administrator Shannon Tuch explained bistro lights are typically a preassembled, off-the-shelf product. She didn’t think people would take the trouble to reconfigure the bulb spacings. What’s more, string lighting is a plug-in product, so city staff does not have a chance to approve or disapprove it in the permitting process.

Enforcement of suggested standards would be problematic because bistro lights are a nighttime fad. Tuch did not want to call her code officers at 2 or 3 in the morning to run down a shop owner whose employees forgot the lights. That said, with limited resources, code enforcers have higher priorities than going around counting the spacing between light bulbs even in daylight hours.

The city could limit the number of strings that could be used, but the number of lights would not necessarily be proportional to light trespass. A number of factors, like the reflective properties of surrounding materials, tree canopy, and even atmospheric conditions play into how much night light will obscure astronomers’ views or spill into residents’ bedroom windows.

Council unanimously agreed to pass the uncontroversial ordinance allowing sports lights to be brighter with less shielding than other lights in the city. Bistro lighting was approved for bulbs with lumens typical of products on the market, but establishments will be required to turn them off during daylight hours and when outdoor dining areas are not in use.


Mayor Esther Manheimer announced Duke Energy has identified land on which it would like to build a substation. The utility’s previous plans to build three substations downtown were scuttled when concerns were raised about potential, unspecified deleterious impacts of certain transformer frequencies on children’s physical and cognitive development. Manheimer said the proposed transformer, slated for the old Volvo dealership on Patton Avenue, would be the “second ever” Gas Insulated Substation, be enclosed in a building and cost $2 million more.

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