by Leslee Kulba
Wild West blogger
Tonight, we witnessed something that happens about once every ten years. It was a public meeting where sense outweighed nonsense. Asheville City Council held a fifth-Tuesday community meeting. Staff presented some sweet nothings before opening the floor to members of the public. And would you believe that in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, people were, miracle of miracles, standing up to government?
Much to my wondering eyes, the opposition to the Business Improvement District had organized, and about a dozen members showed up to voice their concerns. Chris Peterson, who has a knack for supporting the right side of issues, spoke first. He said things hadn’t been too rosy for downtown business and property owners, and prospects for the near-term vary. A new quarter-cent tax has just been levied for AB Tech. The BID is suggesting a seven-cent tax, but BIDs in other areas have required taxes in the teens. The county isn’t going to announce its tax rate until August, and everybody knows the county will be hurting for money, so property owners can only brace themselves for another tax increase. A couple others told how they rent, and property owners are not going to sit and suck up the increase, but they will pass it on to tenants. A couple others told how passing the damage to tenants will marginalize small businesses, causing only the likes of multinational corporations to be able to do business downtown.
Even a contingency of local anarchists asserted their rights. Julie Schneyer asked exactly what kind of policing power these ambassadors were supposed to have. Root Robbins said the BID would marginalize not only small businesses, but low-income households, a demographic with a preponderance of minorities. To embrace the BID would be to fly in the face of the funkiness, individuality, diversity, and entrepreneurship that made Asheville attractive and economically viable. Even Asheville School Board member Al Whitesides asked when the city was going to stop bringing in outsiders to move the black people around according to their plans. Minorities want a voice at the table. Whitesides was “appalled” at how civic leaders were still playing chess.
Wes Reinhardt, among others, asked the city to please crunch some numbers. The Utopian BID that was proposed was beautiful, indeed; but the BID advocates’ “structure, methodology, and concepts” were flawed. People asked to see numbers. When no more hands went up, Peterson asked if he could have a second turn. He said he did not want the city to impose a corridor plan on Charlotte Street. The study would cost $50,000, and the city’s investment in staffing the BID would be another $200,000. If the city could just hold off on those items for another year, they could give their employees their long-awaited raise.
For the grand finale, Councilman Cecil Bothwell said it was amazing he should agree with Peterson after Peterson had spent so much money trying to keep him out of office. However, if the city needs more money, it should levy a tax across the board, and not just in one area. Services, likewise, should not be enhanced for only one area. Worse, the BID, as members of the public had indicated, represented an added layer of bureaucracy. Like the TDA, it would be able to make decisions for the people, but the people would not be able to vote unpopular decision-makers out of office. Bothwell said he would not be voting in favor of the BID.