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Edney manifesto recasts city, county roles in utilities, zoning and development

An excerpt from Commissioner Michael Edney’s manifesto on city and county roles in providing services and regulating development. An excerpt from Commissioner Michael Edney’s manifesto on city and county roles in providing services and regulating development.

At the tail end of the county’s annual day-long budget workshop last month, Commissioner Michael Edney announced that in the interest of time he’d have to defer his wrap-up comments and direction to staff on his priorities.

It was probably a good call. On Sunday Edney shared with his colleagues and senior staff members a 950-word manifesto that proposes a breathtaking series of changes, including starting a countywide water and sewer authority and making an effort to roll back the policy of the city of Hendersonville to annex property that needs sewer service. In the document, Edney also suggests the county should block cities from using zoning authority outside their boundaries and for good measure pitches two major recreation projects — a tournament quality soccer park and an amphitheater “capable of attracting national acts.”
An attorney who has served on the board for 20 years, Edney emailed the statement to define “the relationship between Henderson County and the municipalities therein” on Sunday afternoon. By Monday night city officials from around the county had seen copies of it, too, and were trying to decide how to respond. Edney suggested ways the county and its five cities could collaborate on providing services while also highlighting what he called obstacles to cooperation. Those hurdles, he said, include “the resistance of the city of Hendersonville to a jointly owned and operated Water and Sewer Authority” and “the insistence by the City of Hendersonville, Town of Laurel Park and Village of Flat Rock that they control areas that are outside of what is allowed by State Law” by using extraterritorial zoning power.
“My goal is that we have a lot of potential opportunities to work together but we’ve also got a lot of turf stuff to overcome to get there,” he said in an interview Monday. “But we’ve done it before and I think we can do it again.”


Water wars redux


Several of the areas Edney suggested needs to be resolved have come up for years, even decades, particularly the conflict between the city and county over water and sewer and the city’s ability to influence growth by providing service. In addition to its inside customers, the city provides water service to Flat Rock and Laurel Park and parts of Mills River and it extends sewer service to customers outside the city limits if they user agrees to be annexed. Commissioners have for years opposed the annexation requirement.
“It’s something we whisper about but never do anything about,” Commissioner Rebecca McCall said. “It’s something we need to collaborate on and come together and make some decisions.”

Edney characterized the document as a starting point for discussion of a variety of issues that need to be resolved. In it, he said the county “should design and build wastewater collection-treatment to serve the U.S. Hwy 64 corridor from the eastern continental divide to the Countyline at Etowah,” suggesting that it could partner with Buncombe-based Metropolitan Sewer District on sewer and potentially the city of Asheville on water.
“It’s brainstorming,” he said of his utilities ideas. “You’ve got the Asheville water treatment sitting out there (on the Mills River at the French Broad). When you’re thinking outside the box you try to throw it all in.”

Mayor Barbara Volk said Tuesday morning she had just gotten a copy of Edney’s manifesto on Tuesday and was working on a response.
“We will have something but it won’t be today,” she said. “I haven’t talked to the other council members or (city manager) John Connet.” She said she hoped to talk to elected officials in other cities as well and possibly draft a joint response.
On the issue of sewer service, Edney has allies among fellow commissioners.

