Welcome to Ashemart

Asheville City Council’s recent vote abdicating much of its responsibility for overseeing downtown development was redolent of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, which opened the door to unlimited corporate campaign contributions. Both decisions reflect a treacherous assault on our democracy and a gargantuan shift toward corporate domination.

On a 6-1 vote, Council members ordained that downtown developments involving less than 175,000 square feet would henceforth be reviewed only by planning staff and appointed committees, rather than elected City Council members. Super Walmarts average around 190,000 square feet, and in my experience, most development committees are dominated by pro-growth advocates.

Thus, future projects of approximately super-Walmart dimensions are all too likely to be rubber-stamped, with little or no public discussion. It's a growth-obsessed developer's wildest dream — and a sustainability-minded resident’s worst nightmare. Furthermore, as each new development drives up downtown rents, our unique, humane, locally owned businesses may be driven out.

Super-sizing blindness

Only Council member Cecil Bothwell opposed this treason. That should make him the hero of those who believe that the people, and not just the profit seekers, should control what happens to Asheville.

Perhaps his Council colleagues have been frightened by the heroic citizen resistance to other recent development proposals. Remember the high-profile opposition to the parking garage that threatened to engulf the Battery Park Apartments? And the attempted magnolia-tree murder by the 90,000 square foot Parkside condos? With this new law, Council can dodge most such debates, proclaiming that it's out of their hands, and thus avoid the negative publicity.

But we, the people, are the ultimate cause of this horror. In 2008, the city spent $15,000 on a survey to determine our priorities. According to a Nov. 23, 2008 Asheville Citizen-Times article, two of the top three priorities stated were "Get a handle on development" and "Don't move here." Yet we keep electing Council members who mainly represent developers!

Attack of the “market forces” monster

True, hundreds of dedicated residents recently waged a heroic fight forcing developers to make aesthetic and other concessions. Google "Downtown Master Plan Asheville" and you'll eventually find a hundred-page document describing the outcome. It's replete with pictures of Asheville shot from interesting angles, cheery photos of many of your friends and neighbors, and funny slang such as "culture vultures" and "desk pilots."

Ironically, the plan also purports to quake with fear of a rampaging monster called "market forces," which could "threaten downtown's most celebrated assets" and "kill the goose that laid the golden egg." But while it references many of the awards this city has won for its livability and arts scene, the overall assumption is that the Asheville we have now isn't good enough. We need change, and that means establishing "design guidelines to be current, clear and to promote sustainable development."

The plan does outline methods by which residents can weigh in on certain development proposals. As noted, however, most people don't have the time or energy to review every developer's whim. And in all probability, the Technical Review Committee, Downtown Commission, Planning and Zoning Commission and Board of Adjustment will all continue to be dominated by development interests, since their members are chosen by our growth-obsessed City Council.

So despite imposing many commendable architectural limitations, the master plan eventually surrenders to market forces by constantly encouraging "sustainable development." Or, perhaps more accurately, conjuring sustainable delusions about the impact development will have on our golden downtown goose.

Still, considering what gigantic developmental forces ordinary citizens were fighting, the Battle of the Master Plan was indeed a noble effort.

Growth is inevitably assumed


Meanwhile, Mr. Bothwell noted: "I have not yet heard an explanation that makes sense to me about why the 175,000 figure was picked. In Durham, the city has to approve all projects over 10,000 square feet. This [175,000 square foot figure] seems fairly arbitrary to me." What’s more, it almost doubles the previous 100,000 square foot threshold, which was put in place only a few years ago. At this rate, Council members will soon double the present limit, and developments as large as The Ellington and Tony Fraga's twin towers will also be able to avoid Council review.

Perhaps residents’ own surrender to such patently false assumptions as "Growth is inevitable" has something to do with why we’ve so often been bamboozled by Council. In fact, however, we Ashevilleans could decide what population and building density we want to have competing with our magnificent natural and cultural environment. There would still be plenty of room for construction, but most of it would consist of putting clothes on the bare buttocks of such existing downtown monstrosities as the BB&T building.

Plutocracy's democracy

Eventually the entire world must confront these same growth decisions or be subject to Malthusian overpopulation and overdevelopment horrors that will make today’s Patton Avenue resemble a pastoral parkway. And Asheville seems a likely place for all this to begin, since we have so much more beauty and life quality to lose.

For now, however, at least we know exactly where all but one of our City Council members stand on this issue: "Asheville is a jewel to be exploited for the maximum benefit of developers with as little citizen input as is politically possible."

It's always clarifyingly terrifying when America's big-business plutocracy exposes its hidden face, shark teeth gleaming. The Citizens United decision did this nationally, and now, City Council has done the job locally, ensuring that future almost-super-Walmart-size downtown developments will be barely a blip on Asheville's democratic radar.

Freelance historian Bill Branyon is presently marketing his latest book, Liberating Liberals: A political synthesis of Nietzsche & Jesus, Vonnegut & Marx (Groucho, not Karl), Gandhi & Machiavelli.

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64 thoughts on “Welcome to Ashemart

  1. Gordon Smith

    This issue is important to a lot of people, and we saw that in the enthusiasm with which hundreds of volunteers included themselves in the Downtown Master Plan process over the last two years. There are a couple of parts to this issue I’d like to reiterate because there are a number of reports that left them out.

    1) The new design rules are very strict. Height, massing, setbacks, shadowing, materials, fenestrations, etc. are detailed in the plan. These design rules were reached by the consensus of a lot of people from all over the political spectrum. One downtown restauranteur refers to the document as a “Treaty”. These design standards passed unanimously. They are far more strict than any other area of town.

    2) The prior threshold for downtown review was 100,000 sq. ft., and this is what Cecil Bothwell was advocating continuation of.

    3) I introduced a compromise option of 137,500 sq. ft. that was rejected. The vote was 5-2.

    4) The idea of strengthening the design rules is intended to give the people a stronger voice. By enshrining these values in the ordinance, we ensure their application. In exchange for agreeing to abide by the strict rules, people investing in downtown can get an expedited process. The debate is over fighting these battles on a building-by-building basis or enshrining the building values in our code. It’s a good debate to have, and I think the latter has a great deal of merit. Reasonable people can disagree on this matter without impugning one another’s characters.

    Council will still have final review over development that exceeds the newly defined thresholds.

    5) Anything over 145 ft. in height will also have to be reviewed by Council. This threshold did not exist before.

    6) There are now height limits downtown, and there never were before.

    7) This document can be revised in the future.

    8) Density in the urban core is an important facet of Smart Growth principles that take into account global climate change, economic vitality, and social equity.

    Thanks for reading such a long comment, and thanks to everyone who contacted me on this important issue.

  2. Rachael Bliss

    So sad! I just don’t get the Council washing their hands of the whole matter. Surely if the citizen raise enough voices against a project, their voices will be heard! Otherwise in the next election….watch out!

  3. hauntedheadnc

    As Gordon Smith explained, council did not “wash their hands of the whole matter.” Instead, council put in place a very strict code for developers to follow with the understanding that if this code won’t be followed, the project won’t be approved in the first place. The code ensures that we get buildings that respect the city’s history while still allowing for growth, and makes sure that we don’t have to go through a prolonged, slogging fight with every last little project. That slogging fight usually just dumbs projects down, which is why the few things that ever did get approved over the past couple of decades were supremely mediocre structures such as 12 S. Lexington and 21 Battery Park.

    What Mr. Branyon’s commentary truly boils down to though, is his outrage over the fact that city council has planned for growth. I’ve read editorials from Mr. Branyon that state that Asheville [i]must[/i] halt all growth. And why not — the NIMBY’s in Asheville who shout the loudest about growth have already moved here from somewhere else, and now that [i]they’re[/i] here (and they’re very, very special) it’s time to slam the door behind them.

    Sometimes the NIMBY’s can be entertaining though… Catch them on the right day and they’ll even speak out against renovating existing structures, as Elaine Lite did when developers were planning to turn the eyesore First Union building into Capital Center. Now they’re speaking out against building a hotel on a current parking lot on Biltmore Avenue, never mind the fact that a hotel once stood on that site and was torn down to make way for… the current parking lot.

