It has been interesting and provocative to see the letters in Xpress “defending” the Sierra Club from what seems to be considered an attack upon its work by Bill Branyon [“Sierra Club Chimera: WENOCA Chapter Endorsements Are an Environmental Disgrace,” June 29, Xpress]. Bill was calling out the influential organization for its endorsement of incumbents in the last election. Incumbents who have allowed the rapacious overdevelopment of our town without any clear objection or critique.
I’m grateful for the efforts of the Woodfin mayor pro tem and his community to head off the obviously destructive development plans in his town [“Sierra Club Critique Flames Out in Woodfin,” July 13, Xpress]. I also understand the theory behind infill development — to optimize the use of urban space, to lessen sprawl. I’d like to know Peter Robbins’ definition of “properly done” infill.
The infill development I see looks like cookie-cutter box houses, out of character with the neighborhoods they are built in, squeezed onto lots so small there is virtually no green space left. Less than one block from me, four three-story box homes were put on a small lot. Our neighborhood is over 100 years old with a certain sense of place and character, completely violated by this infill development. I don’t care to walk in that part of my neighborhood anymore, remembering the beautiful trees and foliage that are no more. One or two houses built to blend into the character of the neighborhood, preserving some green space, might be properly done infill.
I don’t see this happening in wealthier neighborhoods. I haven’t heard of North Asheville’s Griffing Boulevard Rose Garden Park, Beaver Lake or the Asheville Country Club golf course being sold off for infill development. Yes, two of those places are private property, but eminent domain proceedings could turn them into infill housing as often happens when green private property is conscripted for asphalt highways. And it is not preventing rural sprawl or increasing affordable housing to any appreciable extent. It is making money for developers and putting a strain on public infrastructure and pressure on our environment. And upsetting many citizens.
I believe one point that Bill was trying to make is that business as usual is not going to take us where we need to go as a community resilient to the worsening effects of climate change or one that strives for economic justice for those who live and work here. We need visionary leaders who will think and act creatively. What about the promotion of local light rail, bikeways, sidewalks, comprehensive bus routes? What about bringing the downtown trolleys back to lessen car traffic pressures? What about giving tax breaks to people who preserve green space in their neighborhoods?
Going to visit a friend recently who lives off Sweeten Creek Road, I was shocked to see a huge swath of forested land being cleared. My friend told me that Biltmore Farms is clearing the land to put up 800 apartment units — just scrape all life off the land and build! That’s also what they’ve done to aid and abet the building of the Pratt & Whitney airplane-parts factory. Scrape and build, scrape and build.
Development that defies climate-sensible zoning regulations, that ignores the ecological world it seeks to build upon decreases our resilience to climate change.
Bill has called for a countywide referendum on development, allowing the people a voice in decision-making about the place in which we live. Tourists and developers don’t vote. Maybe that’s why we won’t have a referendum. To the powers that currently be, this town exists for them and the very wealthy who move here for its beauty or, as I have learned, because they consider themselves “climate-change refugees.” If business as usual continues, they will have made the wrong decision.
— Anne Craig
Editor’s note: The Citizen Times reported in May that Biltmore Farms sold the Sweeten Creek Road property to a Georgia company, Flournoy Development Group LLC, which plans to build 852 multifamily apartment units on 133 acres of a 331-acre site.