“He’s sharing his thoughts and his views,” Commissioner Daniel Andreotta said. “It’s something I’m inclined to agree with. I’m sure we’ll talk about it as a board and possibly make finer points out of some of those but in principle I’ve got no problem with anything he shared. … Most of those things in one form or another most of us have said publicly before.”
Requiring annexation in return for sewer service is “a concern,” he said. “It’s a problem and going forward we’ll see what the best solutions are. I think it’s a great idea for the county to be in the sewer and/or water and sewer business. … As far as an amphitheater, I’ll admit that’s a new one on me but I’ll listen to anything.”
Commissioner David Hill said he would support Edney’s ideas on utilities if the county can afford it.
“I would be in favor it,” he said. “It all comes down to the money. We don’t want to be a burden on the taxpayer. The more government does, the more it costs.”
As for county commissioners’ views on the city’s power through utility extensions, “I’d say we’ve been in conversation,” he said. “This is not a new issue.
“I want to work with all our municipalities,” he added. “We’re not going to see everything eye to eye for sure but where we can we’ve got to do our best to serve our citizens.”
Flat Rock Mayor Nick Weedman said Edney’s policy document puts in writing what’s been talked about for years.
“Clearly what they’re trying to do is to justify getting into the sewer business,” he said. “It really begs the questions whether the county should really be the operator of a countywide sewer system and maybe water and sewer. If you look at a map (of the city’s boundaries) it looks like the map has measles and that’s because the city has done satellite annexation in areas well outside the current city limits. When they do that they have to provide fire and police protection. So they’re doing things that to me are irrational.”
He mentioned specifically the city’s acquisition of land outside the city limits for Fire Station 3 less than a mile from Blue Ridge Fire & Rescue headquarters.
“I have vocally opposed the installation of that station,” he said. “It’s a problem that needs to be solved. Edney doesn’t come out and say that directly but that’s really what needs to happen. What should happen is the county should purchase those parts of Hendersonville water and sewer that serve county areas.”
When Hendersonville annexes land rural fire departments lose that part of their tax base. The city recently amended its policy to reimburse the departments for the lost revenue for five years after an annexation.


‘Reimagine recreation’

 

Edney pointed out that the county and cities had collaborated on successful ventures in the past, including the health sciences center and Pardee Cancer Center, the Ecusta Trail and economic development projects. Areas where the county could look at partnerships include recreation, emergency dispatch and a Fletcher library.
The cities and county could “reimagine (the) Recreation Department to take advantage of existing municipal and school facilities” and “partner to expand golfing opportunities to all.”
Although a citizens group in Fletcher wants Henderson County to build a new library next to the town hall, Edney proposes only that the county manage and operate a new facility built by the town.
Combining the county 911 center and the city’s police dispatching office is “something we’ve talked about over the years and nothing’s ever gotten any traction.,” he said. “Especially with the technology it seems like it would make sense.”
The Walk of Fame, a joint-city county effort, has placed commemorative stones along King Street. Edney wants to fix that. He’s open to the idea of moving the Walk of Fame to the expanded Hands On! children’s museum.
“I’m talking about doing something like that or on Main Street,” Edney said. “Unless you know what you’re looking for and go hunting nobody ever sees it.”
Several times in the interview Edney described his ideas as “outside the box” and not fully formed with details then explained his thinking behind each one.
An amphitheater? “We’ve got the makings of one in Jackson Park” on the slope below the house on the hilltop.
Training interns here instead of at Mission-based MAHEC (Mountain Area Health Education Center) in Asheville? “It’s just always been a dream of mine to have a medical school in our county,” he said. “There’s a lot of obstacles. You’ve got to have enough hospital beds to train them. Now that Mission is private for-profit I just see some potential.”
Creating incentives to keep property under the county’s jurisdiction as opposed to “forced voluntary annexation” in exchange for sewer service? “I’ve got some ideas but I want to think them through and make sure there are no unintended consequences,” he said. “There are things we could do that would make someone think twice if they went in (to the city) just to get sewer.”
He also would like to end cities’ use of zoning outside their boundaries, another idea that has the support of his fellow commissioners. (Although Edney tags Hendersonville, Laurel Park and Flat Rock for zoning outside their boundaries, Flat Rock has no ETJ.)
“ETJ is just an antiquated idea,” he said. “The folks who live in it are subject to regulation by someone they have absolutely say in the manner.”
County Manager John Mitchell said Edney had responded as all commissioners are entitled to the staff’s invitation to share their vision and budget priorities for the coming years.
“The purpose of our January meeting is to get direction from the board,” he said. “We look at our strategic plan, which is the budget, and that’s a time where it’s appropriate for the board to talk about setting a vision and direction for the county. The only difference between having that discussion upstairs and the one Michael Edney sent is that it happens to be in writing. They were the ones elected by the people to set direction for the county. I know he’ll be talking about his email with the board in the coming months.”
Board Chair Bill Lapsley said he’s prepared to join the conversation whenever it comes up.
“While I share some of his concerns there are others with which I disagree,” he said. “If Commissioner Edney wishes to bring these matters up to the board for discussion at a future public meeting I will present my views.”