I attended the recent Planning and Zoning Commission meetings due to concerns about proposed rezoning to enable development of a rental townhouse complex on Woodland Drive, west of Patton Avenue. It is my observation that the commissioners are exercising due diligence in determining that projects brought before them generally meet the technical requirements for zoning. However, it is less clear that they are fully considering the goals of Living Asheville: A Comprehensive Plan for Our Future, a document adopted by the City Council to provide guidance for the city’s development.
The concerns relevant to my neighborhood apply to any proposed development in Asheville. High-density housing is a primary goal of the city — “where appropriate” as described in Living Asheville. However, high-density development is clearly not appropriate for every project, if adhering to the spirit and intent of the plan. Indiscriminate development chips away at the qualities that make Asheville a desirable place.
Living Asheville (excerpts quoted) specifies that development: be “‘transit-supportive’ higher density,” “along transit corridors,” a “well-connected” place, “minimizing traffic congestion” and “allow[ing] for transportation choices beyond the car.”
For each new development, we need to ask:
Where is the nearest bus stop, and is it safely accessible via streets with sidewalks or bike lanes, or at least shoulders? The Citizen Times of Aug. 1 highlighted a study where Asheville ranks as the “No. 1 city in the state for pedestrian crashes.” If it is necessary for every resident of a complex to use a personal vehicle for safely getting to and from even nearby businesses, it increases traffic congestion, both on the local neighborhood streets and on the arterials. Walking and biking safety on the typically narrow neighborhood streets, many of which are further narrowed by street parking, are only further jeopardized by additional traffic.
Does it meet the criterion of a “livable built environment,” goal No. 1 of which is to encourage responsible growth by “thoughtful, holistic decision-making on behalf of residents”? Are there nearby parks and facilities encouraging recreation and community? Does it show “respect for and enhancement of existing neighborhoods”? And most especially, does it “maximize the potential for a variety of transportation options”? If there is only one way in and out of the property onto an internal neighborhood street, as in the case of the Woodland Drive property, there is no opportunity for adding a bus route or improving the roads leading to the already inadequate arterials.
A poll conducted for the Buncombe County 2043 Comprehensive Plan asks: “What is most needed for you and your family to succeed and have a healthy life?” The No. 1 response: “More safe and affordable ways to travel to places (biking, walking, or riding a bus/public transit).”
A 4-acre, wooded lot on Hi Alta Avenue (which empties traffic onto Woodland Drive) is currently under contract and likely to be sold for development. It may technically be considered a prime candidate for another high-density housing development, but it would further increase local and arterial congestion, being constrained by a lack of alternative transportation options.
Air quality deteriorates, and traffic congestion increases — the quality of life that Asheville promotes and aspires to degenerates, reducing the value of living here.
Asheville dies by a thousand cuts via high-density development that does not support alternative forms of transportation, with no space for recreational opportunities or neighborly engagement. The city must make decisions that maintain or improve the quality of life and stop acting solely to enable concentrated development. Enforce “smart growth”!
— Randall Grohman