    So, yes. As I see it, Mr. Branyon is really just upset that the city is planning to grow.

  4. David Lynch

    Fantastic article. I expected Council members like Mannheimer to abrogate responsibility and give the developers free reign to blight our city.

    But I was stunned to see Gordon Smith reverse campaign promises and relinquish the authority Council needs to ensure intelligent development practices. And, I’ve told him as much directly.

    Those Council members who voted to give away their authority in this matter will not get my vote when they’re up for re-election.

  5. J

    Gordon is playing both sides of this.

    When he was initially called out by PARC for a violation of his campaign promises, he argued that these rules were set in place to protect the city, and that the PARC folks would appreciate these safeguards if a conservative city council came to be.

    Now in comment number 7, Gordon’s saying these rules can be revised.

    So they’re safeguarded until they’re revised? What next? I was for it before I was against it?

  6. Bill

    Yes, Mr. Hauntedhead, I am against growth in Asheville. We need a new paradigm to deal with our economic malaise other than wrecking the ecology through stimulating growth. I suggest sharing, population control and getting out from under the greedy thumbs of Madison Avenue and Wall Street.

    And you’re argument that newcomers should have no say is self perpetuating. It means we can never control growth. If not now, when? If not us, who?

    Gordon, I see your points and appreciate your position. It is carefully considered. But I thought all the Master Plan’s fine aesthetic points were voluntary, not mandated. Also, I do want Council to make a decision on all significant developments, not expedite them with impersonal laws. And just because your 135,000 figure wasn’t passed doesnt’ mean you should vote for 175,000.

    Smart or quality Growth, LEEDS approved, sustainable development and any other euphemisms to justify wrecking our beautiful mountains and fragile culture, are all sustainable delusions and quality confusion.

  7. hauntedheadnc

    At least you admit that you are totally against growth, Mr. Branyon. Your open admission makes it easier to identify and thus dismiss your unrealistic expectations and demands.

    I’m sincerely glad that your ilk was not around to smother Asheville back in the 1890’s or the 1920’s, when most of what makes Asheville so special was built. I’m also glad that with a reasonable plan for growth in place, your ilk will not be allowed to smother it in the future.

  8. I’m glad there was ilk around a couple decades ago to smother developers when they attempted to level a few city blocks and plop a giant shopping mall in downtown Asheville. That ilk successfully fought the mall and transformed our downtown area from a boarded up ghost town into a vibrant area for commerce and community.

    Regarding Gordon’s defense – we’ve had what we thought were “strict” guidelines and processes before, and the non-elected city staff and developer-friendly Boards and Commissions have seen fit to waive them, ignore them, undermine them repeatedly. The notion that developers won’t go out of their way to find loopholes or other methods to ram through inappropriate projects? Just look at the recent Caledonia Apts. issue – the project was rejected unanimously by Council, so the developer came back with a proposal split into two buildings that put it under the threshold, and it will very likely get approved. Expect lots more of the same now that Council has taken itself out of the loop.

  9. hauntedheadnc

    [i]I’m glad there was ilk around a couple decades ago to smother developers when they attempted to level a few city blocks and plop a giant shopping mall in downtown Asheville. That ilk successfully fought the mall and transformed our downtown area from a boarded up ghost town into a vibrant area for commerce and community.[/i]

    I’m glad that project got stopped too. Any good intention can be taken too far, though. I mean, now you’ve got got NIMBY’s so ardent that they’re decrying rebuilding structures that were torn down to make way for surface parking lots. Or weren’t you aware that PARC is up in arms over the hotel to be built on Biltmore Avenue, on the parking lot that was the site of the former Swannanoa Hotel?

    I’d bet a year’s pay that if someone wanted to tear down that ghastly parking deck on College Street and rebuild the eight-story Langren Hotel that used to stand there, Branyon and PARC would unleash their fury on that as well for being “too tall,” “too dense,” and out of keeping with the neighborhood.

    If we let developers run roughshod over Asheville, we’d degenerate into as nasty a place as Greenville, SC. If we let the NIMBY’s run roughshod, the city would settle back into the same stupor it was in back when those mall developers came knocking.

    The fact of the matter is that if developers cannot build in Asheville, they will sprawl in Buncombe County and neither you nor I can stop them. The one and only defense that Asheville, which doesn’t even have control over its water system, has is to make developing in the city as easy and attractive a prospect as developing in the county. By clarifying its rules for development, it makes the process exponentially easier — follow the rules and the project goes. No more arbitrary denials because someone on the City Council is in a bad mood because of a bad hair day.

    Frankly, I would rather Asheville — and especially downtown Asheville — remain a vital and vibrant city, and I would like to see it become the region’s premier hub of employment, entertainment, and shopping as well as the region’s foremost residential neighborhood. I’d certainly prefer that over seeing suburban sprawl, which is so much easier and hassle-free to build, destroy our “beautiful mountains and fragile culture.”

    I might also point out that suburban sprawl has much more potential to destroy than does downtown growth.

  10. travelah

    Aside from the anti-business thrust of the article, the “historian” author did not do his homework in comparing the council to the Citizens United v. FEC decision. In fact, the author seems completely oblivious to the fact that unions are the biggest contributors under that allowance and Democrats are the biggest beneficiaries of those contributions. For the FACTS of the matter, the following provides the top 20 PAC contributors in the last election cycle.

    http://www.opensecrets.org/pacs/toppacs.php?cycle=2010&party=A

    Why did Durham pick 10K as their threshold and not 200K? I think the higher threshold is a good idea in that it takes a layer of bureaucracy out of the picture.

  11. Bill

    Again Mr. Head haunted by dread of change: I might have been for growth in the 1890’s and 1920’s. If you haven’t noticed, our environmental realities have changed since then. If you also haven’t noticed, we’re sprawling as fast as possible regardless of what’s done downtown.

    “Market forces” for the most part ignore these new environmental realities, and you are writing for these forces. That’s like writing in favor of a category five hurricane. You’re probably going to win. Congrats.

    And yes Gordon, I admire your accurate identifcation of the problem: whether to fight building by buiilding or to enshrine building codes. But the fact is the building codes enshrined by the Master Plan were not a democratic process – only those people with enough time and energy wrote it. Also the 175,000 number, from what I’ve heard, was arrived at without much imput. Regardless, most people are prisoners of the economy and are swimming as fasst as they can just to keep from drowning, much less attending long meetings. Whereas developers are make their money by dominating such meetings. I went through the process in writing the UDO as well as the 2010 plan.

    Secondly, that is the decision you have to make. Are you going to be a representative of market forces, or a representative of the environment. You believe you can be both. that will require many excruciating, triangulating decisions throughout your Council career. Good luck. I’m trying to sway the population in favor of defending the environment.

    Though the process towards the final vote was ciruitous, the final vote is what will be remembered by most. And though my article went for drama, a society dominated by the rich whose best interests are served by generating even more money for themselves regardeless of the social and environmental consequences is called a plutocracy.

  12. JonathanBarnard

    Secondly, that is the decision you have to make. Are you going to be a representative of market forces, or a representative of the environment. You believe you can be both. that will require many excruciating, triangulating decisions throughout your Council career. Good luck. I’m trying to sway the population in favor of defending the environment.

    Bill, you are suggesting that preventing high-density development downtown is pro environmental and that easing the way for high-density development downtown is anti-environmmental. In fact, the opposite is true. Kudos to Council Member Smith for understanding that.

    By the way, a discount department store (which would have to respect the urban context under the rules) would be a great addition downtown (especially on the “South Slope”). If it were close to the central bus terminal, it would represent a boon for Asheville’s bus riders, who are mostly poor.

  13. Bill

    Jonathan,
    The constant threat that developers make about a choice between downtown density and urban sprawl is a scare tactic, at least in Asheville. We’re having ever increasing urban sprawl regardless of what goes on downtown.

