What do gated neighborhoods mean for WNC community?

ACCESS POINT: The Ramble Biltmore Forest is one of many gated communities in Western North Carolina. Photo by Justin McGuire

Real estate agent Byron Greiner recently worked with a client who wanted to sell her house in Asheville’s Thoms Estate and move elsewhere in Western North Carolina. As she considered new homes, one thing was nonnegotiable.

“She would not consider living anywhere but a gated community,” says Greiner, a past president of Land of the Sky Association of Realtors. That’s because the woman, a native of Florida, had lived in gated developments her whole life. She ended up buying a house in Kenmure, an upscale gated golf neighborhood about 4 miles south of Hendersonville in the village of Flat Rock.

Grenier and other observers of local housing trends say that experience is typical. Most of the people relocating to the region from the Sunshine State seek gates out of familiarity. And with Florida a major source of inbound migration — according to American Community Survey conducted annually by the U.S. Census Bureau, four of the top 10 counties outside North Carolina for new Buncombe County residents between 2015-2019 were Floridian — the market for such communities continues to grow.

Gated neighborhoods are not nearly as common here as in Florida. In fact, the city of Asheville banned new gated developments in 2007. “I just don’t want to become a series of gated communities, especially with the more high-end neighborhoods as they continue to be developed,” then-Mayor Terry Bellamy said at the time, according to the Asheville Citizen-Times.

But dozens of gated neighborhoods are available throughout Buncombe and its  surrounding counties, as well as in other parts of WNC. While some neighborhoods have gates mostly to control traffic, others sell themselves as complete upscale communities with spectacular mountain views, scenic hiking trails, 18-hole golf courses, fitness centers and clubhouse activities.

Such amenities are a big selling point, Greiner says. “It’s kind of like, ‘This is my sandbox, and these people like to do the same thing I like to do,’ whether it be golf or whether it be tennis or whether it be boating,” he explains.

Apart of the whole?

To some, the idea of a “gated community” is an oxymoron. That line of thinking spurred Asheville’s 2007 ban.

“When I came to Asheville, I moved into an established neighborhood, and I joined the community,” then-Councilman Bryan Freeborn said at the time, the Citizen-Times reported. “To me, gates are really anti-community.”

James Fraser, a UNC Asheville sociology lecturer who studies urban and community development, understands such concerns.

“There are those who may argue that gated communities represent more of a fortress than a community,” says Fraser. “There has been a lot of work done on these in city and regional planning [studies], and it does show that it’s something that people that are higher income participate in. And in doing so, they’re explicitly agreeing to live in an area that excludes other people that don’t live there.”

Those dynamics are particularly relevant at a time when so many people without local ties or social networks are moving into WNC from states such as Florida. Privacy is certainly a major attraction to many moving into gated communities.

“You find the fact [gates] can regulate vehicular traffic and pedestrian traffic going into the community a real plus,” says Nick Weedman. He served as the first president of the Kenmure Property Owners Association and still lives there.

(Supporting the point that privacy is important: Xpress reached out to representatives from neighborhood associations at 10 gated communities to find residents willing to be interviewed for this story. Only one responded.)

Weedman, who now serves as the mayor of Flat Rock, says safety also is a concern because many widows and widowers live in Kenmure. “I think they find the gate particularly attractive,” he explains. “Because if they have to leave home, there’s a reasonable possibility that it keeps unwarranted people out.”

But the residents Xpress talked to all dismissed the idea that gated neighborhoods cut them off from the broader community. Jan Getz, who moved from Pittsburgh to Beaverdam Run in North Asheville, says people can easily become part of the area scene if they are willing to make an effort. She has met people through the Asheville Newcomers Club, which is geared toward women, and by ushering at the Wortham Center for the Performing Arts.

Rob McKown, who moved into The Ramble Biltmore Forest from elsewhere in Asheville five years ago, agrees. “I’ve met dozens and dozens, scores of people, here in The Ramble, and most of them are very social people,” he says. “They have significant social interests outside the gate.”

And as mayor of Flat Rock, Weedman is obviously involved in the community beyond Kenmure. He says many others in the neighborhood are as well.

“You can isolate yourself, but that’s just a personal decision,” he says. “It really has nothing to do with the gate.”

‘It doesn’t matter’

Greiner, the real estate agent, says he sometimes sells a property to someone who has little interest in participating in the life of the community. But those tend to be highly affluent people who are buying a second or third home, he continues, and they are the exception.

