Pursue a policy, however misguided, for long enough, and you’re almost certain to see results. After half a century of ethnic cleansing, the East End — which proudly describes itself as Asheville’s oldest African-American neighborhood — is, according to the Census Bureau’s latest estimates, two-thirds white.
In part, at least, that change can be traced to the three apartment complexes that were dumped among the single-family homes on the slopes of Beaucatcher Mountain.
With interest rates rising, there was at least some hope that the pace of such unwelcome changes would slow. But no. The 2017 tax law includes the designation of Opportunity Zones — a tax dodge that allows speculators to avoid some or all of the tax due on their activities, helping to offset part, at least, of increased interest rates.
Crucially, there is no requirement that projects financed this way demonstrate any benefit to their host neighborhood, either before, during or after they are completed. It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out what kind of investments will be heading our way — not because Asheville is a cool city, or because our neighborhoods need help, but to avoid paying taxes.
Most of the city, apart from downtown, has been turned into a playground for property speculators, local or distant. Our only — feeble — weapon to restrain their excesses is ensure that the county and city aggressively deploy the land-use and zoning tools they have to defend our neighborhoods. Otherwise, our ability to resist will be like that of a video game hero stumbling into the final boss’s lair with just the wooden shield and rusty sword he had when he started out.
Council Resolution 18-269 of Oct. 23 last — with its promise to “promote equitable growth, development without displacement and healthy communities of opportunity for all residents in and around Opportunity Zones” — seems like a hopeful sign. But the highly visible evidence of the hotel gold rush is not.
— Geoff Kemmish