    No, the density arguement is just a method to justify developers’ downtown projects. I agree a good, locally-owned, non-franchise department store would be good downtown (although the locally-owned grocery in the Grove Arcade didn’t survive). But in general whay build anything more downtown unless your a developer wanting more money. We live in a relative paradise now.

    And controlling development isn’t just about the environment. It’s about the whole growth paradiagm. Not only will it wreck the ecology eventually – no matter how LEEDS certified it is – it also makes people work too much and at too boring of jobs.

    I believe that we could work 1/2 as much and still have plenty of the basics for a population controlled number of people. The rest of the production is for Madison Ave. generated fashion fads, or for the growth paradigm.

    Not that good work isn’t the greatest of blessings, but bad work, for silly stuff with grueling insecure, and inhumane working conditions is why we have such and unhappy, desperate electorate now.

  14. JonathanBarnard

    Bill,

    You seem inclined to demonize developers and development. In my view, developers can either be part of the problem or part of the solution. Nationally, the stance that development patterns have a huge impact on energy use and the environment (and that high-density development in the urban core is the best kind of development) is widely promoted by environmental groups and left-leaning think tanks.

    It is true that infill development won’t eliminate sprawl in Buncombe County, but it will reduce it.

  15. Mark

    Bill,

    I can think of several reasons the City Council took the position it did. Micro-management of development, a la Durham, is costly and ultimately thwarts any growth as the inevitable throng of leftists rears its head and digs in its heels. And we see what Asheville’s history of antipathy to growth and business in general has done. Reduced available tax revenue and stunted employment. Opportunities to work are hard to come by in this region for the folks who like living here, if they are not either in the medical field or the service/tourism industry. That, my friend, is not sustainable–to use your parlance. Generations of Asheville kids are now being forced to leave and never consider returning because making a living becomes more and more impossible here.

    Further, downtown Asheville comes awfully close to being a shabby, threatening place in some areas. Decay, broken windows, abandoned buildings are not my idea of a satisfying downtown culture. And it sure doesn’t fit Council’s need for a sustainable tax base either. This, no doubt, was on its mind as it changed the parameters.

    Kudos to Council for inching back on its long-standing antipathy to business. Hopefully we haven’t fallen so far behind in quality of labor and infrastructure that we can still manage to attract it.

  16. hauntedheadnc

    [i]Again Mr. Head haunted by dread of change: I might have been for growth in the 1890’s and 1920’s. If you haven’t noticed, our environmental realities have changed since then. If you also haven’t noticed, we’re sprawling as fast as possible regardless of what’s done downtown.

    “Market forces” for the most part ignore these new environmental realities, and you are writing for these forces. That’s like writing in favor of a category five hurricane. You’re probably going to win. Congrats.[/i]

  17. hauntedheadnc

    Drat… hit the post button by mistake.

    Mr. Branyon, I’m sure your talent for taunts was the terror of the schoolyard, but it’s funny that you say you’d have approved of growth in the 1890’s or 1920’s, when environmental regulation was lax to nonexistent.

    What you’re still saying is that now that you’re here, all’s well, so let’s freeze everything in amber.

    Your argument rests upon the idea that Asheville is just perfect as it is, and it is anything but. Asheville offers an abysmal job market and overpriced housing, and is riddled with underutilized and outright wasted space. Some of that space would make fantastic parkland, I’ll grant you, but more of it would be the perfect location for new businesses (preferably ones that will pay more than $10/hour), affordable housing, new stores carrying items that can’t currently be bought locally, new churches or temples or sacred places for growing faiths, and more havens for differing peoples of differing backgrounds and beliefs.

    Basically, while you and the other NIMBY’s want Asheville to remain your private and unchanging playground, I want Asheville to become the working, living, breathing, magical city it can be.

  18. Mark

    Bill,

    One other thing. Your quotes: The “growth paradigm…makes people work too much and at too boring of jobs.” And “…bad work, for silly stuff…”. It’s not up to you to define what is meaningful work for me or anyone else. Or to define as “silly” or not the fruits thereof.

    I would disagree with you purely on the substance, and say that any work can be thought of as meaningful if the worker is inclined to perceive it as such. But I find the impulse to believe one is qualified to rule on what work is meaningful for what “silly stuff” to typify the patriarchy and condescension of leftist morality.

  19. little sister

    hauntedheadnc sez:

    Frankly, I would rather Asheville—and especially downtown Asheville—remain a vital and vibrant city…

    but then:

    I want Asheville to become the working, living, breathing, magical city it can be.

    ***************

    (S)he has hurled the pejorative “NIMBY” at Branyon and anyone who disagrees with the Downtown Master Plan. The label is carelessly being used to demean him in place of an honest and substantive exchange of ideas. Would those activists who ‘wrapped’ the downtown core to prevent its razing for the development of a downtown mall also be considered NIMBY’s for their anti-development efforts? Where would downtown Asheville be without their skeptical ‘protectionism?’

    hauntedheadnc also persists in implying that Branyon is a recent transplant, when in fact, it’s Branyon who seems to possess the historical memory of Asheville to substantiate his views. I don’t know when Branyon arrived or if he’s a native, but I do recall his early pro-environmentalist writings back in the days of Green Line, the predecessor to Mountain Xpress. He’s no greedy-come-lately.

    I don’t know either Branyon or hauntedheadnc, but I’m inclined to support Branyon’s views, if for no other reason than the fact that he refrains from stereotypical insults and instead issues thoughtful, substantiated arguments. The same cannot be said of his opponent.

  20. I volunteered some of my time to the Downtown Master Plan, and I have at least some faith in its tenets. However, I don’t remember anyone ever suggesting that the square footage of the limit to Council approval ever be changed. That just seemed to appear at the last moment. Where did it come from? Who initiated it? That, I’d like to know. Come on, MountainX, where are the answers?

    Also, kudos to Bill for bringing up the enlightening issue that the Parkside could have been built under the new rules. Public and magnolia tree be damned. Who wins here?

  21. M

    Get real, little sister. You don’t think accusing City Council of committing “treason” (check the title of the article) qualifies as a “stereotypical insult”? Take the blinders off.

  22. little sister

    Good catch, M. I agree.

    However over-the-top the ‘treason’ title is, at least Branyon attempts to substantiate Council’s betrayal with reasonable arguments and historical facts. NIMBY – Not In My Backyard – means that someone supports a type of development in theory, but not in close proximity. That seems far-fetched, misused and over-used in this context.

    The lack of respect for Asheville’s environmentalist forefathers is a disturbing theme in hauntedheadnc’s comments. Give the good guys their due. You have to wonder if DMP proponents/transplants like Newman and Smith would have followed the road here without people like Branyon paving the way.

  23. JonathanBarnard

    A central smart-growth argument for pushing high-density development downtown is to reduce vehicle miles travelled. Amid all the bad news on the global warming front, a recent study says there is some evidence that per-capita VMT is no longer growing in developed nations. (It’s one of many things we need to turn around.) Some call it “peak travel.”

    Here’s a link to the study:

    http://www.stanford.edu/group/peec/cgi-bin/docs/transportation/research/Millard-Ball Schipper Peak Travel preprint.pdf

    I just now stumbled upon it reading the comments to the following article in Grist…

    http://www.grist.org/article/2011-01-06-does-it-matter-if-the-developed-world-has-hit-peak-travel

    …and realized it was at least tangentially relevant to the discussion here.

  24. JonathanBarnard

    Note that the Xpress computer didn’t ready the first link I offered correctly. Instead of clicking on the link, cut and paste all the way from “http” until “.pdf”, and then use that as the webpage address. That will get you there.

  25. hauntedheadnc

    [i](S)he has hurled the pejorative “NIMBY” at Branyon and anyone who disagrees with the Downtown Master Plan. The label is carelessly being used to demean him in place of an honest and substantive exchange of ideas. Would those activists who ‘wrapped’ the downtown core to prevent its razing for the development of a downtown mall also be considered NIMBY’s for their anti-development efforts? Where would downtown Asheville be without their skeptical ‘protectionism?’

    hauntedheadnc also persists in implying that Branyon is a recent transplant, when in fact, it’s Branyon who seems to possess the historical memory of Asheville to substantiate his views. I don’t know when Branyon arrived or if he’s a native, but I do recall his early pro-environmentalist writings back in the days of Green Line, the predecessor to Mountain Xpress. He’s no greedy-come-lately.

