Despite ‘physical anxiety,’ Council approves 416-unit South Asheville subdivision

Riverwoods site graphic
INTO THE WOODS: At 137 acres, the Riverwoods project approved by City Council on Jan. 8 is roughly half the size of downtown Asheville. Graphic courtesy of the city of Asheville

Six hands shot skyward as Asheville City Council took its Jan. 8 vote on approving the Riverwoods Subdivision, a 416-unit for-sale development on Ferry Road in South Asheville. After a brief moment, Council member Keith Young joined his colleagues, lifting his own hand to affirm a project that will transform a rural parcel roughly half the size of downtown.

Young cited the project’s lack of affordability as the reason for his hesitation in remarks before the vote. Although Los Angeles-based developer Ron Hirji agreed to make some of the units affordable to buyers earning 100 percent of the area median income ($43,000 per year for an individual), Young said that effort “doesn’t even take a blip off the radar” for Asheville’s affordable housing crisis.

“When I say I literally have physical anxiety about supporting this project, that is real and true,” Young said. “A part of me really feels like I’m letting folks down by approving this project.”

However, Young acknowledged that the subdivision filled a housing need for residents at higher income levels. Jennifer Lanning of Exit Realty, representing the developer, said that the property’s 188 single-family homes could sell for up to $450,000 each. The project’s affordable housing would come from its 36 condominiums, which she said would be listed in the $200,000 range; the remaining units would consist of 188 duplexes and four live-work units at unspecified prices.

Young also noted that the property has long been “in limbo,” echoing earlier remarks by Mayor Esther Manheimer. The mayor explained that the site was once owned by the city but had undergone a complicated series of transactions between area governments, including Buncombe County’s 2015 purchase of the property for $6.8 million as part of an effort to attract Oregon-based Deschutes Brewery that ultimately failed.

“Buncombe County got left holding this property, and now they’ve found someone who will purchase the property and develop it,” Manheimer said. “So this kind of brings this whole situation to a close in my mind, and luckily we’re looking at housing, which is something that we very much need.”

Several residents criticized the deal during public comment, including Casey Campfield, who said the developer’s affordability offer was too low. “Five percent affordable units, when the definition of affordable seems to be heavily qualified here, leaves 95 percent of these units not available for people who make [over the AMI],” he said. “I think that you can negotiate better than that for the citizens of Asheville.”

Council member Julie Mayfield subsequently suggested that the developer offer 10 percent of the units as affordable, but Lanning said those involved with the project “don’t want to necessarily commit to that until we know what the economy’s going to be doing.” She instead offered a guarantee of 8 percent affordability, which Council accepted.

After the vote, Mayfield noted that the subdivision was the first private for-sale development for which Council had secured any affordability guarantees. She suggested that similar projects could be possible but would benefit from more thoughtful scrutiny.

“We need to figure it out. If we had a little more time, we might have come to a different place,” Mayfield said, although she did not call for a delay in Council’s approval before the vote. “I think none of us rest well, knowing the affordability issues that we have.”


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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the former news editor of Mountain Xpress. His work has also appeared in Sierra, The Guardian, and Civil Eats, among other national and regional publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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30 thoughts on “Despite ‘physical anxiety,’ Council approves 416-unit South Asheville subdivision

  1. Samantha Barnwell

    I think this is ridiculous. Too much land developing is happening far too quickly. We do not need more housing we need pay raises to meet cost of living. Land should be protected and nurtured we have so little of it left. Wildlife are being forced into areas too small to accommodate them. Traffic is an absolute nightmare and getting worse. I’m afraid for my home town.

    • AD

      Agreed. The whole housing developing, low income or higher end,is out of control. Our roads can’t handle this! Our wildlife can’t handle it. STOP!!! These developers don’t live here! Fix the road infrastructure first, and in maybe 50 years when it’s a little better, than start to develop more apartments

    • Enlightened Enigma

      Traffic gonna get worse if we cannot get City Council to ban tourism … ;) Between the traffic and the tourists destroying our sidewalks – we gotta stop these tourists for sustainability now!

    • Lou

      I am just as afraid…the natural beauty for which Asheville is famous is quickly disappearing.

    • NFB

      More housing is indeed needed to make room for all the people who want to move here. Higher wages alone won’t help with the affordability problem because higher wages will attract more people and thus will do nothing about the supply portion of the supply and demand issues that is a major factor in the affordable housing crisis. There is really nothing that can be done about people wanting to live and/or move here. The word is out and there is no stuffing that genie back in the bottle.

  2. jonathan wainscott

    That’s not physical pain from anxiety Mr. Young. It’s exhaustion from trying to keep up with the increasing DEMAND for space ($17+ million dollars a year for advertising Buncombe/Asheville from hotel taxes) with negligible resources to provide SUPPLY.
    Affordability is PRICE. PRICE is set by SUPPLY and DEMAND. The price of housing will be high until we address both factors of the equation.
    We need to address the structure of our hotel occupancy tax, and that takes negotiation with the State Legislature, so maybe it’s time to take a look at which battles we choose to engage. Fortunately, you and the rest of this council have been given an extra year of service to Asheville and you won’t be facing re-election until 2020. Please use this extra year to help manage Asheville’s growth responsibly.
    Thanks- j

    • Zo

      I couldn’t agree with you more. I feel as though the city of Asheville does not care for the environment or for traffic problems. They should be limiting how many subdivisions and apartments are being built, not helping support them. I fear as Asheville transforms into a large city, it is slowly losing it’s culture and Appalachian heritage.

