I read Bill Branyon’s commentary [“Jack Cecil’s Serf City,” March 18]. The title is provocative, and the content is just what many of your subscribers may want to read. The article is also a classic one-sided jab at developers in general and Mr. Cecil in particular.
Being a native of Asheville, and having seen large tracts of undeveloped land turned into strip malls and covered with steel buildings that have no character, I tend to get angry when I see a natural spot of intrinsic beauty turned into a cookie-cutter project with very little value except to the developer.
With that said, I can also appreciate when a developer takes pains to show creativity and forethought in his or her projects. The Biltmore Park project is one that shows this creativity. The buildings are attractive (and show touches of craftsmanship not seen in commercial building in Asheville in decades), the streets walkable, and the downtown area gives a town center to a community of families. One needs only to look at any number of developments close to Biltmore Park (including ones built by other native Ashevilleans) that are under way to see the difference in a pure money project and one that is meant to be a lasting part of the community.
Mr. Branyon’s references to serfs and kings are also offensive. If he felt like a serf in the presence of Mr. Cecil, that is a self-esteem issue. I have been in meetings with Mr. Cecil and have always found him to be inclusive, kind and willing to listen to whomever is speaking. He is enthusiastic about his projects and wants to provide this community—his community—with valuable results from his efforts. This includes the nonprofits with which he works, as well as his for-profit ventures.
In speaking with Mr. Cecil, [I’ve found] he is concerned about the city in which his children will grow up. He seems to take this part of his life and responsibilities very seriously. It is important that his children learn right from wrong. I have seen this in action. He and his wife are as grounded a couple as you will find. And they happen to have more money/property than some of us. Not a bad thing, just a fact.
If Asheville wants to stop development, that is a pipe dream. If we want to control development to a point that Asheville retains its unique character, I can get behind that. But the anti-growth groups in Asheville are themselves a bit confused: First, we shouldn’t create sprawl; then, we shouldn’t build high-rises downtown—as opposed to sprawl. What are we to do? Get a cohesive plan, and we might actually be able to recruit some help—maybe even from some developers.
But don’t talk about people with money and land as if they are all evil. It allows people to feel that they don’t need to better themselves or strive for more. It paints all business people and developers with the same brush and creates a powerful us-versus-them mentality that is not productive.
While there are developers in this community who should be called to task for their lack of creativity and positive community involvement, Mr. Cecil is not one of them. He just may have been the easiest target.
— Kevin Westmoreland
Commentary author Bill Branyon responds: Stopping development is not a “pipe dream,” but an ecological necessity as we watch our basic resources degenerate and our consumption frenzy accelerate. Yet our economy remains so unquestioned that growth is considered the only way out of this recession. We need to transform the economy to face the realities of the environment—not conspicuous consumption.