Letter: Overlooking the elephants in Asheville’s room

Graphic by Lori Deaton

Tom Vernon makes an excellent point in his July 6 letter calling for the rebuilding of the Vance Monument [“Thumbs Down on Monument Ideas,” Xpress]. If you ignore (as his letter does) the white supremacist in the room, Zebulon Vance looks pretty good as a local hero. Maybe not the best North Carolina governor of all time (he did, in fairness, try to destroy the United States), but at least respectable. What’s wrong with honoring him in the middle of town?

It’s really not that hard to agree with this historically nuanced conclusion. All you need is the strength of character to overlook the unconscionable.

Many Asheville progressives exhibit the same stoic virtue on issues that matter to them. Take, for instance, objections recently raised in the Mountain Xpress to increased housing density, open-space reduction and infill construction.

If you ignore how more abundant housing exerts a downward pressure on market prices, and how exclusionary, single-family zoning perpetuates segregated housing patterns, and how close-in living reduces urban sprawl, and how urban density makes car driving less necessary and alternate modes of transportation more attractive, and how all that reduces carbon footprint and combats climate change, then these reforms look pretty bad. The only ones who benefit are developers. Greedy ones. Outsiders, too. Neighborhood character is at stake. Trouble in river city. Get out the pitchforks.

It’s not hard for Asheville homeowners to find a way to agree with this nuanced position, self-serving as it may appear on the surface. All they need is the strength to overlook realities of economics, sociology, history, physics, chemistry and common sense, as well as the struggles of ordinary people trying to find housing they can afford. And isn’t magical thinking what makes Asheville so special?

— Peter Robbins


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16 thoughts on “Letter: Overlooking the elephants in Asheville’s room

  1. WNC

    I notice you live in Madison County. So are you recommending your county which has zoning go to no single family homes? Do you want your neighboring city to go to no single family homes while you enjoy beautiful Madison County and their open space?

      • WNC

        So do you live in a
        “ single-family zoning perpetuates segregated housing patterns” to quote you?
        Are you recommending Marshall and Madison County go to no single family home zoning or just your neighboring city or county.

        • Peter Robbins

          Most of Madison County is zoned residential-agricultural. These areas have no sewers. I live in such an area. As I understand it, to meet health requirements for wells and septic, lots must be a minimum of one acre, although variances can be obtained for certain kinds of subdivisions. In the few areas where of Madison County where there are sewers, they are in bad shape. Before significantly increasing density, these small towns would have to address this problem. I don’t favor zoning changes that would endanger public health, in my county or any other. I hope that answers your question, which, frankly, I still don’t follow.

          • WNC

            I think you answered my question. You say
            “exclusionary, single-family zoning perpetuates segregated housing patterns, and how close-in living reduces urban sprawl, and how urban density makes car driving less necessary and alternate modes of transportation more attractive, and how all that reduces carbon footprint and combats climate change, then these reforms look pretty bad. “
            Then CHOOSE to live in single family housing.

          • Peter Robbins

            Oh, I see what you’re trying to say now. You’re trying to call me a hypocrite for living in the country. Oh, wow. Is my little old lifestyle worth committing the ad hominem and generic fallacies to criticize? Well, okay, have at it.

            I’m retired. I live way out in the country. I don’t commute. I don’t drive a gas-powered car. I have solar panels on my house. I have a solar battery. I have an usually low carbon footprint. If everybody lived the way I do, urban sprawl wouldn’t be the problem that it is today. But they don’t. If I could change the physics and chemistry of well-septic systems to allow for denser housing in Madison County, I would change it. But I can’t. And I’m certainly not out campaigning against any proposals that would reduce single-family zoning, where feasible, or that would allow for greater urban infill, where feasible.

            If you think I could seriously influence racially segregated patterns by moving to an apartment in Asheville, I’d consider it. Is that what what you think? Go ahead. Tell me why single-family zoning is a Jim Crow legacy. Make your strongest case. You might convince me.

          • Peter Robbins

            Come to think, WNC, I could just move into one of those new apartments in downtown Marshall, couldn’t I? I’d be right there on the French Broad River; I’d be within walking distance of all the restaurants and shops a body could want; I’d win virtue points for not living in a single-family home; and I’d avoid the quirky charm of my neighbors to the South altogether. Thanks, mate. I’m glad you dropped by.

  2. MV

    That’s a real stretch, Pete. Hope you don’t drive into our town too often with them big-city notions…

    • Peter Robbins

      Good news. In the last three years, I haven’t driven to Asheville more than a half dozen times (all but one of those was for medical reasons), and when I did it was in an electric car powered by home solar panels. I hope I didn’t upset your small-town ways too much, but it couldn’t be helped.

  3. Shultz!

    So much clever wit bubbling forth from that mind of yours, you just can’t keep it to yourself, I suppose? Thank you for blessing us with your diatribe, it was well worth my time.

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