Amendment promotes healthy communities and the environment

Susan Bean


More neighbors? Yes, please!

I live in a neighborhood near UNC Asheville that I completely adore. I work with my neighbors to host pocket park workdays and annual block parties, and I’ve basically turned my yard into the neighborhood dog park. A 6-year-old two blocks over rides his bike to deliver a newspaper that he makes himself on single 8-by-10-inch sheets of paper announcing things like, “Halloween is coming! You’d better get your costume ready!” Obviously, I subscribe for a quarter a week because that is news I need.

Building healthy communities

I also work for MountainTrue, a nonprofit where we advocate on behalf of healthy communities across Western North Carolina. My neighborhood, in many ways, resembles the kind of healthy community we want to foster: one that is walkable, provides easy access to transit and has green space and tree canopy tucked in between houses and apartments. It’s downright charming.

We at MountainTrue believe that increasing housing in neighborhoods like mine that already have roads, water pipes, transit and neighbors is a good thing for our environment, which is why we support the open space amendment currently being considered by Asheville City Council.

Words like “density” and “infill” can cause concern in neighborhoods where people like things the way they are and don’t want to see trees cut down to make room for more buildings. However, Asheville needs more places for people to live, and we have an opportunity to meet that need by welcoming good development.

If given the opportunity to invite more people into my neighborhood by providing something like a duplex or a small apartment building, I would be sad to lose the trees that stand there but would welcome the chance to possibly gain more dog friends for my puppy or a new friend whom I could get milk from in a snowstorm when I badly need to make chocolate chip pancakes. It’s a trade-off I’m willing to make.

The ‘missing middle’

The open space amendment under consideration is designed with the intention of promoting more infill development of small housing units like triplexes and apartment buildings for eight or 10 units. Changing the open space requirements is a key step to achieving the goals of the “missing middle” housing policies (think duplexes, triplexes and modest courtyard apartments) that Asheville already adopted back in 2017. Some opponents of the amendment have painted a picture of the proposal as though it will turn Asheville into a treeless landscape of concrete that makes money for a few people and ruins the lives of those of us who live here, but that takes the neighbors out of the equation.

At MountainTrue, our mission is to champion resilient forests, clean waters and healthy communities. We love trees. We have staff members who have spent their whole careers fighting to protect old-growth forests, advocating for stream buffer protections and calling for fewer lanes of traffic on Interstate 26 so we can keep more old trees and old neighborhoods healthy and vibrant.

The reality of missing middle development is that people will live in those new homes if they get built. If they don’t get built in town, then those people will instead move to new homes farther from the city center, where acres of forest or farmland will be lost to build new roads, new suburbs and new grocery stores for those people to shop in. If we welcome them in town, we can save those forests and farmlands and maybe even make some new friends. 

I hope you will join us in supporting adoption of the open space amendment. I also hope you will work with us to grapple with the complexities of how we will grow. Development in places with preexisting infrastructure is a crucial strategy for combating sprawl. It fosters both healthy communities and a healthy environment. And ultimately, we want both.

Susan Bean is the community engagement director for MountainTrue in addition to being an Asheville resident with wonderful neighbors.



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10 thoughts on “Amendment promotes healthy communities and the environment

  1. MV

    While the writer makes many good points, what’s to keep all the gutted open space from being developed with current trend of crappy apartments being incentivized in the form of corporate welfare rather than the charming neighborhood-friendly duplexes and such? And what of developments in some areas near town where local officials continually ignore traffic studies and their ancillary health and public safety impacts?

  2. Kira

    You may be willing to have all the trees cut down to build apartment complexes, and you have a right to your opinion. However, many of us do not find wholesale deforestation a “sacrifice we are willing to make”, as one of these days, there will be nothing left to preserve. We need to build smarter.

    • Bright

      No she doesn’t “have a right” to kill OUR environment. This woman is kind of misdirected and ill-informed.

    • Andre C.

      I think that’s the point the author is making–to build smarter, we should be building where our jobs, infrastructure and services are already located (urban and town centers). The resistance to that idea that we’re seeing here in the comments will only drive that development out of the city and into the farms and forested areas that surround us. For every 101 Charlotte Street that we shut down, we invite more destructive projects like the Bluffs at Richmond Hill.

      • kw

        Yeah, the Bluffs is absolutely the worst project ever to be proposed in Asheville–even though the land was annexed by Woodfin in some secret vile way…anyone with an IQ over 40 knows that conserving that urban forest between a city park and the French Broad River will be far more valuable long-term than providing housing of any kind to anyone. No infrastructure there anyway, so why hasn’t the city stepped in to protect the great neighborhood of Richmond Hill? Shame on City Council for not standing with taxpayers.

  3. WNC

    There are quite a number of people who would be appreciative to move their tents to your yard. They would leave trees, maybe.

    This with most housing stories are essays on the dangerous, unsustainablity of open borders.
    Data indicates 90% of Fentanyl comes across the border. If liberals actually cared about homelessness and a generation of young and older Americans who are mentally ill and permanently brain damaged from drug use they would champion the build the wall movement.

    Most communities are experiencing results of crime as a result of open borders.

    Schools that are understaffed have been over run by non English speaking students (schools that already had to many EC and ESL students for staff). Definitely not all but a lot of students who need these services have parents who conceived and or raised them while under the influence of illegal drugs.

    This is apart from terrorist and those who come to American to hurt Americans

    • Bright

      Over the decades more and more tourists have been lured to asheville only to be used by the city “fathers” for whatever ill planned issues they think are necessary. Has any of this made asheville a better place? Nope…asheville has become much worse. And what’s become of the money? The place depends more on tourist’s money and keeps most of taxpayer’s money for their boat payments. The dependence on tourists as primary revenue is dangerous and childishly irresponsible. Par.

  4. kw

    This writer seems to think that once a bunch of duplexes and tiny homes are allowed into the neighborhoods, Asheville-area development will slow down. I believe that’s myopic and wildly ignorant of the facts. Is the writer so willing to put her money where her mouth is that we could level her home and replace it with an 8-unit building? And allow everyone to run their dogs wherever they want? Lots of people love to engage in community, but at the same time they enjoy protecting their homes as sanctuaries…

  5. Peter Robbins

    There’s a simple way to combat urban sprawl without increasing urban density. It’s called living in the clouds.

  6. R.G.

    Idiotic! I hope that isn’t the stance of MountainTrue. If so, I’ll never make a donation to that organization again–or support Julie Mayfield for public office. Or control the urge to toss single-use plastic into Ms. Bean’s private doggy park.

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