Tonight’s marathon meeting of the Buncombe County Commissioners began with an ironic pairing. The first item on the agenda was the economic development incentive for New Belgium Breweries. The commissioners gave the county permission to pay, from its stash of magic money, $650,000 a year for thirteen years.
The next item was a simple rezoning request. Since Buncombe County was only recently zoned, the commissioners can’t really be expected to have a grip on the gist of rezoning hearings. So, the drama was allowed to unfold. The owner/operator of a halfway house was discovered to be noncompliant with R1 zoning. Aspersions were cast that the snitch may have been the owner/operator of the halfway house across the street. The latter was certified and grandfathered-in. The former just claimed success in helping addicts dry out and become productive citizens. The owner/operator said she had lost her license for being in a relationship with a client. Both sides brought human evidence of the success of their programs.
Now, none of that has anything to do with the question at hand, which was whether or not the house could appropriately be zoned as institutional. Commissioner Bill Stanley took the proper course and said he would advocate for the right of the property owner to do as she pleases. Perceiving the way the vote would go, Commissioner Carol Weir Peterson said she certainly hoped members of staff would catch up with the people who would be out on the street afterward to hook them up with, albeit government, services. Was a loving support system about to be demolished in the name of procedures, or was a slimy operation about to be shut down on a technicality, because the law can’t say much about right and wrong anymore? Not to worry, so long as the maps have the correct alphanumeric symbols.
Frequent public commentator Lisa Landis, who said she was a recovering alcoholic, disapproved of the commissioners using tax dollars to support a brewery when around 90% of crimes are drug and alcohol related.* The county would pay $650,000 a year for thirteen years upfront, but then it could pay more for public safety and social services. Then, it could pick up the tab for the booted people who had been trying to mend their lives with private-sector support.
On the bright side, the Town of Sylva recently inherited a lot of wires when an incentivized fiber optics operation went under. If New Belgium’s Asheville plant fails, government could get stuck with lots of beer.
*I don’t have much use for statistics in the social sciences, and neither should you. (Can I say that?) Anyway, statistics vary, but it is always easy to find a study that puts the number up over 90%. One study has the number as low as about 22%, but then the researchers were tasked with determining if there was any correlation between drug and alcohol crimes and harm.
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