    I don’t know either Branyon or hauntedheadnc, but I’m inclined to support Branyon’s views, if for no other reason than the fact that he refrains from stereotypical insults and instead issues thoughtful, substantiated arguments. The same cannot be said of his opponent.[/i]

    I take it that your biggest complaint with my argument is that I use the term “NIMBY.” I use that because it’s quicker and gets the job done just as well as “no-growther,” which is what Mr. Branyon would actually be considered.

    You seem to be laboring under the misconception that I would support any and all development, and you ask if the people who stood up to those downtown mall developers back in the 80’s would have also incurred my disdain.

    Let me first ask you if you think Mr. Branyon would have supported renovating the structures those people saved. After all, he has said, and admits here that he’s said, that we must stop growing. That means that we must not redevelop our brownfields, we must not renovate our dilapidated structures, we must not revitalize. After all, our responsibility to our sensitive mountains and delicate culture is to die off. Sure, we can’t really help it if the city’s founders were so insensitive as to build this disgusting [i]city[/i] here in the middle of the woods, but since it’s here we’ll enjoy it (reluctantly), but we must make sure it doesn’t grow or change or develop a single jot more.

    That’s Mr. Branyon’s message.

    Now, I have no idea how long Mr. Branyon has lived here. As for myself, I was born here thirty years ago and have lived within 25 miles of downtown my entire life. I can tell you things that only a native would know, such as that Darcel Grimes is as eerily ageless as Dick Clark, and I remember that hideous commercial from the early 80’s with the repetitive jingle that kept singing “329 Merrimon Avenue! 39 Merrimon Avenue!” although I’ll never remember what business used to be located at 329 Merrimon Avenue.

    Thus, having established my credentials, let me explain myself. I don’t support development and I sure as hell don’t support sprawl. I do, however support growth and progress. As I’ve already pointed out, Asheville is littered with wasted space and spoiled opportunity, and as others have pointed out, people who are born here are leaving because there are no jobs and the houses cost too much. That’s just not right. I struggle to remain here and I am fighting for the things that only growth and real progress can provide — better jobs, more affordable housing, more opportunities, and a more efficient, beautiful, important city. I want to see the brownfields redeveloped, the falling-down buildings shored up and renovated, the wasted space put to great use, and I want this city to open her arms to all the people who want to be here sharing their talents with us but can’t afford to now as we are.

    That’s what I want, and I see that as a more noble goal than stopping all growth just to stay someone’s playground.

  26. JonathanBarnard

    With regard to the discussion over the applicability of the term NIMBY to describe someone who opposes all growth, there is another term–BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything)–that might be more appropriate.

  27. little sister

    hauntedheadnc:

    You are fortunate to have come of age in a vibrant city that active environmentalists and preservationists, such as Branyon, helped create and sustain. It is unfair to dismiss the long-ago transplants essentially as carpetbaggers [“And why not—the NIMBY’s in Asheville who shout the loudest about growth have already moved here from somewhere else, and now that they’re here (and they’re very, very special) it’s time to slam the door behind them.”] and insult them with misused pejoratives such as “NIMBY.” The whole ‘playground’ reference implies a lack of commitment to engage in a serious dialogue about these crucial issues. There were many who paid dues to create the conditions for in-migration and allowed Asheville to evolve and thrive as a city with charm and opportunity.

    “Smart growth” is more than planner-speak. The compact development you promote has its downsides, too, such as increased carbon emissions from increased (stop-and-go) traffic congestion trapped by the built infill, and increasingly unaffordable housing in the city core. The affordability of downtown living is negatively correlated to the development standards you promote. True and fortunately, the government devotes substantial subsidies to affordable housing developers to compensate, but without those subsidies, it’s not sustainable. Can you imagine a scenario where the development of a new hotel on Biltmore will make southside living any more affordable? How about the MLK area, before and after it became the Pack’s Tavern neighborhood? And Battery Park, before and after the condo’s?

    I believe the scope of responsibility granted to Planning staff and taken from Council in the DMP is too broad, and doesn’t allow the agility necessary to respond to changing economics and demographics. Most concerning is the fact that it shields development decisions from public view.

    There is no ‘one way’ or ‘right way’ when it comes to land use planning, however, I would hope we would all agree that the elimination of the transparency of the process is a mistake.

  28. M

    Well said, hauntedhead. Ever notice the arguments from the fringe go away when confronted with solid logic? Keep confronting them.

  29. Mark, I don’t see any record of “antipathy to growth” in Asheville. In my 30 years in Buncombe I’ve seen continuous growth in the City, with citizen opposition to some very specifically bad ideas. Just since 2000 we’ve seen Council approve sale of part of City/County to GPI (defeated by popular demand); Council approve a wrap-around parking deck at the Battery Park (defeated by popular demand); twin towers at the Haywood Park (defeated by popular demand); and the County sale of City/County land to Coleman (delayed by the economy and legal challenge.) But there has been continuous development throughout the City.

    The very real tax problem for Asheville is imposed by the state legislature in the form of Sullivan I, II and III. Asheville has experienced the slowest growth in population of any city in the state over the past couple of decades, specifically because we are unable to lure voluntary annexation with lower water rates. Therefore the city is providing services to a much larger population than the tax base. Our police calls disproportionately involve commuters. Our infrastructure has to support non-taxpayers. Blaming the City for a problem imposed from Raleigh is simply inaccurate.

  30. Bill

    No Hauntedhead, I’m am very much for redoing buildings that are old or ugly. That is what Julian Price did, and what I’d be for. Mr. Price never built a new building either.

    What we want is an Asheville that supports maximum diversity, and to do that though you need affordable rents downtown. This can be done through rent controls or through relieving market pressure downtown.

    Then people can visit here from elsewhere, we can show them what a real, creative community looks like and turn them over and shake all their money out—and then they can head back to their corporate dominated cities.

    The market is an important mechanism for determining where we want to go, but it should not trump the will of the people. If Asheville were to vote that it wants to be as big as Charlotte or Atlanta, then I’d shut the heck up. But I believe there’s very strong, if not dominant sentiment here that we like the size of Asheville as it is now.

    We need an economy based on reason, not one based on some wealthy person’s low self esteem needing a lift by building a development empire. Or on using growth to create jobs. There are other ways to create jobs a la FDR, as well as sharing the wealth. There is no better example of wasteful wealth in the world than The Biltmore House. We should learn from that that money often makes no sense.

    And so I’ll continue to write.

  31. hauntedheadnc

    Little Sister —

    I’ll grant you that a lot of people worked very hard to bring Asheville back. I’ve never said they didn’t.

    I will disagree with you on the threat of increased carbon emissions. Dense urban areas actually generate less carbon per capita because people are living in areas where transportation options other than driving are now feasible. Dense urbanity is walkable urbanity, and the kind that creates the critical mass needed for workable public transit. Density also ensures that those who do drive in to enjoy it can park one place and leave their car there while they walk around, rather than driving from shopping center to shopping center. Everyone loves to raise the terrifying specter of Manhattan whenever development is discussed, yet residents of Manhattan have one of the smallest carbon footprints of any Americans.

    Now, as for affordability… Yes, that’s a problem. That’s something we need to fight for. In fact, we need to redouble our efforts. Before these rules were passed, developers would offer to build some or put money toward it, in hopes that it would sweeten their chances of approval. Tony Fraga, as you’ll recall, not only offered to put money toward it, but establish a green business incubator in the bargain — but his project still looked too much like the buildings Asheville was building back in the 1920’s and his proposal was denied. Now…? Short of requiring that a portion of new developments be developed as affordable workforce housing, I’m not sure what to do, honestly. I think the new rules regarding housing near transit will help though.

