The Gospel According to Jerry

Asheville City Council members have finally found a real visceral issue that they can add to their long and impressive list of accomplishments. So far, the list consists of installing more roundabouts, putting up fancy (and expensive) new streetlights, getting a trellis put up at Staples, changing the loading dock at Green Life, and their recent effort to stop a “work-force housing” project in Candler because the developer refused to be voluntarily annexed by Asheville.

Now, City Council has announced that it’s going to prohibit gated communities in Asheville. There’s an issue they can really sink their teeth into.

Can we expect that all the neighbors from Beaver Lake and Biltmore Park to Burton Street and Hillcrest are going to come together in City/County Plaza (oops, I forgot that it’s closed indefinitely)—OK, Pritchard Park—and dance around, holding hands and singing “Kumbaya”?

It is time we recognized that our differences are due not to racial hatred but to economics. We in Asheville and Buncombe County are losing our middle class, and that’s where people of all ethnic and socioeconomic groups come together.

Some of this is attributable to the actions of previous Councils, which used the Unified Development Ordinance to discourage new industries that wanted to locate here, primarily within the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction, and the abusive and inefficient inspection process. Now we have few manufacturing jobs that pay decent wages, and we depend on the tourism and retail industries to employ area residents who lack advanced education and special skills.

Our City Council has assumed that people who buy homes in gated communities are all very wealthy and wish to hide behind those gates so they won’t have to associate with the great unwashed.

Apparently, it hasn’t occurred to these mostly progressive folks that, unlike them, many of the people in question began life in far-less-than-affluent circumstances. They worked hard, saved their money and have now managed to afford their dream home in a community that offers the amenities they want to enjoy in their golden years.

Refusing to allow them to gate their community is the same thing as saying they can’t lock their front door. Hey! Why not let everyone come in and sit in your kitchen and use your bathroom?

Council members seem to think it would be really cool if outsiders could just take their walks or drive through these developments, even though they’re private property.

I live in a small condo community with only 20 units. It is not gated, and we have to put up traffic cones to keep heavy trucks from entering our driveway to turn around, which tears up the asphalt. We have strangers speeding through the parking lot and endangering the lives of our residents. If you ask them to slow down, you get the one-finger salute. We also enjoy the benefit of many animal walkers who share their dog feces and litter with all of us.

Many modern developments now provide such enhancements as swimming pools, health clubs, exercise rooms, picnic grounds and walking trails. The cost of these extras is included in the price of the homes and the common-area maintenance charges. Are these homeowners now required to share those amenities with anyone who decides to wander onto the property and take advantage of them—or perhaps even abuse or vandalize them?

Forcing private residential developments to allow the general public on their premises without specific permission might be construed as a taking of private property without compensation, a violation of Fifth Amendment rights.

There’s also the huge liability issue. If someone—particularly a child—wanders onto the property and gets injured in the exercise room or drowns in the swimming pool, the homeowners could be found liable under the “attractive nuisance” doctrine.

Even more importantly, gates are also one of the few effective tools available to discourage drug trafficking in our subsidized-housing projects.

Let’s face it: For years the housing projects have been plagued with kids, some as young as 14 or 15, selling drugs to outsiders who come to the projects to buy. I am sure these kids’ neighbors know who they are and what they’re up to. I’m also convinced that for some of those residents, the drug trade is a cottage industry that supports the irresponsible adults who may be these children’s parents or guardians. If they didn’t want these kids out there, they would put a stop to their activities.

That’s why there is resistance to gating these communities. Although it’s couched in all sorts of philosophical objections, the real reason is that the gates would make the buyers go somewhere else, and that would hurt business.

People who live in subsidized housing are entitled to be treated in a dignified manner, but the taxpayers have a right to impose rules that make the project safe from the ravages of drug sales and violence.

Obviously this would not stop people from buying and selling drugs, but it would move the trade to locations where innocent residents, especially children, would not be endangered.

Council members need to rethink their position on prohibiting gated communities. Go back to doing what you do best: holding seven-hour meetings to micromanage local development and to pontificate and nitpick every issue in order to advance your personal agenda.

[Local developer Jerry Sternberg is a longtime observer of the community scene. He can be reached at gospeljerry@aol.com.]

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