      • Enlightened Enigma

        Zo…it’s a lack of leadership as it has largely been for decades….perhaps the most pathetically run city on the east coast …overrun by WAY too much public housing already…

  3. Peter Hura

    This is going to put an incredible amount of strain on the inadequate infrastructure around the Bent Creek area (Rt. 191-Brevard Rd) which is already backed up every day, and worse during the tourist season. 4 lanes reduced down to 2 from the Arboretum southbound to Airport Rd poses a real problem with traffic and safety. As a resident who frequently needs to access 191, I have experience frequent hazards and difficulties trying to enter & exit my subdivision. Not to mention the delays & hazards at Brevard and Clayton. The infrastructure needs to be brought up to speed to accommodate such large housing/population increases.

    • Lulz

      LOL maybe they can bike cause after these clowns ban cars, that’s exactly what you’ll be doing. But you guys keep promoting progress. Eventually the label of rubes will end up on your doorstep.

  4. Regina Michelle Tate

    Asheville – a paradise lost to greed, corruption, & exploitation. Keep destroying the environment & soon tourism will stop. Pander to elite groups and soon the working class will leave also. City council members have forgotten & disregarded their obligation to the citizens of Asheville.

    • Lulz

      Why they sound like a bunch of republicans. Try voting in even bigger left leaning buffoons. And when nothing changes realize that those who claim to represent the working man are actually the same elitist scumbags they accuse others of being.

  5. Jon King

    Wouldn’t Bent Creek be a more accurate description of where this subdivision is planned? At least to me, South Asheville is much more the Arden/Skyland region.

  6. Ken

    As someone who is planning to move to Asheville I’d rather not see these approved.

    • Lulz

      LOL gotta love this mentality. I’m planning on moving there but don’t build more.

    • NFB

      Too late. We need these houses because so many people are doing what you are planning to do — move here.

    • Donna

      Love the project. Will provide housing, employment. What a gift to expand and create a rich community.

  7. Stop Cutting Trees

    Please stop cutting down the trees! People need to live somewhere but so does nature. Don’t go the way of Florida and become a non-stop suburb.

  8. Enlightened Enigma

    but alas…this property could have been another beer brewery so isn’t housing more desireable AND needed ??? sheesh…give it a rest people! this tract is not even close to town…

  9. Jerry

    $200000 condominiums are affordable housing? Even at Asheville’s living wage this isn’t affordable for most folks. This is yet another luxury housing development for the rich old folks that figured out Florida is hot.

    • Enlightened Enigma

      Jerry…’the rich’ will be paying way more than $200K for their condos and it won’t be in AVL …

  10. bright

    “Despite physical anxiety…” These are the brainos that “run” Assville; they can ignore a warning sign and proceed with the destruction. Yuck.

  11. luther blissett

    Trying to squeeze out affordable units from McMansion developers is a fool’s bargain. Let them build McMansions and use the property tax revenue to build affordable housing.

  12. Mike

    How many folks are willing to pay more taxes for the infrastructure improvements being requested? Housing come from the private sector (yes, with subsidies sometimes, whatevs). Infrastructure funding is almost totally public. I know I would be willing to pay more taxes if I knew it would go into the smart development of local infrastructure. Anyone else?

    And, please, no “stop the corruption/ wasteful spending first” arguments. That’s like jousting at windmills, or a red herring, or whatever term you want to use for a lesson in futility/ distraction tactic. Thanks!

    • luther blissett

      “I know I would be willing to pay more taxes if I knew it would go into the smart development of local infrastructure. Anyone else?”

      It is difficult to develop infrastructure smartly when developers buy up random parcels of land in the county, drop cookie-cutter subdivisions and apartment complexes, then expect state and local government to accommodate them long after they’ve taken their profit and moved onto the next project. It becomes a reactive, spatterdash process of road-widening and repaving and adding signals. (I was on the way to Warren Wilson the other day and saw that Old Farm School Road was an eroded mess again, and the daily construction dump trucks heading to and from Sovereign Oaks don’t help.)

      Smart infrastructure spending means carrots and sticks for developers. Put forward a large project in an area that is near existing density and infrastructure, and you’ll be prioritized for a conditional use permit. Try the same for somewhere that’s off a back road off a back road, and maybe not.

      (This doesn’t specifically apply to this parcel, because it was offered on a silver platter to Deschutes, which has scaled down its plans and delayed breaking ground its Roanoke site.)

  13. Enlightened Enigma

    This approved project is the highest and best use of this property and people should be happy about it. The Councilman’s ‘physical anxiety’ is caused by liberal progressive indoctrination and weak physicality …

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