Letter: Asheville needs a population cap

Graphic by Lori Deaton

I’ve lived in Asheville over 40 years. I moved here in 1980 and fell in love with the lovely views, fresh air, friendly people and nonhurried way of life. It was a small town back then with a population of about 50,000. Even though I was advised not to open a business here due to the lack of people, I loved the area so much that I went for it. The town and lifestyle here made it worth it to me to make less money than where I came from. As an artist, I loved the camaraderie of so many other artists in Asheville.

Asheville was pretty run-down back then and from my perspective, it was artists who moved in and began to revitalize downtown. We were a town of lively entrepreneurs. Every shop was a unique business, except for Woolworths, which still has charm. Once we got Asheville rolling in a good direction and felt the support of the community for our businesses, the corporates seized upon the opportunity to ride on our unique coattails. For the past three decades, we’ve been robbed of the town we knew and loved and pushed out to make room for their greed.

The tourism officials of Asheville have spent way too much of our taxpayers’ money to entice more people to come. All the new hotels weren’t paying into the infrastructure that was needed, but instead their taxes were recirculated into advertisements to bring even more tourists here. The infrastructure has been directed to tourists; the noise pollution is over the top; crime has escalated; the traffic is horrible; rampant homelessness is embarrassing; and most of us don’t even venture to downtown anymore. Many have had to move on because of the ridiculous increases in rent, real estate, property taxes and dismissal of officials to really care about permanent residents.

I live in Woodfin now, near the big water park that is being built. If there were any sanity to that plan, there would have been hydropower features installed to benefit the community. I put forth a proposal for that a few years ago, which was never responded to. It’s all about more revenue for the city, with a lack of care for the environment. At this critical time in the history of climate changes, this is no time to escalate the damage being done. The population has risen from 50,000 to over [92,000] since I’ve been here, and I believe we need a population cap now. Asheville is failing. It has lost its charm. It has lost numerous species of plants and birds. It has lost water purity. It has lost numerous eccentric artists, which made Asheville what it was.

Asheville’s not weird anymore, and I’m sad about that.

— Valerie Naiman


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20 thoughts on “Letter: Asheville needs a population cap

  1. Lou

    It’s a dying town, as evidenced by the old and pale population moving here in droves, clutching all their money, likely made on the backs of others. It could have been as charming as all the glossy magazine covers claim it is…but sadly, it’s just another gentrified Southern town. Without all of the negatives outlined above, it would be an okay place. With them, it’s nothing special.

  2. blueridgeguvnor

    Although I sympathize with letter writer here, a population cap is neither feasible or constitutional.

    • Peter Gordon

      This is similar to quitting a job with the understanding that you were looking for one when you found the present one. Likewise for picturesque small southern mountain towns. My wife and I have lived in this area for 25 years. We initially bought a 95 acre farm in Madison County. We would use Asheville as our source for goods and services unavailable in our remote location. Eventually, remote became too remote and the work of maintaining 95 acres too much. So we moved into an existing house in Weaverville to be closer to the goods and services we had come to enjoy. We are glad that Asheville is large enough and energetic enough to have high quality medical care and other essential services that we need. If Asheville had been allowed to die most of the services and the qualities available would not be here. So the trade-off is to be able to live in what is still a reasonable sized town with excellent services or to be completely into nature but unable to live here because it would be too backward to meet our needs. The reality is that the increased population brings money into the community that makes living affordable and practical for all of us.

  3. Robert Platt

    How would a population cap resolve the issues you raise? Legality issues aside, demand for moving to Asheville wouldn’t go away, and with scores of people put on a wait list, rent and mortgage prices would skyrocket – look at cities like Amsterdam that severely limit new city centre construction, where people can wait years for new accommodation. The city would become unaffordable for most and as a result gentrification would accelerate and destroy any remnant of the Asheville you cherish. What we need is smart, sustainable growth with legally binding design guidance/coding that protects Asheville’s heritage. I’m afraid you can’t stop population growth in Asheville or anywhere else – rather than being stuck in the past we should be concentrating on how to improve our communities for future generations.

  4. NFB

    So, in other words, the letter writer thinks there should be a law against what she did by moving here. Interesting that she doesn’t think that the cap should include requiring her to leave.

    She also says nothing about how such a cap could be implemented, let alone how it could possibly be enforced.

    And oh, Asheville was never really all that weird.

    • wcumming

      Asheville was never weird. Perhaps the letter writer was imagining she was in Portland or Austin? Asheville has grown because tourists like to experience the local restaurants, bars, and music venues and buy the arts and crafts from the aging hippies who make their living here amid the beautiful surroundings. This is what drew her here as well, but like all liberals, she now wants to exert control by shutting the door from others coming as well. Perhaps she should ask the local merchants and artists if they want to limit their income by stopping more tourists from coming? Of course, there is no way to put a cap on a city population, no matter how misguided such an idea is. Maybe the best thing for her to do is move away from the city center and just come in occasionally to visit? There are a lot of beautiful smaller towns in WNC that might be more appealing to her. But trying to limit Asheville’s growth for her own selfish purposes will not happen,

  5. Xeno Phobe

    How about a grandfather clause? Unless you were born in Mission or Saint Joseph’s, AND your granddaddys were living here as documented in the 1920 census, go away.