“Most people want to be involved, and they want to hang out downtown and do the Blue Ridge Parkway and bicycling and hiking and stuff, which tends to be interactive with other people,” he says. “That’s one of the reasons you move to the mountains.”

Greiner adds that many people, including the woman he moved into Kenmure, are specifically looking to live in a politically conservative community. Some even check voting records in the area to see which political candidates their potential neighbors support.

“In Asheville, we’re a blue dot in a red state,” he explains. “The further south you go, like Henderson County, the more red you get.”

To some residents, the “gated” aspect is secondary to the other attractions of their community.  Tom McDonnell and his wife, who moved from Cleveland two years ago, found a property they liked that happened to be in the gated Crossings at Cane Creek in Fairview. “It doesn’t matter to us one way or the other,” he says. The two say they’ve gotten involved in local action through the Asheville Tennis Club and other activities.

Similarly, McKown was impressed with the walking and biking trails, lap pool and fitness center in The Ramble when considering his move to the community. “I wouldn’t say the gate is irrelevant, but I’d say it’s something I don’t even think about,” he says.

Both men believe a gate can offer a false sense of safety, especially in neighborhoods that don’t employ security guards at the entrances. They say residents often share security codes with contractors, delivery drivers and visitors. Some gates are easy to drive around or jump over. Sometimes they malfunction.

“Biltmore Park is an adjoining neighborhood to The Ramble, and there’s no gate there,” McKown says. “And I would be feel just as safe there.”

Weedman also says a gate wasn’t a factor in his decision to move to Kenmure 25 years ago.

“But the way that I look at it is that, now that we have it, I think it’s important, and we certainly do want to keep it,” he says. “I don’t think there’s anybody [in Kenmure] that wants to get rid of it.”

 

 

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10 thoughts on “What do gated neighborhoods mean for WNC community?

  1. Voirdire

    It’s not just MAGA and the BIG LIE… systemic income disparity will spell the end to our “democracy”. It’s unfortunate because it’s avoidable…. look to western European countries and their progressive income and asset tax schedules for a model forward. Just a thought. I certainly very much appreciate my little bubble and entitlement, so I clearly understand -and see the view- from both sides of the equation/ gate… but it’s not sustainable… not even close. Let’s start with those individuals with assets over 15 million… all the way on up to our burgeoning billionaire class. At best they pay a 15% tax rate… more than often, less. As Bernie Sanders famously said (not that I’m a huge Bernie fan… but he does have his moments ;) ….every billionaire represents a tax policy failure. No argument there.

    • indy499

      3 home owner Sanders yapping about inequality is always entertaining. Hope he runs again.

      • Voirdire

        btw, the gates are to keep you and yours out… bless your heart… just saying ;)

        • Tom

          Me and mine have no business in the gates. So why does it bother you and others when people choose to live behind them. Sorry you haven’t been successful in life but you need to quit being so jealous of those who are.

  2. Voirdire

    yapping, huh? ..another blue collar yankee from lovely Long Island, huh? LOL Please move back up there asap…. please :) They miss you there!!! LOL

  3. JT4784

    Gates are snobbery, pure and simple. They don’t provide great security for the reasons cited in the article – everyone shares their codes with landscapers, babysitters, maids, and contractors….delivery people are in and out all the time. They also break frequently and are a maintenance headache. People behind gates are indeed less likely to engage with the wider community, and no that doesn’t include their kids’ schools. I saw it in our neighborhood. I was the only one to get involved in volunteering in town activities. Snobbery, no matter what the apologists claim. Just own it, folks. You only want to be around people exactly like YOU.

    • WNC

      JT I agree non criminals want to live with non criminals .
      The Democratic soft on crime, low bail, no bail has really been a boom for gated communities.
      Downside is Democrat’s from all over American are wanting to move in gated communities here and other areas.

  4. Prop Joe

    Home run! This one may rack up more comments than any Xpress story of the past 5 years. Popcorn is popping and I’m going to sit right here in my gated community and enjoy the show.

  5. Worker Bee

    A client in a gated community had a medical emergency one night and the first responders had some difficulty opening the malfunctioning gate. Critical care was delayed for several minutes while calls were made and instructions relayed. I would imagine the gates usually open properly at most communities, but it is one more barrier for an emergency response to navigate.

  6. rwd

    We have the freedom to live how we want and where we want…although some would say the living how we want is in jeopardy. Why should I care if someone wants to live in a cage / compound…just as someone living in the cage / compound should not care that I want to live in a traditional neighborhood ? As the comments reveal, this story just gins up both sides of our current social and political spectrum. ..and for what, the opportunity to call names and cast stones !!

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