  32. hauntedheadnc

    By the way, Little Sister, I keep using the term “playground” because the people who advocate keeping Asheville just as it is are forgetting those of us who have to work here. Asheville as-is makes a lovely backdrop for their various adventures and they want to keep it that way. Never mind the low wages, unaffordable houses, brownfields, crumbling buildings, and every other thing that real growth, real progress, can fix.

    Remember, I don’t support growth or sprawl. I support progress — growth that makes the city better for those us here and those of us who want to be here.

  33. Haunted, my take on “affordable housing” is that it is pretty much impossible to fight market forces. We might make some marginal progress, but mostly we have to work with what is given.

    Following WWII the boom in the auto industry and highway construction permitted white flight which undercut downtown property values and reduced urban rents. Since the mid-90s downtowns have been rediscovered and the prices have been driven up again, so “affordable” has been pushed to the margins. While the density bonus will encourage some construction of green/affordable units along the transit corridors, the best effect of that density will be to enable higher frequency transit to the margins, further enhancing affordability.

    One reason downtown rents were attractive from 1950 to 1990 was that in addition to depressed prices, jobs were walkable. In the new real estate market, job access without a car is an important piece of the affordability picture.

  34. JonathanBarnard

    Little Sister,

    Hauntedhead is right. Higher densities correspond greatly with lower carbon footprints. I believe that some estimates put Manhattan’s per capita carbon footprint at about one-third of the national average. Density is one of the big three factors impacting differences among individual Americans’ carbon footprints. The other two are climate and electricity source (hydroelectric, say, as opposed to coal). Among the 100 largest metro areas (which collectively have lower carbon emissions than the American average), Honolulu has the lowest per capita carbon emissions. It’s dense by American standards, and it has a very favorable climate—tropical latitude (to prevent the need for heating) and sea breezes (to limit the need for air conditioning). The New York metro area, which stretches as far as northern PA, comes in second. But Manhattan by itself would be much lower than Honolulu.

    You might be interested in this Brookings Institution report:

    http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/Files/rc/reports/2008/05_carbon_footprint_sarzynski/carbonfootprint_report.pdf

    Also, I wrote an Xpress opinion piece looking at some of these issues from a local perspective.

    http://www.mountainx.com/opinion/2009/111809a_dirty_green_word_development

    With regard to affordability, it is true that high-density places tend to be more expensive. But that is because they are regarded as more desirable. When the regulatory environment allows for easier building (as Council’s actions just did), prices fall (or don’t go up as much). This is microeconomics 101: increasing supply (if demand remains steady) brings prices down; lowering the supply pushes prices up. Edward Glaeser, a Harvard economist and NY Times blogger, has demonstrated precisely this abouit the regulatory environment in several papers. See “Urban Growth and Housing Supply,” by Glaeser, Joseph Gyourko and Raven E. Saks from the National Bureau of Economic Research. I think you have to pay for that on line. But if you or anyone else contacts me via email, I could arrange to have you see my copy.

    Thanks everyone for this healthy discussion.

  35. JonathanBarnard

    Correction:

    Metro New York had the second lowest per capita carbon footprint in 2000. Since then, sprawl in its exurbs has dropped it to fourth behind metro Honolulu, metro Portland (where they have probably taken the most conscious steps to reduce their carbon footprints), and metro LA (which has a moderate coastal climate and the highest metro density (believe it or not) in the nation. Manhattan by itself, of course, still has a much higher density and a much lower per capita carbon footprint than any place (of notable size, anyway) in the nation.

  36. jose`

    I am confused. Do liberal utopians (I’m not one– why I’m asking) want to achieve the mythical paradise by restricting change through the intervention of a powerful mega-government or changing things radically through the intervention of a powerful mega-government?

  37. J

    There’s a good deal of difference between per capita carbon footprints and total footprints, isn’t there?

    Going off the top of my head, even if NYC has a lower per capita carbon foot print, the total carbon foot print of the largest city in the U.S. is going to exceed the carbon foot print of a relatively smaller city with plenty of roads that allows people to get home quickly.

    What will contribute to a lower per capita carbon footprint? An eight lane Merrimon/Hendersonville Rd where people can get home because traffic can move, or a highly congested, excuse me, dense urban living environment.

    On top of that, is it a low per capita footprint by choice? Highly doubtful. With metros, abundance of taxis, and prohibitively expensive real estate (minimizing the area you can keep a car in) all help to keep the per capita level down. It’s a false paradigm, because people in Asheville are going to keep their cars while they can. Everyone cites the low carbon footprints per person, but they fail to think of the attributing characteristics that create the per capita statistic.

    Statistics are all we want them to be.

  38. M

    Mr. Bothwell,

    You are mistaken, or else purposefully misrepresenting the facts. The city can’t lure voluntary annexation with “lower water rates” you say? Very funny. More accurately is, “the city can’t coerce county residents into annexation because it can’t charge them any more for water than it charges city residents” (despite the fact that the city hasn’t built or maintained most of the lines in the county).

    The real reason Asheville has suffered sub-par growth regarding annexation issues is most people who live in (or escape to) the county find Asheville city politics repugnant and dominated by those who are regarded as irresponsible stewards of taxpayer money. Pure and simple, sir.

    You can point fingers all you want at external forces for our lack of vibrancy, but the real reason lies with years of fiscal and policy mismanagement by elected officials who are beholden to the left-of-center voters who dominate the city population.

    You crow about projects thwarted by “popular demand”. Here’s another example of how popular demand in Asheville works. In 2002, popular demand was up in arms against development and clean-up of the dilapidated Sayles Bleachery site, despite the fact the Wal-Mart eventually built there would serve many of Asheville’s underclass. Despite the fact that the bleachery site was considered toxic and the developers were going to take remediatory action.

    Why? “Popular demand” in Asheville, including much of City Council for years, has been anti-growth and anti-development for no other reason than the typical antipathy leftists have for capital.

    It’s time to change, Mr. Bothwell, for the real people who live in Asheville and would like to find work here.

  39. little sister

    JonathanBarnard sez: “A central smart-growth argument for pushing high-density development downtown is to reduce vehicle miles travelled.”

    GHG emissions are not scientifically correlated to VMT’s without correcting for VHT and driving conditions. Stop-and-go driving and speeds of less than 30 MPH increase GHG emissions considerably. Those conditions in the compact built environment result in an increase in pollution and a loss of fuel economy. You can point to NYC and LA as models of ‘smart growth’ because they have the highest urban densities in the country, but would you want to live (or breathe) there?

    There is also the matter of high rise (compact) living producing the highest levels of GHG emissions of any form of housing, not only because of the sealed environment, but because of the additional energy consumption of common use areas.

    My point is that while (I hope) we all share the goal of reversing climate change and protecting the planet by reducing carbon emissions, the solutions are not one-dimensional (urban density per se) and new research is pointing to more fine-tuned approaches that should be considered in responsible land-use planning.

    hauntedheadnc sez: “I keep using the term “playground” because the people who advocate keeping Asheville just as it is are forgetting those of us who have to work here.”

    I don’t have any family members, friends or associates here who don’t have to work, yet they tend to agree with Branyon’s central thesis on development, and are like-minded in their opposition to the DMP as presented.

  40. JonathanBarnard

    J,

    There’s a good deal of difference between per capita carbon footprints and total footprints, isn’t there?

    Going off the top of my head, even if NYC has a lower per capita carbon foot print, the total carbon foot print of the largest city in the U.S. is going to exceed the carbon foot print of a relatively smaller city with plenty of roads that allows people to get home quickly.

    Of course New York has a higher total carbon footprint than Asheville.

    What will contribute to a lower per capita carbon footprint? An eight lane Merrimon/Hendersonville Rd where people can get home because traffic can move, or a highly congested, excuse me, dense urban living environment?

    Answer: a dense urban living environment.

