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Neighborhood Advocates Beg Better City Communications


Contrasted to the backdrop of America’s Constitutional crisis, race riots, rampant immorality, and impossible debt, arguing for a few feet this way or that would be like fiddling while Rome burned. But as the meeting proceeded, a pernicious undercurrent came to light.

Council Bothwell was the first to hint there might be an elephant in the room. He suggested council postpone a vote. Viewing the proposed amendment from the perspective of his own experience in the construction business, he found it confusing. Although Mayor Esther Manheimer judged the ordinance as a move in the right direction, Bothwell didn’t see why it stopped so short of the finish line. Inconsistent and illogical details remained, and Bothwell didn’t see why percentages of allowable floor space had to be tiered. The amendment would not allow a person in a 1000 sq. ft. house to offer their entire basement for rent. “Another 300 sq. ft. would not change the traffic patterns,” he quipped, then added, “Why are we still limiting if we are trying to expand the amount of available housing?”

Bothwell gave his line of inquiry a rest after Manheimer suggested his questions were rhetorical and putting the presenter on the spot. But Gwen Wisler picked it up. She said there was a lot of misconception in the community, and she recommended council take the time to foster buy-in. “Even from the last public hearing, we’ve changed what the proposal is,” she noted.

During public comment, Barber Melton, who wears a number of hats as she remains an active exponent for Asheville neighborhoods, explained the Affordable Housing Advisory Committee had not been presented with a copy of the proposed amendment for review. “The devil was in the details,” she said, “and we did not have the details.”

Mike Lewis, who has played a high-profile role looking out for the interests of the Grace neighborhood through the years, referenced a discrepancy in height regulations. City Attorney Robin Currin said that concern had been corrected after the document was presented to the Planning and Zoning Commission. Lewis, seeming to recall seeing it not corrected in something he had just read, asked city leadership to take another ninety days to iron things out. He said the city was performing “a social experiment with my neighborhood,” and pointed out the ordinance, in not so many words, erroneously assumed a utopia in which all ADU’s would be affordable, long-lease, and well-managed.

Parties backing the ordinance described it as moving in the right direction, removing inconsistencies and broadening opportunities. Manheimer, in her dry sense of humor, muttered, “It’s not a complete week unless we get an email from Mike Lewis telling us we’ve fallen down again on communications.” She felt the ordinance proposed nothing dramatic; a similar ordinance was passed in Boulder, CO, without incident. Even so, she saw room for improvement in the city’s communications, as the presentation council had just viewed had not been made available until that very day.

Bothwell closed saying, “I agree with the need. I think the idea’s really good. But what I’m hearing from the community again, as I’ve heard in the five and a half years I’ve been here, is they‘re feeling ambushed. They’re feeling like they didn’t get enough information ahead. When I hear that the Coalition of Asheville Neighborhoods got a presentation that didn’t have the details – What? Shouldn’t we have gotten the details out to the community first? I mean, why can’t we achieve that time after time after time? Now, I know that people drag behind. I know that people don’t follow the news carefully enough. Everybody’s busy. But I think it’s a real tragedy that over and over and over again people like Barber, who’s really engaged, didn’t know the details. Now how can she not know the details when she’s followed every development plan in this city for twenty years or more? I mean, that doesn’t work for me. It really doesn’t work for me.” Bothwell’s was the lone dissenting vote.

In Other Matters –

As expected, Councilman Chris Pelly cast the lone vote against the city’s 2015-2016 Annual Operating Budget. He reiterated his opposition to the 1.5-cent tax increase, believing the city would better serve taxpayers by spending down its surplus fund balance. At the last meeting, members of council were told maintaining the fund balance well above the comfortable level of 15 percent of the operating budget would help the city get better interest rates for its aggressive capital improvement plan. “I have no problem with what’s within the budget,” said Pelly. “It’s more the mechanism of how we’re funding it.”

To recap, the city expects to spend $103 million during the next fiscal year. Taxes will increase to 47.5 cents per $100 of assessed property value. The state’s revocation of municipalities’ powers to charge business privilege license fees was blamed for a $1.5 million budgetary shortfall. Widening the gap between revenues and expenditures was the need to make city employees’ wages more competitive. A 1-percent across-the-board raise was promised, as well as living wages for all temporary/seasonal employees. The city will continue to pursue its five-year, $142,197,272 million capital improvement plan, and it will give $538,000 to Linamar and New Belgium for creating jobs and investing in the community. With what the city terms “reducing taxpayer subsidy of programs,” citizens will enjoy a 5-percent increase in stormwater fees, a 50-percent increase in solid waste fees, and sundry increases in water rates.

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