- Website: huntforcouncil.com
- Employment: Retired from Open Space Institute
- Party affiliation: Democrat
- Previous candidacy: Council member since 2011, vice mayor since 2013
- NEW! Notable endorsements: Mayor Esther Manheimer, former Mayor Terry Bellamy, Council member Jan Davis, Council member Gwen Wisler, Council member Gordon Smith, Council member Chris Pelly, state Sen. Terry Van Duyn, Commissioner Brownie Newman, Commissioner Holly Jones, Asheville Fire Fighters Association, Equality NC and Sierra Club.
- NEW! Campaign contributions: $29,781.48
- NEW! Campaign expenditures: $16,942.96
NEW! You’re running for office in the midst of a growth spurt in Asheville. What infrastructure needs will you prioritize if elected?
I’ll keep pushing the pace of repaving neighborhood streets where we had fallen behind, of replacing old and outdated waterlines, and of replacing aging emergency vehicles so they are 100 percent reliable for public safety. I’ll make sure we continue to add amenities for residents with new neighborhood sidewalks, traffic calming and with great parks, bikeways and greenways, especially in the River Arts District. Our community parks need attention, especially our swimming pools and our youth athletics fields. We must alleviate downtown congestion with an additional parking structure soon. And we must get around to the much-needed renovation of Thomas Wolfe Auditorium. I proudly led establishment of the planning framework that now helps City Council balance priorities like these effectively. I also am helping us achieve better external funding partnerships, as with federal and state transportation agencies, TDA, etc., so that our own taxpayer dollars go much further to get things done.
NEW! How do you think City Council should proceed in regard to short-term rentals and homestays?
A home becoming a lodging facility creates two serious problems: disruption of community life in neighborhoods and increased property values that exacerbate our housing affordability crisis. Let’s maintain the existing ban on short-term rentals and then carefully allow homestays so that our residents may better benefit from the tourism economy.
NEW! What can and will you do to address inequality in Asheville?
Our community owes all our citizens opportunity and fairness. Through our partnering with Asheville City Schools, I will continue to work hard to improve public education. Quality education is critical to opportunity. I am committed to our well-planned affordable housing strategy, and that includes updating our land-use plan and zoning ordinance and fully funding our Affordable Housing Trust Fund. We must confront the problem of multigenerational, cyclical poverty in our public housing neighborhoods. Let’s seize the opportunity now to join the residents of Lee Walker Heights in transition to a mixed-income neighborhood while ensuring housing security for all who are there. Let’s follow that with a supportive, multidecade effort of transition for the other public housing communities. Other great cities in this country are showing us the way in this. We must continue to lead in defining a living wage as the community norm for Asheville.
NEW! What can you bring to City Council that other candidates can’t or don’t?
I simply ask voters to broadly consider my four years of accomplishment on Council: key leadership roles in quickly advancing multimodal transportation, in convening a working group to coordinate constructive community engagement in the Interstate 26 connector project, in permanent wilderness-level protection for our 18,000-acre watershed, and in the move toward updating our comprehensive land-use plan and our zoning ordinance. I’ve strongly supported our progressive approaches on affordable housing, creating better jobs, renewal in the River Arts District and partnering for better public education. Effectiveness on Council is about shaping policy early. My greatest contributions of all have been in redefining the way Council engages in financial and strategic planning, and in working collaboratively with city staff, with the broader community and with other levels of government. Polarization and conflict are the norm in politics today. Instead, I have continually stood for constructive communication, building trust and finding common ground to move forward together.
What are three achievable goals that you would champion in the next two years?
First would be redevelopment for Lee Walker Heights … expanding into adjoining land and creating 325 mixed-income units, from market price to poverty-level, federally supported voucher housing. This is part of a multidecade strategy that we can continuously chip away at: transforming public housing as we know it. The second would be connecting bicycle/pedestrian greenway networks. Right now we have fragments … I think we can start getting that on the ground in the next two years. Thirdly, overhaul our comprehensive land-use plan [and] revisit the Unified Development Ordinance. Our city is changing very dramatically; we’re under a lot of pressure to make sure that we’re planning our growth in a wise way.
What are the best strategies for increasing affordable housing in Asheville?
We need to transition to more compact development and more multifamily housing, particularly along transit corridors. [People want to live] close to downtown, and if you’ve got a half-acre of land for $500,000, you have to put 16 residential units on it to make it work. Only a super-wealthy person can afford that for a single-family home. Revising our land use plan and zoning ordinance will encourage more compact, multifamily housing units. We need to incentivize developers with density bonuses to develop affordably priced rental housing. We need better partnerships with the nonprofit sector, including an urban land trust.
One that I would love the opportunity to do over is the downtown business improvement district. We came fairly close to adopting a [policy] taxing properties downtown at a higher rate, with those additional funds being reinvested in downtown. We did not adopt it, mostly due to an inability to work through structural issues, but that’s something I wish we’d been able to do. A lot of times, the vote is not the hard part: It’s crafting the policy. What we got wrong was the policy formation and development of good partnership. Downtown could sure use that sort of additional funding and services.
What makes Asheville home for you?
It has become home. We moved here 20 years ago to raise our kids, because of the quality of life, the natural setting, the incredible cultural offerings, the deep sense of community. My wife and I and my kids feel extremely fulfilled being citizens of Asheville, and it’s really the strength of our community and the attraction of being engaged as a citizen that has me really honored to serve on City Council. Asheville is a very special place. I mean that in a very serious way. I’ve been able to be part of a lot of neat things, but having the community leadership role I do is really a very special thing.
Do you support expanding the tourism industry, or should we focus on other areas of economic development? Or do you think government shouldn’t play a role?
Government is involved in promoting the tourism industry because of our occupancy tax. I don’t agree with the decision to invest 1.5 additional cents to increase tourism marketing: The industry is doing just fine. We may be at a point where our economy is overdominated by the tourism sector; we’re really struggling with how to share this town between locals and visitors. I’m not in favor of short-term rentals; I do favor limited homestays allowing residents to make occasional income. The lodging industry is growing; state law doesn’t allow us to limit that. But increasing a tax to market something that’s so hot already really threatens the economy and livability of our city for our citizens.
A recent study showed that Buncombe County had lower growth in middle-class jobs than other areas. What can the city do to address this?
In the past five years, we’ve created something like 1,500 jobs with a median income of $47,000. New Belgium, GE Aviation and Linamar would not have come here anyway: They were engaged by our economic development staff. We need to make sure we have the tools and [skilled] professionals for this. I’m not a fan of incentives, but they’re a necessary tool. The EDC matches up companies that have the capacity to pay high wages with angel investor capital that helps them grow. There are lots of small businesses around town that need the chance to get started and provide good jobs. I have experience starting, owning, operating and growing businesses; this stuff is familiar and important to me.
With Asheville growing so fast and several new hotels being built downtown, how do you plan to address the inevitable traffic problems on city streets and I-240?
I feel strongly about the evolution of our transportation network. The state DOT is in charge of roads like Merrimon Avenue, Patton Avenue and Haywood Road. I’m one of two Council members on the MPO, and I’ve worked hard to influence how state and federal money gets spent. Meanwhile, the tax increase we implemented improved funding for local streets, sidewalks, bike lanes and transit. We’re doing what we can within the constraints of our revenue base. I’ve insisted on including neighborhood connections and bicycle/pedestrian facilities [in the I-26 connector]. Our Five-Year Capital Improvement Plan has the city investing $2 million in that project, to encourage DOT to build in a way that doesn’t fragment this community. I’m running for City Council again to help shape some of that.