    This isn’t a “false paradigm.” People may keep cars if they live downtown, but they will drive less. Some families will move from two to one cars. Sierra Club studies that looked at state odometer records for the LA area, SF Bay area and Chicago, repeatedly found the same thing: people in higher density neighborhoods drove less than people in lower density neighborhoods in the same metro areas.

    This doesn’t just apply to Manhattan, where most people don’t have cars.

  41. JonathanBarnard

    Little Sister

    There is also the matter of high rise (compact) living producing the highest levels of GHG emissions of any form of housing, not only because of the sealed environment, but because of the additional energy consumption of common use areas.

    Once again, you are simply wrong. Apartments do not produce the highest levels of greenhouse gases. Quite to the contrary, because they have lower ratios of exposed walls (the “sealed environment”) they are much more efficient to heat and cool. What’s more, they gain heat from the apartments below them. I used to live in a three-bedroom apartment here before moving into a three-bedroom house. The square footage of the apartment was more than 50% of the house, but the gas bill in the winter months was about a fourth or a fifth of the house’s.

    The question isn’t whether I want to live in LA or in Asheville. The question is: Would I rather live in an Asheville that absorbs newcomers through infill or through sprawl. And I’d rather live in an Asheville that absorbs newcomers through infill. It will make for a more dynamic city and for cleaner air to breathe.

    Many steps will have to be taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Promoting higher urban densities is one of the most important.

  42. hauntedheadnc

    Little Sister —

    What sort of jobs do you and yours have that would allow you to say that Asheville doesn’t need to offer its residents anything better? And what neighborhood do you live in that housing is reasonably priced?

    For that matter, how on earth can I get a job like the ones you all must have?

    Jonathan Barnard has dealt with some of your questions very elegantly, but I’ll remind you that Mr. Branyon’s position is that Asheville must stop growing altogether, and you have said you support that position. That means, as I have already pointed out, no new jobs, no affordable housing, no renovation, no revitalization.

    So again, where’s your affordable neighborhood, and how can I can snap up some property there before it skyrockets? Who is paying you a decent wage? I’d like to submit my resume!

  43. M, you are simply wrong.
    Asheville is the only sizeable city in NC which is not permitted to charge more for water outside city limits. (There may be some small ones.) Others charge substantially more for out-of-city users. That is fact, not opinion. That encourages voluntary annexation. Fact, not opinion.

    The ORIGINAL water lines in some of the system were installed by the several water departments which consolidated into the current Asheville system. But many new users have been added since then. You are entitled to your opinions, but not to your own fact sheet.

  44. little sister

    Bill sez: “I’m am very much for redoing buildings that are old or ugly. That is what Julian Price did, and what I’d be for.”

    hauntedheadnc replies: “Mr. Branyon’s position is that Asheville must stop growing altogether… That means, as I have already pointed out, no new jobs, no affordable housing, no renovation, no revitalization.”

    Seems to me that hyperbolic generalizations are influencing your interpretations, hauntedheadnc. New development up to and including 175,000 sq. ft. being rubber-stamped and shielded from public input and Council review is hardly an anti-renovation position.

    Furthermore, as previously noted, increased downtown development decreases housing affordability. Unfortunately, it’s an inverse correlation. That in itself is not a reason to thwart progress but it does require that tax incentives and subsidies be increased to ameliorate the negative impact, and in the worsening economy that is more at the mercy of ‘fiscal conservatives’ who are ideologically beholden to tax cuts, that’s not realistic or sustainable. It’s also true that tax-subsidized affordable housing reverts to the market after x # of years (depending on the stipulations of the grantor). That in itself defies sustainability.

    What kind of jobs, beside those in retail and hospitality, would you expect new downtown construction to create? Would they improve our lot by paying living wages? Even the Moog Foundation’s addition of a few jobs at their new facility on Broadway required CDBG funds for wage-enhancements. Again, subsidized. Since you asked,’my people’ are fortunate to work in trades (eg. plumbing), green technology, education, health, and so forth that are not dependent on dense new construction downtown.

    It’s my feeling that one significant step the City could take to reduce emissions that’s been overlooked by the focus on density and public transit alone, is the promotion of telecommuting. Now, many (most?) employees commute (in cars) from their home computers to their work computers. Rather than shifting people from cars to buses (depending on ridership, buses can increase emissions), let’s eliminate the need for commuter transit altogether, where practical.

    JonathanBarnard sez to me: “Once again, you are simply wrong.”

    I’m not sure I would agree with hauntedheadnc that Barnard’s responses to my comments are being dealt with ‘elegantly.’ There are environmental scientists and urban planners who point to higher energy use in multi-unit buildings. For example, compact development in the downtown core can limit design opportunities for solar power and can increase heat island effects and cooling demands – among other variables that can ameliorate the benefits of other transit GHG emission off-sets.

    The proposed solutions are not mutually-exclusive and the research is still open to debate. Somehow, nuances and innovations are being overlooked and challenges are being demonized. Some DMP proponents seem fixed on density-as-cure-all. To a degree, yes, but not in isolation.

  45. little sister

    Correction:

    OPPOSING new development up to and including 175,000 sq. ft. being rubber-stamped and shielded from public input and Council review is hardly an anti-renovation position.

  46. travelah

    Lokel, so would I … a really big one with LOT’s of Chinese plastic stuff.

  47. travelah

    Actually, lower cost stores are a benefit for lower income shoppers. I do not understand why so many privileged people are opposed to them.

  48. M

    Mr. Bothwell,

    You may argue I’m “wrong”, but the courts sure didn’t agree with your position, now did they.

    If it had been proven as fair that Asheville could charge higher water rates to county residents through lines and infrastructure the city did not build or maintain, I’m certain the courts would have ruled it so.

    Point is, you lost this argument a long time ago. Stop living in the past as you would like to have seen it turn out, councilman, and start living in the present with the cards you’ve been dealt.

  49. J

    Jonathan,

    My point is that just because the per capita is lower doesn’t mean that the carbon footprint will be lower if the same planning is duplicated. NY is a lifestyle different than here.

    People still drive here, they’re going to. The bus system is impractical, and the hills make it hard for many people to bike. It’s a car economy.

    People also have less space per capita in Manhatten. That means less TV’s, less heating, less stoves, less chance to burn power. Less cars, less chance to burn power…Asheville is impractical for that, and the county is always going to be de facto Asheville for people who want cars and space. It’s much harder to “live in the county” in Manhatten, you have to commit to the lifestyle.

    Little sister’s point makes sense…less pollution will be created by allowing people to get home more quickly as opposed to creating congestion where they have their fossil fuel engines burning for far longer periods of time.

    Asheville doesn’t have the same attributes and restrictions to duplicate this lower per capita footprint that is easy to admire from afar.

  50. JonathanBarnard

    Little Sister,
    The proposed solutions are not mutually-exclusive and the research is still open to debate.

    The idea that promoting greater urban densities, particularly in and near downtowns, helps to create development patterns that reduce carbon footprints really isn’t very controversial in the environmental movement or in academia. Research findings, of course, are always open to debate. Some people still debate whether people contribute to global warming.

    I’ve provided links and cited research from institutions such as Brookings and the Sierra Club and from scholars at Berkeley, Harvard and Stanford. It would be helpful if you cited studies and provided links to back up your assertions. Maybe you’ll change my mind.

    As for solutions not being “mutually exclusive,” I agree with you. By all means, promote telecommuting.

    Furthermore, as previously noted, increased downtown development decreases housing affordability. Unfortunately, it’s an inverse correlation.

    Again I don’t know what study you are referencing, but it wouldn’t surprise me if there was an “inverse correlation.” But correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation. If a study found correlation, it was likely because of preexisting greater demand and not because of the additional supply represented by the new construction.

    Throughout the nation, building in downtowns is more difficult than building on the suburban fringe. There are more headaches for developers. Hence, downtowns that have more recent construction are likely to be highly desirable places where developers see the chance for profits and are willing to go through the extra hassles and jump through extra hoops to build there. Thus it is quite possible that downtowns that see more construction have faster rising rents. But new buildings are not causing the rents to rise in old ones. As Edward Glaeser’s research has shown, the laws of supply and demand are not suspended in the housing market. If cities act to increase the supply of housing downtown by changing the rules to be more favorable to development, prices fall, not rise.

