Letter: Business as usual won’t help our community

Graphic by Lori Deaton

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.


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9 thoughts on “Letter: Business as usual won’t help our community

  1. R

    If Tourism were paying its fair share, we citizens wouldn’t be burdened so much. If we’re going to be expected to function somewhat like Disney characters, shouldn’t we benefit?

  2. Peter Robbins

    I appreciate the shout-out in Anne Craig’s letter to the editor, even if the abrupt and context-free appearance of my name might confuse readers into thinking I had joined some overall defense of the local Sierra Club’s political endorsements. I have not done that.

    In response to her query as to my definition of “properly done” infill development, let me refer Ms. Craig to the Sierra Club’s webpage, which identifies infill construction as a “key strategy” for discouraging urban sprawl and fighting climate change: https://www.sierraclub.org/smart-growth-urban-infill. One of the links will take her to a 117-page guidebook that provides examples of good and bad infill (with pictures). I cited this webpage in my online comments that appear after Bill Branyon’s original piece. For those who don’t trust the Sierra Club, an even more detailed guide to infill development can be found here: https://scholarsbank.uoregon.edu/xmlui/handle/1794/8733. And for still more information presented from both a general and local perspective, see https://www.lincolninst.edu/publications/articles/gentle-infill and https://mountainx.com/opinion/amendment-promotes-healthy-communities-and-the-environment/. As these sources show, infill construction can be done in a manner consistent with preservation of neighborhood character, and this is as true in Asheville as anywhere else.

    • Grant Millin

      Susan Bean of MountainTrue and her MX commentary “Amendment promotes healthy communities and the environment” was more indecision.

      There’s going to be a point where the ‘proper infill’ uses up the space. The ‘missing middle’ meme is like ‘growth math’ that magically produces genuine affordable, quality housing for the locals that desperately need it. People in other communities elsewhere can make their communities work with the climate they enjoy today as is.

      The UDO 7.11.4 (Open Space Amendment) changes were sold to council as concepts like “racial wealth gap” reduction. I think folks in Housing Authority of City of Asheville pubic housing sites are ready for the Livability Study I’ve called for.

      But the UDO 7.11.4 changes conjuring stuff like racial wealth gap amelioration is unlikely. People get on council and they want to produce some kind of results.

      The outcomes, solutions, and challenges seem to be building as fast as the housing for non Asheville folks. By non Asheville folks I mean the properties may be getting acquired by non Asheville folks. The employers the people that move here work for may be non Asheville. The tourists are non Asheville folks. It’s quite possible we can form new challenges, solutions, and outcomes. Different leaders than what Ken Brame wants are probably needed.

      By the way, talking about Pratt and Whitney a lot seems pointless too now. That happened too.

  3. Local Grandad

    This letter writer never fails to entertain MtnX readers with her leaps of logic. So, this town is built only for the ominous ‘powers that be’, developers and the wealthy. And yet, she advocates for no-growth, or at the least, better looking growth that better suits her personal tastes and would make those privileged enough to already own property, even more so. Anti-growth legislation has shown across our nation to drive up cost and increase barriers to ownership and livability . She seems little concerned about the impacts this would have on those less fortunate than herself, including minority and underserved communities, growing economic disparities and increasing cost of living. Banyon and his minions have their (older, whiter, privileged) heads in the sand. Let’s think more about our neighbors and less about ourselves.

    • MV

      ‘Let’s think more about our neighbors and less about ourselves.’

      Okay, Local Grandad. But that’s exactly what longtime residents are doing when they push back against *some* of the more destructive developments being proposed (such as the Bluffs). They are thinking of their neighbors.

      And for the record, the Bluffs project is opposed by the Sierra Club, MountainTrue, the majority of Woodfin voters, and most forward-thinking locals with an IQ over 40. And yet the developer who only thinks of ‘himself’ urged the mayor and staff during a secret meeting to condemn some land so he can place a bridge over the new Silverline Park.

    • Grant Millin

      Anonymous Local Grandad

      I cover the ‘racial wealth gap’ foils that came up during the OSA ‘emergency’. That was another perverse, untrue bit of propaganda from COA. Not good.

  4. Prospect Joe

    The areas mentioned are deed restricted from being subdivided. That’s why you don’t see homes build on top of each other in “wealthy” N. Asheville neighborhoods. The area you walk in is not restricted.

  5. Voirdire

    Well, this is a little off subject…. but it’s important. Will Harlan was recently quoted in regard to the Forest Service’s new ten year “plan’ for the Pisgah-Nantahala National Forest.. and I quote… “Objectors to the plan, like Harlan, a scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity, says it will quadruple logging in the national forests, building hundreds of miles of new roads and weakening protections for trails, trout streams and old-growth forest. ” Will Harlan and knows what he is talking about when it comes to this “plan”. Basically, what the Forest Service is looking to do is log 10% of the Pisgah-Nantahala national forest -which is comprised of just over a million acres- a year for the next ten years. This simplistic formula is based on the idea that it takes a logged hardwood forest 100 years to return to it’s original state…. too bad it’s more like 200 years…. that, and all the “recovering cuts” are completely devoid of almost all their biodiversity and water retention capabilities for the first 30plus years after they are cut. After this plan is over in ten years, much of the Pisgah and Nantahala national forests will be basically unrecognizable if this plan is allowed to to forward…. a tulip poplar wood lot for all intents and purposes.

    • Peter Robbins

      Wrong. That comment is way, way, way off-topic. If I didn’t know better, I’d say it was an exercise in image polishing after Center for Biological Diversity’s resounding defeat on the open-spaces issue recently before the Asheville City Council. There are plenty of other stories that discuss the Forestry Service’s logging proposal for the Pisgah-Nantahala National Forest. See https://www.southernenvironment.org/press-release/conservation-groups-object-to-forest-services-revised-nantahala-and-pisgah-forest-plan/. Your comment, while not unwelcome here, would fit in better there.

      If the Center for Biological Diversity wishes to contribute to this thread, it might answer Anne Craig’s call to define “properly done” infill construction and demonstrate, if it can, why its view on the topic is superior to those of the Sierra Club, Mountain True and a host of other mainstream environmental organizations, urban planners, and advocates for more affordable housing. That would show a little more respect for the letter writer, oui? Dang, it might even be fun.

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