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City reviews 2019 results, possible 2020 initiatives
Monday, 03 February 2020 12:17
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City of Asheville officials conducted a year-in-review as well as presented potential new initiatives for 2020 during the Jan. 17 meeting of the Council of Independent Business Owners at UNC Asheville’s Sherrill Center.

Mayor Esther Manheimer began the city update by noting, “Our City Manager Debra Campbell will make this presentation. I’m just going to open this up.”

Just before leaving the lectern, Manheimer asserted,  “The vision (for the city) has been distilled down to these core buckets.” She then she turned over the program to Campbell. 

The city manager then presented the following city priorities:

• “Transportation and accessibility”

• “Implement transit route reconfigurations”

• “Add frequency to some transit routes”

• “Clean and healthy environment”

• “Financially resilient city”

“Quality affordable housing is perhaps the key issue the city is addressing,” Campbell said.

To that end, she noted that “Deerfield Retirement Community (recently) donated $250,000 to the effort. It’s a community issue. We’re so proud they took a bold step.”

Next, Campbell said, “We’ve made considerable investments in the transit master plan... Luckily, we haven’t had any (major) glitches,” noting that Asheville has “added 22,000 hours of additional transit service.”

Regarding water projects, she said that “the irony is, as we continue to invest and upgrade our water projects, it’s damned if you do, and damned if you don’t....

“Another one that is getting lots of airplay is the renovation of the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium. I want to be perfectly clear… The only thing the city has done so far is fund a study. As to where the money will come for renovations, that’s still a discussion the community needs to have. There are tremendous needs for improvements. We’d like to enhance the expierence for those who attend (and perform) there.”

Next, Campbell presented an update on what she termed the city’s “hotel standards… Some of you may be aware of our hotel moratorium. We are in the process of looking at standards as to where we located hotels and whether those hotels should meet community objectives. We had our first session Jan. 9 with the Urban Land Institute. On Jan. 30, they will give us a buffet of things we might like to look at.”

On another matter, she said, “We’re working on a (revised) noise ordinance. We are trying to balance that between quality of life and vibrancy and economic development.”

As for new top city officials, she noted the addition of Assistant City Manager Richard J. White, hired last year.

The latest addition, Police Chief David Zack, 56, was hired Jan. 13 after a three-month search, she said.

Regarding Zack, Campbell said, “I really think this is going to be a seamless transition. He was a chief of police for nine years in Cheektowaga, N.Y.”

(Zack becomes Asheville’s fifth chief in eight years, leaving behind a three-decade career, and a lifetime, in Cheektowaga, which is a suburb of Buffalo. Cheektowaga has a population of 88,226 people, similar to that of Asheville’s 91,902.)

On a separate APD issue, Campbell noted that, beginning in 2020, the police department is changing from three to four districts as follows:

• Adam, covering West Asheville

• Baker, covering North and East Asheville

• Charlie, covering the Central Business District, South French Broad, River Arts District and Beaucatcher Mountain

• David, covering South Asheville

On yet another subject, Campbell said, “One tremendous need  (of the city) is related to capital investments — just the brick-and-mortar stuff the city does.”

She then noted that her “favorite quote” regarding running a city (by Leon Krier from his book, “The Architecture of Community”) is as follows:

“A city is not an accident but the result of coherent visions and aims.”

At that point, Campbell appeared to be delighted to turn the question-and-answer portion of the city presentation over to Manheimer, the mayor.

An unidentified man began the Q&A by asking about “a slide on infrastructure, etc…. including diversity. I wanted to ask about the plan for diversity for means of transportaiton, especially on electric scooters. What was the decision behind not allowing the scooters?”

With a smile, the mayor asked “if everyone” at the CIBO meeting “knows what electric scooters are?” Nearly all hands were raised.

She then asked, “How many people want electric scooters” in Asheville? To that, maybe five — or so — hands were raised. 

“That’s why we don’t have scooters,” Manheimer asserted, again with a smile.

She then told the meeting attendees how Bird Scooter left a number of scooters downtown twice, “without (city) permission, and we had them removed. “We went to court with them (and won) ….” 

She said the city has nothing personal against e-scooters, but, for now at least, officials believe “it’s just going to be another thing used by tourists that locals find an impediment.”

CIBO member Mac Swicegood commented to the mayor, “On your first slide, it said ‘essential service delivery.’ I haven’t heard anyone say how many police officers will be hired. Also, ‘issues with infrastructure’... The buses can’t even fit on the streets we have.” He ended his critique by saying that, in his personal assessment, “the Thomas Wolfe (Auditorium) is a wreck.”

In response, Manheimer said, “One of the things that Debra was showing here is we’ve adopted a robust plan and we’ve been implementing it. That’s one of the reasons we’re having the ‘boil water’ advisories.

“When we had the decision to go with four police districts, we (City Council) voted on the very controversial (move) to increase the police hiring. So this is the rollout of all the decision that is happening now.

“As for Thomas Wolfe (Auditorium) ... in our community, we are very fortunate to have a robust revenue from the tourism tax” to help fund its needed improvements.



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