    The only way that adding to the housing supply downtown would work to raise housing prices or rents on existing units (more than would have happened in the absence of the new development)would be if somehow it increased demand even more than supply—in other words if the new construction downtown contributed to creating an environment where downtown was considered even more desirable than it is today, and so much so that it overcame the impact of the increased supply of units. (Sorry, that was a long sentence.) I think that’s unlikely because downtown is already desirable. But it wouldn’t be a bad thing, really. Since Asheville already makes money off real-estate downtown (where services are relatively inexpensive to provide), the additional money the city government would receive would allow it to do more of the good stuff it does–subsidize low-income housing and transit, build sidewalks, maintain parks and so forth–or allow the city to reduce taxes on the rest of us.

  51. JonathanBarnard

    J,

    As I previously mentioned, the correlation of higher density to lower carbon footprints does not just hold for the extremes of Manhattan. Throughout metro LA, a car-dependent place, people in higher density neighborhoods drive less than people in lower density neighborhoods. The same space-constraint factors you mention for Manhattan will apply in downtown Asheville. Large luxury condos downtown are not as large as large luxury homes in Biltmore Forest or the Cliffs. People in them will use less electricity and heating fuel. People living downtown will certainly drive less. Manhattan is the extreme case, but the trend is evident throughout the density spectrum.

  52. JonathanBarnard

    M,

    If it had been proven as fair that Asheville could charge higher water rates to county residents through lines and infrastructure the city did not build or maintain, I’m certain the courts would have ruled it so.

    The city didn’t build most of the lines in the county (but few cities do outside city limits); developers did. But it did and does maintain them.

    The courts didn’t rule that it would be unfair for Asheville to charge higher water rates (the vast majority of cities do); they ruled that the General Assembly didn’t break the NC Constitution when it passed a law that put special restrictions on Asheville.

    Nevertheless, in one of the rulings (I think it was from Wake County Superior), the judge issuing the opinion wrote something like, “The Court holds its nose as it makes this ruling.” The clear suggestion was that the judge felt that what the General Assembly did stank, and yet was, alas, constitutional.

  53. hauntedheadnc

    Little Sister, let me address some of your comments.

    [i]Seems to me that hyperbolic generalizations are influencing your interpretations, hauntedheadnc. New development up to and including 175,000 sq. ft. being rubber-stamped and shielded from public input and Council review is hardly an anti-renovation position.[/i]

    If Mr. Branyon openly admits that he is against growth, yet supports revitalization, then he is a hypocrite, for how else do you fill a revitalized building but with a new business or with new residents? That’s growth.

    As for the 175,000 foot threshold, it’s a concession to developers who follow the rules and incorporate design elements into their buildings that everyone says they want anyway. The Downtown Master Plan codifies the things that people demand in new development — the things that everyone attends meetings about and speaks up for, loudly and vehemently, if they’re not included. It saves us all about four or five council meetings by requiring developers to give us what we want anyway. And in return, the developers have more room to work with to incorporate those elements into.

    Personally, unlike so many other area residents, I don’t wake in the night in a cold sweat at the thought of a skyline or of large buildings downtown, so I’m not very upset by the 175,000 foot limit. Frankly, I see the downtown plan as a return to Asheville’s fearless days when it had the balls to build big and bold — those days that gave us the jewels we love today such as City Hall. Build beautiful, and you can build big. Give us what we want and we’ll give you leeway. Give and take, tit for tat, and the end result is a bolder and more architecturally distinctive city. Bring it on, I say.

    [i]What kind of jobs, beside those in retail and hospitality, would you expect new downtown construction to create? Would they improve our lot by paying living wages?[/i]

    Your question illustrates the dysfunction so encoded into Asheville’s current growth paradigm. We’re so used to piddly, meek little projects that it’s incomprehensible that we might be able to grow as something other than a regional tourist resort.

    Do you honestly think that those big buildings in other cities’ downtown house only stores and hotels? Can you not imagine a white collar economy budding and growing in Asheville? What sort of jobs would you expect to find in dense downtown urbanity, you ask me — the answer is jobs in offices and firms, brokerages, headquarters, publishing houses, software companies, and the like. The kinds of jobs, in other words, that aren’t found in large numbers here now because Asheville’s leaders have been utterly devoted to building an economy based on kissing the asses of tourists.

    [i]It’s my feeling that one significant step the City could take to reduce emissions that’s been overlooked by the focus on density and public transit alone, is the promotion of telecommuting. Now, many (most?) employees commute (in cars) from their home computers to their work computers. Rather than shifting people from cars to buses (depending on ridership, buses can increase emissions), let’s eliminate the need for commuter transit altogether, where practical.[/i]

    The problem with encouraging everyone to stay home is that people who stay home usually aren’t out on the streets buying things from food carts, restaurants, and coffee shops, nor are they popping into stores to pick up this or that on their lunch break. Having people working and living downtown means having people shopping downtown.

  54. M, I’m not living in the past. I was refuting your groundless argument that people choose to live outside the city for political reasons, when, in fact, they are often making a financial choice abetted by state policy. Your suggestion that people find Asheville repugnant in some way doesn’t bear close scrutiny. We have the largest percentage change of population on a daily basis of any city in North Carolina. We attract 40,000 commuting workers each day to a city of 80,000, (plus a large number of tourists). At least 40,000 of your neighbors love all of the advantages of the city … but don’t have to pay for them.

    Since coming into office I have been advocating positions that help Asheville deal with the hand its been dealt – I’ve made no effort to change the outcome of legislative and court decisions regarding water rates. And as Jonathan explained, the court has not ruled on fairness, it has ruled on legalities.

    We can, within narrow limits, increase the contribution of commuters to the City. We can raise parking rates (ours are below market rate which is why private developers don’t choose to provide parking); we can choose not to provide more parking while boosting transit—a benefit to working families in the city; we can increase the differential on use of recreation facilities (golf course, Nature Center, etc.); and that’s about it.

    Then too, we can incentivize annexation within limits: the Biltmore Park annexation was achieved through a tax incentive program, and commercial districts that want to sell liquor have to be within city limits in this state. So, hmmm, does that mean the city should urge people to drink up?

  55. J

    If the city is so strapped for cash, instead of encouraging people to be harsh on their livers, it could 1) cut the salaries of city council members, 2)put parking meters in West Asheville on Haywood street.

    Doubt you’ll see action on either of those fronts.

  56. J

    JB,

    My point is that Asheville isn’t going to be Manhatten, the good parts of LA, etc. We’re not structured that way. Where do you eat if you live on Beaver Lake? You have a healthy walk into Woodfin. As it stands, it doesn’t make sense to create density to add to traffic – traffic creates waits, which means more idling cars, etc. Plus, it’s cheap and easy to have cars with free parking downtown for commuters after 6. It’s hard to compare the two cities.

    Susan Fisher voted for the Sullivan Acts – someone who Bothwell helped re-elect. That seems to jive directly with Bothwell’s call to vote for Representatives with Asheville’s interests. Not to mention, it was a unanimous vote in the NC Senate – fair or not, everyone else in the state seems to get a good kick out of it.

    So remember that next time Bothwell complains about how unfair the Sullivan Acts are – he helped preserve them by electing officials who instituted them.

  57. little sister

    JonathanBarnard: “..the laws of supply and demand are not suspended in the housing market.”

    I think Cecil Bothwell and I both took a pretty good shot at discussing the dynamics of the housing market in earlier posts. Also consider that empirical and economic data put a kink in that market theory as it relates to housing.

    Paul Krugman (NYTimes; Princeton economics prof) has done a good job explaining (and clairvoyantly predicting) the real estate bubble that to a great extent has defied the supply and demand principle.

    My own experience is that the ‘revitalization’ of downtown Asheville has resulted in a degree of gentrification over the past several decades. It’s quite a common phenomenon for that to happen in downtown cores that decayed and then have been brought back to life.

