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Candidates Forum

Tuesday, Sept. 15,  7-9 pm

Doors open at 6:30

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90 Montford Ave. Asheville

 

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Breaking News:

The Asheville City Council has delayed vote on the proposed city steep slope ordinance.  More will follow.

Speak out to Save Our Slopes!

Write in support of regulating development on areas above 15% grade or 2220 elevation. What would be most powerful are personal stories of how steep slope development has impacted your quality of life with details on the elevation or slope.  You can get slope information for your property at http://earth.google.com/   

You don't have to live in the city to speak. If you've been negatively impacted by steep slope development in the county at a grade below 25% or 2500 elevation or have done research on the topic, it's important for the public and officials to hear about that.

The developers WERE be paid to be there:

The Chamber of Commerce, Biltmore Farms, CIBO, the Homebuilders Association, and Board       of Realtors want to raise the threshold to 2500-ft and 25% grade. (PLEASE NOTE: many ECO certified REALTORS® in our area understand the implications of inappropriate planning and development and do not support the increase in elevation and slope.)  These organizations will have paid representatives on hand to argue their case, which was recently accepted without question by the city planning board.  Judging from the letters to the editor, the number of hits on our webpage and the people we talk to in the community -- I am convinced that the general population is tired of seeing the vested interests drive our public policy while turning our mountainsides and ridgetops into a menagerie of beached cruise ships. 

Details below, please send to everyone who loves these mountains!:

I've attached a great overview of the proposed steep slope ordinance process to date (thanks Jake Quinn!! you rock!!!) -- please send this email to all neighborhood groups.  DJ Gerken of the Southern Environmental Law Center has been following this process closely and researching steep slope policy in-depth.  He said the original proposed slope ordinance was very good, but it has been drastically watered down with time.  Email me if you need a copy of the ordinance or a copy of the soil study noted below. 

We've got something very special here in Asheville (and I'm not just talking about my dog!) -- if you can't make this meeting to speak out for better regulation of slope development, then please drop the City Council a line. You can find their addresses at: www.mvalliance.net/Toolkit.htm.

JAKE'S REVIEW: Please read!

On Wednesday, April 4, I attended the Planning & Zoning Commission meeting, where the Steep Slopes and Ridgetops protection ordinance was on the agenda.  I presented testimony on behalf of the Grove Park Sunset Mtn. Neighborhood Association, and that testimony reflected the content of the letter that Grace Curry sent to City officials on the subject.  Our testimony also addressed some new areas of concern, including a proposal to raise the elevation threshold for the application of the ordinance from 2220 feet to 2500 feet.

Incredibly, the P&Z Commission acceded to the wishes of the Chamber of Commerce and other pro-development interests in raising the elevation threshold for steep slope strictures to 2500' from the 2220' level it had been in every draft of the ordinance.  This change was made despite the fact that:

1)      evidence was presented demonstrating Asheville’s historic use of the 2220' elevation as a “steep slope” demarcation line;

2)      the 2220' threshold was based on a soil and topographic analysis performed by disinterested third-party experts;

3)      evidence was presented from the North Carolina Geological Survey indicating the dangers of landslides on slopes above 2220' in Asheville; and

4)      no evidence whatsoever was presented to support the 2500' elevation.

Similar disregard was shown to arguments about slope threshold requirements to trigger mandatory geotechnical analysis of sites slated for development.  And provisions about retaining walls were crafted hastily and based to a considerable extent on a Merrimon Avenue corridor study that may have questionable relevance to steep slope issues; all public input on retaining walls was effectively ignored.  A drastically weakened Steep Slopes and Ridgetops “protection” ordinance was passed by a 6-1 vote (Chairman Byers being the sole dissenter on that panel).  The GPSMNA’s request for passage of a strong ordinance went unheeded.  I must say (and I suspect you can tell from my tone) that I was surprised and disappointed by this turn of affairs.

