As we hear the various debates about development in Buncombe County, we need to remember what drives these debates. While development benefits certain groups, it also carries with it real externalized (socialized) costs. Residents who have been protesting the development are aware of and struggling to articulate the socialized costs.
Those of us who have lived in areas undergoing rapid growth know from experience that unregulated growth drives up taxes, creates traffic snarls, which waste both gas and time, and drives out lower-wage citizens who cannot afford the increased costs. The development impacts the ecosystem, the water quality, the wild animals, the pollinators. These are all long-term costs that our children and grandchildren will pay for. We are seeing poorly managed growth all around the Asheville area have all these impacts.
Lax zoning laws allow for predatory development, where an outside developer comes in, makes a quick buck and leaves before the real costs of the development are realized by the community. This is exactly the debate we are seeing over the Woodfin Bluffs. The community knows that the developer will leave with his millions before the infrastructure costs and reclamation costs for impact on the river and hillside come due. He will get the millions. We will pay the long-term costs. His profit margin depends on making us pay the long-term costs.
Poorly structured zoning laws actually serve to create higher infrastructure costs by forcing citizens to become more dependent on cars as the various functions of community, housing, goods and services become arbitrarily segregated. Citizens find themselves unable to do anything without getting in a car and sitting in a traffic snarl.
The primary purpose of zoning laws should be to mitigate these externalized costs, to prevent development from being a burden on the community. As the Woodfin zoning board moves forward, it needs to make externalized costs the primary focus of their zoning. Their current plan allows for Mountain Village Zoning to impose huge costs on the surrounding community.
As Asheville rethinks its zoning and development plan, it needs to consider the problems we can already see growing. Is the development creating more traffic snarls, significantly higher infrastructure costs? Or is it promoting walkable, bikeable neighborhoods that reduce these costs? Is development driving out the people who actually work here, or is it making it easier for wage earners to live in the community they serve?
The residents of Buncombe County need our townships to replace zoning laws that promote externalized costs of development with laws that reduce infrastructure costs and protect critical environments to make it easier and more affordable for the current residents and workers to continue living here.
— Karl Kuhn