    Having scores of family and friends who wrote, played music, waited tables, clerked, and plumbed while living in affordable walk-ups on Lexington, Walnut, Haywood and Battery Park in the past — whose earnings would never allow them to live downtown now — it’s hard not to tie increased development to decreased affordability. The same thing happened within the past year for friends who live off MLK: what used to be considered an under-developed area and was affordable to rent in is now in the tavern/park neighborhood and is becoming more desirable, and therefore, more expensive. Downtown, property is limited and of higher value and construction and renovation costs tend to be higher. Apparently, in the real estate market, proximity to amenities also has a higher price.

    Portland, OR, which has been at the forefront of infill development and mass transit since 1973, is now ranked #191 out of 226 MSA’s in the US for housing affordability. [median income compared to median housing costs, from most to least affordable.] It would be even closer to the bottom if not for the infusion of millions in subsidies and incentives provided for the development of affordable [less than market-rate] housing. Again, in this economy, the reliance on tax subsidies to counteract the market forces, is not a sustainable model.

    The scenario you laid out might be reasonable in a better economy. Call me pessimistic, but with a state revenue shortfall of $4 billion and a requirement to balance the budget, unemployment sky-high, and for the first time in a century, ‘fiscal conservatives’ in the majority in both chambers of the GA (and that’s just on the state-level), it seems unlikely that there will be all that extra money coming in from tax revenues to divert to the ‘good stuff.’ When the only solution to the state (and federal, for that matter) budget crisis being proposed is ‘tax cuts,’ subsidized services are in deep trouble.

    I predict that increased revenues from increased development will be needed for core services, and I believe that increased large-scale development will not flood the market to the extent that housing costs will drop and wages will rise downtown.

    I could be wrong. Frankly, I hope I am.

  58. little sister

    hauntedheadnc:

    According to Cecil Bothwell: “We attract 40,000 commuting workers each day.”

    For me, it’s a tough call to decide whether it’s more advantageous to significantly reduce commuter traffic and thus, GHG emissions in the commute by providing incentives for commuting on computers rather than in vehicles. I do see your point that commerce would suffer [“Having people working and living downtown means having people shopping downtown.”] but at the same time, there’s a price to pay. Seems like the anti-sprawl argument has its drawbacks, considering the numbers who drive into downtown. (And obviously, this concept only applies to commuters, not those living downtown.)

    “What sort of jobs would you expect to find in dense downtown urbanity, you ask me—the answer is jobs in offices and firms, brokerages, headquarters, publishing houses, software companies, and the like.”

    Can you point to cities whose populations mirror ours that have these businesses aplenty in their downtown cores? Is it because of development restrictions that our downtown doesn’t have as many brokerages, publishing houses, software companies and the like? We do have all of those in Asheville, but not of a quantity or size that employs the masses, presumably because of limitations on capital, not land use restrictions. We also have a surplus of vacant retail and office space downtown now.

    I wholeheartly agree that a tourist-based economy is an economic disadvantage to many in the workforce, but if you want to point to Asheville’s history to your advantage in the debate (building big buildings), I’m not sure you can also ask that a mythical ‘white collar’ downtown economy be revived or is necessarily tied to buildings, since it was really never the way here.

    I think you make excellent points about what Asheville could and should be, but I disagree that downtown construction is the means to that end.

    And then there’s the issue of the loss of transparency and Council’s authority in the DMP…..

  59. Algeo7

    What dismay to learn that huge 175,000 foot tall
    buildings need no approval from Council whom
    we had trusted to find reasonable downtown.
    Great surprise we found with G. Smith’s vote and at least he has tried to explain. When Esther Manheimer campaigned, some of us were leery of
    her employment with a law firm that defends developers. Did her vote and subsequent silence
    reflect her loyalty to them instead of those of us who envision development as explained in the
    Downtown Master Plan.
    Let us watch campaign BigBucks donations begin to reach our council.
    This household’s SmallBucks will support Cecil B.

  60. hauntedheadnc

    [i]Can you point to cities whose populations mirror ours that have these businesses aplenty in their downtown cores? Is it because of development restrictions that our downtown doesn’t have as many brokerages, publishing houses, software companies and the like? We do have all of those in Asheville, but not of a quantity or size that employs the masses, presumably because of limitations on capital, not land use restrictions. We also have a surplus of vacant retail and office space downtown now.[/i]

    Little Sister — sorry to be getting back to you late, but I just saw that you had addressed me.

    When it comes to filling new development downtown, I will admit that a big piece of the puzzle will be government and business leadership that realizes there is more to life than waiting tables and fluffing Floridians’ pillows. However, there have been opportunities to develop a new economy in the past that were quashed by opposition to development. Specifically, I’m referring to Tony Fraga’s proposal to include a green business incubator in his redevelopment of the Haywood Park Hotel. I still think, and will always think, that despite its size, that project represents one of the saddest missed opportunities since Asheville’s rebirth.

    Now, as to filling that downtown, all we need do is look toward smaller business-oriented cities such as Greenville, Spartanburg, and Knoxville for starters. What sorts of businesses do they have? None of them are the massive tourist draw that Asheville is, yet their downtowns are healthy. How did they do it? Where are their citizens employed?

    Truth be told, it’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg scenario. You need the businesses to demand the space, but you need the space to lure the businesses. What would help beyond all measure though, would be for Asheville’s business and city leadership to wake up and do something other than talk about building an economy based on climate science and green manufacturing.

  61. little sister

    hauntedheadnc sez: “Now, as to filling that downtown, all we need do is look toward smaller business-oriented cities such as Greenville, Spartanburg, and Knoxville for starters. What sorts of businesses do they have? None of them are the massive tourist draw that Asheville is, yet their downtowns are healthy. How did they do it? Where are their citizens employed?”

    Those models are tricky. Knoxville has more than twice Asheville’s population (and downtown sq. miles), topographically and logistically is more accessible (and is a strategic gateway to the mid-west), and has a large university that acts as an incubator and hub for studies beyond the humanities.

    Greenville is more similar in size but the median hourly wage is barely higher. From their economic development website: “In the last few decades, low wages and favorable tax benefits have lured foreign companies to invest heavily in the area. The city is the North American headquarters for Michelin and BMW.” Low wages, auto-based industries, and SC – with the most anti-union climate of any state in the country – doesn’t feel like the right fit or much progress, either. On a personal note, I can’t stand downtown Greenville. The redevelopment effort has been focused on the Main Street niche which is full of trendy establishments without character and upscale condos. Walking around downtown beyond Main Street requires crossing 6 lane highways – hardly pedestrian friendly or densely designed.

    Back to the original theme. I contend that there is ample unoccupied space for offices and even manufacturing to enable significant job growth, and that the permanent alterations that new high rise construction affixes to our downtown are a problem, not a solution to the recruitment of innovative industries looking for a livable, workable home. Big, new buildings don’t create jobs; a trained and educated workforce and enticing economic development incentives do.

  62. hauntedheadnc

    However, Little Sister, with economic development comes growth. Asheville is already so desirable a place to live that people are willing to put up with grossly overpriced housing and ridiculously low wages to live here. If we were to take economic development seriously and invest in educational infrastructure to the point that we could grow or attract a scientific economy, then Asheville would be an even more desirable place to live.

    Which means the downtown master plan would have already paved the way for the responsible growth such a turnabout would attract.

    What it comes down to is the fact that Asheville is not going to stay the same, no matter how much some might wish it would. The question is, will it grow in a responsible fashion or will it grow in an irresponsible fashion? The downtown plan codifies responsible growth and I’m glad it’s in place.

    By the way, regarding Greenville, I think that central Greenville is lovely. I wish we had a zoo and park system of their caliber. However, once you get outside of the immediate downtown area, the rest of Greenville has got to be what hell is really like. Suburban Greenville is ugly enough to make your eyes bleed. And on the subject of their politics and social views, as a gay man I can honestly say I’d rather die than live somewhere so backward. That, and Asheville has much better architecture.

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