Easy target, low blow

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
Asheville

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.

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3 thoughts on “Easy target, low blow

  1. AvlResident

    A well-written, temperate reply to Mr. Branyon’s intemperate attack on Mr. Cecil. Still puzzled that Mountain Express published it.

  2. hellsbelles

    Mr. Westmoreland, Asheville at one time had a cohesive development plan. It was called the UDO, Unified Development Ordinance. If you’ve never heard of it, that’s because it was used as toilet paper by members of the last three city councils whose constituents obviously consisted of developers and not communities.

    What has happened on Reynolds Mountain is an atrocity and a civic disgrace. I’m upset all over again every time I look at it. And have you been out to Fairview lately? Perhaps the substantial decrease in tourism in the last few years has less to do with the economy and more to do with the fact that our air is now polluted, our pristine mountains have been paved, and our once breathtaking views on the parkway are now marred by the sight of huge houses everywhere you turn.

    The key word here is sustainable. Asheville needs to grow just like every other city, but how that growth occurs will determine whether we are able to keep our city’s special charm or end up living in just another Charlotte suburb. Where would you rather be? Just wondering, Andrea Helm, Asheville PS Bill Branyon ROCKS!

  3. It is still called the UDO and it is so convoluted that even the city staff have trouble interpreting it. UDO style regulations foster bland design, because it forces design by checklist. Unfortunately the UDO and other similar documents are written by city staff and are usually copied from places like Charlotte. City staff have a duty to ensure conformity with design guidelines that they are not qualified to interpret. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a group of qualified local designers (Architects, Landscape Architects, Engineers) that help rewrite the UDO and then assist city staff in reviewing them for approval. How would we pay for it? Maybe a few less city employees on the payroll or maybe paying less outside consultants.

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