    • dsmvii

      Love this idea! I’m fourth generation Ashevillean, born at St. Joseph’s (the old one), and my great-grandparents are in the 1900 census for Asheville. I’m all for growth but not uncontrolled growth. City government for the past twenty or so years have let developers get away with too much.

  6. A. Ferreira

    The problem in our area is that we live in the mountain equivalent of an island. We have only so much land. In Hawaii, due to desirability of the location, the cost of land escalated so much that the increased property taxes would have forced native Hawaiians out of their homes (they actually capped their taxes to prevent this disaster).
    And so we have a similar situation where the amount of land is limited. And, like Hawaii, people want to live here because it’s a great place to live. I see no legal way to prevent the increased population unless the price of real estate becomes so high that no one will pay it. So far that’s not been a problem, as out-of-towners are plunking down huge chunks of cash for homes.

  7. Sean Osborne

    My home town imposed a population cap way back in the 1970s. As a result, it is now an absolutely gorgeous tourist town with a massive tax base, due to the fact that only rich people can live there. Daily, busses full of workers are brought in from 100 miles away to wait tables and run cash registers. Homes start at a million dollars and go up from there. Not one of the people I went to high school with has remained.

    The solution is not to cap Asheville’s population, but for the artists and creatives to revitalize surrounding communities like Arden, Leicester, and Enka. The people who made Asheville weird are still here, and instead of pushing West Asheville as an aspirational hip destination, we need to do what creatives always do: find the cheap rent districts, move in, and make them weird!

    • wcumming

      I would love to know how your town enforced a population cap? I don’t think that is legal or possible anywhere in America.

      • Sean Osborne

        By imposing a moratorium on new water hookups due to a limited supply. Technically you could build new homes, you just couldn’t hook up city water – and wells are not an option there.

  8. Enlightened Enigma

    AVL suffer decades of non leadership and it shows everywhere you look…and now, at this critical time, the elected non leaders are worse than ever before.
    Inept and unworthy.

    • NFB

      The filing period for the next election is only a few months away.

      Mayor Manheimer’s, Vice Mayor Smith’s, Councilwoman Wisler’s, and Councilwoman’s Mosely’s seats are all up.

      Care to step up to the plate?

      I thought so.

      • Been here since 1999

        Doesn’t change the fact our leaders are inept and weak. If your not a cry baby liberal in this town you won’t get elected. Asheville deserves all its hardships ahead.

  9. Felix Babbins

    It’s already an unaffordable place to live. At least according to the people who already live here and can’t make a decent living, but apparently not to those wanting to. Reading replies to different letters I hear both sides. People from out-of-town and out-of-state plunking down large sums of money to buy a house here. While others scream “more affordable housing!”. I was born at Memorial Mission Hospital and have lived here my whole 54 yrs. I, like so many Asheville natives, don’t like the majority of what our city council allows either. And I’m not so naive that I don’t know growth is inevitable. I think what us Asheville natives are trying to say, at least in part, is if the massive developing and stripping of our mountains and bulldozing of our wooded lowlands continues, then our city council has allowed the destruction of what makes, or made, our setting desirable to begin with. Yes, I know, some of us keep saying that too. We’re destroying ourselves despite ourselves. There’s one comment that’s been in several replies, and that’s “well if it was ok for you to move here, then why not anybody else?”. I’m pretty sure those that moved here 25+ yrs. ago, along with us Asheville natives, are simply saying they’d, or maybe we all, would like to see things slow down, city council push back a bit on the gates to Asheville and be a bit more protective of what those who already live here love. Work with residents instead of “bulldozing” anything and everything with no regard to Asheville natives, but giving all “regard” to newcomers. Because if they keep it up, then they will have destroyed the “resource(s)” – trees, mountains, wooded lots – that drew newcomers here to begin with. Then what’s gonna draw new people to live here and bring their money? All the newfangled modern conveniences, blocks ‘n blocks of “affordable” apartment buildings, dozens ‘n dozens more shopping centers, loads more restaurants, all that plopped right down on newly poured concrete as far as the eye can see? That’s not what people are moving here for. There’s compromise people. I promise there is. It just doesn’t look as though that word exists in city council.

  10. Jason Williams

    What’s the name of our baseball team as it’s been known since 1915?
    A population cap is not the answer to Asheville’s housing woes.
    We need a moratorium on for-profit real estate investment, a hefty premium on second house purchases, a steep increase in the licensing and permit fees for those that run commercial businesses (i.e. AIRB&B) in residential zones, and rezoning all residential neighborhoods to owner occupied only.

    • NFB

      Rezoning all residential neighborhoods to owner occupied only would do nothing to solve Asheville’s housing woes and tons to make it even worse. That would be banning renters from a big chunk of the city.

      • Jason Williams

        It would be banning landlords from a big chunk of the city. What if the renters actually had a chance to buy the homes, they basically pay the mortgage on?

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