Apparently the 2220’ threshold has its origins in the Hillside Ordinance, which was developed in 1986-87 and implemented in 1988.  A team of eight people developed this, including representatives of the U.S. Soils Conservation Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Forest Service, the North Carolina Department of Natural Resources and Community Development, two staff members from Asheville City Planning (one of whom still works for the City), and one representative each from City Engineering and Legal Services.  A memorandum describing the Hillside Ordinance process includes the following:

“[m]ost of the area of areas of severe soil limitations for development… (which are generally more than 15% slope) are located above elevation 2,220.”

This conclusion was based on review of materials provided by the U.S. Soils Conservation Service, the USGS and the City of Asheville, and was incorporated in the Hillside Ordinance.  I am unaware of any challenge to the accuracy and legitimacy of this analysis or the group’s conclusions and recommendations.  Until now, over 20 years later, when the Chamber of Commerce and other groups claim that there is no basis for the 2220’ elevation threshold.

Earlier in the process of developing the Steep Slopes and Ridgetops protection ordinance, City Planning & Development staff had prepared and distributed a topographic map of Asheville that highlighted those areas above 2220’ elevation that would be affected by the ordinance.  Unfortunately, no such topographic map has been provided to show the areas above 2500’.  Curious to see what effect raising the threshold would have on the area of the City that would be covered by the ordinance, I went to the County’s GIS web site and found that the 2500’ contour is highlighted in red, making it very easy to follow on the map.  When I superimposed the Asheville city map, I found surprisingly little terrain > 2500’ within the City’s limits.  The difference that 280 feet of elevation makes is significant.

With respect to the six GPSMNA divisions of our neighborhood, I have concluded the following:

bullet At 2200’ all except number 1 and parts of numbers 2 and 3 would be subject to steep slope protection strictures.  That’s most of the neighborhood, especially if you factor out the golf course; but
bullet At 2500’ no property in numbers 1, 2, 3 or 6 would be covered by the ordinance; all property in number 5 is above 2500’ and so would be covered; the northern half of number 4 is generally above 2500’, while the southern half straddles the line.  Thus, only a small portion of our neighborhood would be protected.

To add some perspective, none of the recent or current development on Sunset Drive, Innsbruck Road or Macon Avenue would have been subject to the ordinance reported out of P&Z.  Had the 2220’ threshold been maintained, then all of those projects would have been subject to the closer regulation afforded by a strict steep slope protection ordinance.

I did this review using the County’s GIS website, which I presume to be accurate.  If anyone would like some help playing with the GIS web site, please let me know.

Now this ordinance goes to City Council, where its entire contents can be revisited.  This item is not on the agenda for this Tuesday’s (April 10) meeting, but beyond that I don’t know how soon it will be considered by Council.  There is a CAN meeting on Monday (April 9), and as Barbara Melton represented CAN at P&Z on the 4th (and appeared as disappointed as I in the outcome), I expect there will be considerable discussion devoted to this topic.  I expect, too, plans of action to be forthcoming.

Jake Quinn

Area 4 Rep (and sitting below 2500’)

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Board approves Cliffs in FAIRVIEW.

 

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Woodfin Planning & Zoning Meeting,  April 2, 6:30 pm. Conditional Use Permit for Progress Energy. We won this round! See article here.   PROGRESS ENERGY BLOCKED, BUT STILL HOLDS LEASE

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Concerned about air pollution from Blue Ridge Paper Mill in Canton? An information session sponsored by Clean Water for North Carolina will be held Monday, April 2, at 7 pm in Waynesville.   Read more.

The Public Hearing regarding the permit for the plant will be held on Tuesday, April 3, at 6 pm in Canton. Comments are encouraged.  Read the report.

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City of Asheville Steep Slope Ordinance - P&Z Review                                               Wednesday, April 4, 5 pm 161 S. Charlotte St.   Agenda

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Artist Creates Jewelry for Mountain Voices AllianceView the necklace.

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NC "Million Acre Plan" falling short.  Read the article

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NC:  A Leader in Toxic Air Emissions - article

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UPDATE: Now 3 opportunities to provide property tax relief for wildlife conservation lands. Write in support of these critical bills.

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Step It Up! 2007 - April 14 - info here.

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Jackson County OK's Moratorium

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Beaverdam Residents Sue Planning Board