Letter: Killing Asheville by a thousand cuts

Graphic by Lori Deaton

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


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8 thoughts on “Letter: Killing Asheville by a thousand cuts

  1. Dylan

    Ah, the Living Asheville plan. NIMBYs invoke it when they need it. They ignore it when they want. Maybe it’s death by a thousand NIMBYs?

  2. R.G.

    Hearing small-minded folks use the N-word *every single time* someone raises an objection to a particular proposal is getting really old. There are many reasons to oppose most anything. Very often, it’s because people *want something else* they sincerely believe will be much better for a great many people for decades to come. For instance, I think all Ingle’s stores and that wasteland of Steinmart on Merrimon are the perfect places for development near transit and infrastructure. But I’d be less thrilled about the prospect of housing on the shores of Beaver Lake or at Richmond Hill Park.

    • H.T.

      I agree, unfortunately places like Stein Mart, Kmart etc are tax havens for many. Way better sitting their losing money than actually being useful. Crazy!

      • R.G.

        Yes, crazy! But more than that, disgusting. I think everyone should oppose every development proposed until local officials develop a collective spine and force Ingle’s and Stein Mart to help this community. But of course Asheville’s mayor always has to recuse herself when Ingle’s is involved…

  3. Lou

    R.G. makes an excellent point. Why can’t we use old buildings that are no longer retail for multiple unit housing? Most of those ARE located near stores and bus routes. Seriously though, it’s okay to build your McMansion on the side of a mountain but a group of townhomes is a problem? NIMBY indeed.

    • rcg

      To be clear, the Woodland Drive project is already zoned R8 for a maximum of 50 or under dwelling units. The developer wants to increase the project cap by a rezoning in order to increase the number to 72, and that relatively small increase is not the point, per se. The point is that high density – higher density – is not suitable for every location where it might be proposed, and that issues related to quality of life for everyone should be taken into consideration.

      • R.G.

        Absolutely! In the case of Richmond Hill, Woodfin’s high-density Bluffs proposal endangers the lives of Asheville residents who already battle increased traffic to the park, visitors exceeding the 20mph speed limit, no sidewalks. 500% traffic increase will destroy quality of life up there. Who will take responsibility when a child is run over? Has anyone from Woodfin planning ever gone up there to observe reality or meet residents?

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