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West Asheville Bookstore Will Appeal Violation Notice Over Weekly Needle Exchange Event

Matt Bush BPR
Firestorm Books & Coffee in West Asheville hosts the needle exchange program done by The Steady Collective once a week

A group that holds a weekly needle exchange program - and the West Asheville bookstore that hosts it - will both appeal violation notices issued by the city of Asheville.

The city issued a violation notice last month to The Steady Collective and Firestorm Books & Coffee, saying the weekly event hosted at the bookstore on Haywood Road violates city code.  In particular, the city claims the needle exchange event qualifies as a 'shelter', something zoning codes do not allow for in the area of West Asheville where Firestorm is located.  Under Asheville’s Unified Development Ordinance, a shelter is defined as ‘a nonprofit, charitable, or religious organization providing boarding and/or lodging and ancillary services on its premises to primarily indigent, needy, homeless, or transient persons.’  The violation notice was issued after the city said it received several neighborhood complaints.  Kairos West and 12 Baskets, which operate out of the same building, received similar violation notices but those were dropped after both came into compliance with city code.

Libertie Valance is a member of the collective that owns and operates Firestorm, and believes the shelter claim made by the city is absurd.  "I'm not quite sure how to say it other than we're not a shelter," Valance says.  "You'll see if you come in here you'll see we're operating a bookstore.  And like pretty much every other bookstore, we host community events."  The weekly needle exchange event is held in a room at the back of the bookstore.  Hillary Brown of The Steady Collective says the weekly event is more than just needle exchange.  She says they also distribute naxalone kits (used to treat those who have overdosed on opioids) as well as distribute supplies to people who take them to others that can not get to West Asheville.  Brown adds the need for The Steady Collective's work has increased in West Asheville because several homeless camps have been broken up in Asheville's River Arts District in recent months.

All sides will go before to the Asheville Board of Adjustments next month for a hearing.  If the city is victorious then Firestorm and the Steady Collective could each face fines of $100 a day if they do not comply with city code - something both say they do not have the money to pay for.

Matt Bush joined Blue Ridge Public Radio as news director in August 2016. Excited at the opportunity the build up the news service for both stations as well as help launch BPR News, Matt made the jump to Western North Carolina from Washington D.C. For the 8 years prior to coming to Asheville, he worked at the NPR member station in the nation's capital as a reporter and anchor. Matt primarily covered the state of Maryland, including 6 years of covering the statehouse in Annapolis. Prior to that, he worked at WMAL in Washington and Metro Networks in Pittsburgh, the city he was born and raised in.