Letter: Speak out against open space amendment

Graphic by Lori Deaton

At the July 26 City Council meeting, the Open Space Amendment (a proposal to accelerate Asheville’s urban deforestation and pave over everything in sight) comes up for a hearing and vote. Your voice is needed to speak out against this harebrained proposal that Council is poised to pass.

This proposal to deregulate developers within city limits is dressed up with idealistic-sounding justifications like providing affordable housing, improving flooding and fighting sprawl. This gift basket of developer wish-list items would accomplish none of these goals, but it would make developers richer at our expense.

The proposal is not an affordable housing initiative. It deregulates housing developments of eight units or more and it includes an optional incentive for “affordable housing” developments. Developers are under no obligation to build “affordable” units; they just get to cut more trees and pave more space if they meet the proposal’s “affordable” criteria. The problem is that, at 80% area median income, the proposal’s definition of “affordability” would provide housing that isn’t affordable at all to those who need housing the most. And gentrification will continue to get worse as developers build the most expensive housing they can. That’s where the money is to be made.

Similarly, there is an incentive for enhanced stormwater controls in the proposal. This is also optional for developers who choose to take the incentive. But by deregulating development across the board and lifting open-space requirements, this proposal would ensure that flooding gets much worse in Asheville as more and more of our urban forest falls to pavement and rain has nowhere to go.

The third justification used for this proposal is the claim that by building up in the city, developers will stop building out into the county. The obvious con behind this argument is that the city can’t regulate development in the county, and developers are crawling all over Asheville and the county with an appetite to doze and pave everything in sight. It’s too lucrative for them to resist building anywhere they can get away with it around here.

The final argument used to defend this proposal is that we need to make space for newcomers, even if it degrades the quality of life for existing residents and relegates the Asheville we fell in love with to a distant memory. This is an election year with the mayor and several Council members running for reelection. What better election year issue could we ask for than one that pits the interests of developers and people who don’t vote, pay taxes or live here against the quality of life of existing voters, taxpayers and residents? Let’s show up on July 26, speak out and pay attention to whose interests our mayor and Council members are looking out for. If you can’t show up in person, you can write all Council members at AshevilleNCCouncil@ashevillenc.gov.

— Perrin de Jong


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3 thoughts on “Letter: Speak out against open space amendment

  1. Peter Robbins

    Say what now? The Open Space Amendment, despite its humble appearance, is really a “gift basket of developer wish-list items” that would “accelerate Asheville’s urban deforestation and pave over everything in sight?” Wow. That’s an ambitious agenda. Even for developers. Are you sure you’re not exaggerating, Perrin de Jong?

    Here’s the video presentation of the city’s planning and urban design department: https://www.ashevillenc.gov/projects/open-space-zoning-updates/. In calm tones, the narrator explains the proposal, illustrates in words and pictures the results planners hope to achieve, describes existing tree-canopy protections, discusses stormwater-management incentives, and compares Asheville’s current open-space requirements with those in other North Carolina cities. People can judge for themselves who looks like the straight shooter here and who sounds as if he’s pulling a “con.”

    For my part, I don’t see any ravenous werewolves lurking in the darkness just outside the village gates. Put down the torches and look at the images of neighborhoods in the planning department’s video. Do you see aesthetic horrors? I don’t. The pictures show how smaller spaces can be used more efficiently to produce pleasing effects, confirming that old slogan from my college days: less is more.

    The open-space amendment would not deforest Asheville. It would not unleash developers to cut down all the trees in the city. It would make it marginally easier to build much-needed housing to help relieve a shortage that’s causing rents and home prices to skyrocket. And it would do so in an environmentally sensitive way that preserves urban beauty while reducing incentives for developers to sprawl ever farther into the surrounding mountains, fields and forests. The modest changes make good sense, from both an economic and environmental point of view, because they encourage new housing in places close to work, shopping and entertainment; and in places where mass transit, bicycling and walking are real alternatives to carbon-burning automobiles; and in places where existing infrastructure makes it unnecessary to clear-cut vast swaths of land for roads and lots.

    The choice is simple. You can accept smart growth and deal with housing shortages and environmental concerns in a rational way, or you can play the sky-is-falling obstructionist and suffer higher housing prices and more urban sprawl. Take your pick, Asheville. There’s no free lunch.

  2. AndyPAvl

    There’s quite a bit of misinformation in this letter.

    Rather than try to respond to every point, I am simply going to strongly encourage readers to get the real facts—along with links to the actual amendment and to relevant research—at: https://ashevilleforall.org/osa-1.html

  3. WNC

    We have a saying in the country good fences make good neighbors or at least the Dr who lived beside my land told me that. Come to think or it he told me that after his livestock got out and he wanted me to pay half his bill to rebuild the fence.

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