Mayor’s Summary of the November 11, 2021 Town Council Meeting

Greetings fellow Montreaters,

Have you enjoyed the extended fall this year like I have? It seems that the colors have been more vibrant and longer lasting than I can remember.

Approximately 15 people joined the Council in the Town Hall tonight, with others watching the live stream. If you would like to view the recording, CLICK HERE.

Here’s a summary of the meeting:

  • In the Public Forum, the following questions/comments were offered:
    • Mary Standaert expressed her concern that after the Oct. 14 Planning & Zoning (P&Z) meeting and the Town Council meeting, a staff member was found to have contracted a breakthrough case of COVID, but the only attendees to the meetings that were contacted were the P&Z Commission and Town Council. No others were informed of the exposure. She wanted to know how the Town will respond in the future. I commented that Mary and I had a very productive discussion on this topic earlier in the week. We have instituted a process that all attendees to public meetings will sign in with contact info. If such a situation occurs again, all attendees will be notified. I thanked Mary for raising the issue and giving us an opportunity to improve our procedures.
    • Priscilla Hayner thanked the Board of Adjustment (BoA) for their work, but expressed concern that the venue for future meetings has been changed to the Town Hall and the perception that it implies. She also expressed concern that speakers in the BoA and P&Z meetings aren’t speaking into the microphones and are hard to hear. Alex Carmichael responded that Graham Chapel was not available for the meeting on the 17th, necessitating the move to the Town Hall. Mayor Pro Tem Widmer added that if the Board and the attorneys for all sides want to have longer meetings starting before 4:00pm, then the Town Hall is the only venue. The College is happy to let us use Graham Chapel, but it is only available after 4:00pm. As for the microphone issue, we all agreed with Priscilla that it is a problem and we need to be diligent in reminding speakers to speak directly into the microphone.
    • Martha Campbell reminded us that COVID relief funds may be available from Buncombe County and recommended we apply for those funds. She also said we should be ready to apply for the recently approved Federal infrastructure funds for Town projects.
    • Bill Scheu, P&Z Chair, gave an update on the proceedings of the P&Z meeting earlier in the day. He said that if the Council approves the formation of the Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee tonight, they will quickly formalize their appointments to the committee; he recommended we approve the ordinance revisions for Septic and Wells; he asked that we charge the P&Z with the job of reviewing and revising the Stormwater Ordinance; he also commented that the Commission will be working on the sign, setback and hillside ordinances in the future. We thanked Bill and his Commission for their dedicated work.
    • Wade Burns expressed his desire that he would like to buy water from the town for his property in the ETJ; he also stated that he will be working with other property owners in the ETJ regarding voluntary annexation; and he expressed his hope that the Town will install water and wastewater infrastructure in the ETJ.
  • After a brief (1 minute!) break, I called the Town Council Meeting to order. In my comments, I reminded everyone about today’s Veteran’s Day holiday and that the freedom we enjoy is, in large part, due to what the veterans had done on our behalf.
  • I then opened the Public Hearing on the Ordinance Amendments for Septic and Wells. Mary Standaert asked if the ordinance changes will allow property owners in the ETJ to apply for wells. Zoning Administrator Scott Adams responded yes, they will be able to apply for a permit from Buncombe County Health Department (BCHD). She also asked what  would happen if they couldn’t have a well due to lot size. Scott responded that the BCHD would investigate the site and make a determination. Commissioner Fouche asked if two property owners would be able to share a well. Scott commented that he thought that was possible, but the properties would need to meet BCHD regulations and performance standards. Martha Campbell asked if the revised ordinance still prohibited privies. Scott indicated that privies were still prohibited. She also asked if lots can be combined, and Scott responded affirmatively. I then closed out the Public Hearing.
  • In his report, Town Administrator Alex Carmichael reported that the Town can sell water to property owners in the ETJ at a different rate from those who live within the Town limits. He explained how we might go about determining water fees for properties outside Town limits. He then asked Jarod McIntosh, Water Operator, to review fees. Our current fee for water within Town limits is $4.95/1000 gallons, in comparison, Black Mountain charges $7.51/1000 gallons within town limits and $12.23/1000 gallons outside town limits. We will study an acceptable fee structure to consider selling water to those outside Montreat Town limits.
  • During Public Comments:
    • Martha Campbell thanked the P&Z for their tireless work and the BoA for their work. She recommended the Council pass a resolution thanking both groups for their work. I commented that they indeed have been working hard and reminded her that the Council passed a resolution thanking the P&Z several months ago and will do so for the BoA when their work is completed. She also asked that the Council share what the final Town costs are for the BoA Special Use Permit hearing at its conclusion. I agreed that we would do so.
    • Commissioner Fouche then asked Alex if he had any figures on the cost so far. Alex stated that he figured that our cost, including attorneys, court reporter, and audio/visual expense is $655 per hour of testimony. He then said that total expense thus far, including case preparation, training, and meeting costs is $21,235.
    • Shirley Mitchell expressed concern that the Montreat Stewards have not had a chance to present their case at the BoA hearing. I explained that MRA has not finished presenting their case and those opposing the project will have equal time, with no limitations, to present their case.
  • There was no Old Business, so the Council moved directly to New Business and:
    • Approved an ordinance to establish and ad hoc Comprehensive Plan Update Steering Committee
    • Approved the general ordinance revisions for septic and wells
    • Approved a budget amendment to transfer $10,000 for funding of the Comprehensive Plan update
    • Tabled a motion to award a bid for consulting services to Nealon Planning and JM Teague Engineering and Planning for the Comprehensive Plan pending concerns about their proposal. I asked Alex, Mayor Pro Tem Widmer and P&Z Chair Bill Scheu to meet with the firms to work out the concerns.
  • In Commissioners’ Communications:
    • Commissioner Lentz read a letter of resignation, effective December 9, 2021. She thanked the Council, staff and residents for their support and feels positive about the work she and the Council have accomplished in the four years she has served. I expressed appreciation to Alice for her thoroughness and dedication to the work of the Board.
    • Commissioner Fouche expressed her thanks to Alice for her being an excellent commissioner. Other Commissioners voiced similar sentiments.
    • Mayor Pro Tem Widmer reminded the public to send in their staff “thank you” notes, which will be presented at the staff thank you luncheon next week. He also thanked the Presbyterian Heritage Center, especially Nancy Midgette, for partnering with the Town on “Did You Know?” facts which now appear twice monthly in the Montreat Minute.

That was all, so I said good night to everyone and adjourned the meeting.

If you have any questions about this meeting summary, please write me at [email protected] or call me at 828/669-3852.

Thank you for your support and encouragement,

Mayor Tim Helms on behalf of the Town Council