Rational and Responsible Development

Many parts of Asheville are experiencing a development boom that residents feel is changing the character of their neighborhoods and hurting their quality of life.  Our infrastructure has not kept up; traffic is a mess; and we’re rapidly losing our tree canopy.  At the same time, many people understandably want to move here and our high housing costs are a problem.  We need policies that permit rational and responsible development, but preserve what makes Asheville and the region special.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve once again had to help organize my neighbors against an ill-advised proposed development on an already congested and unsafe street that doesn’t have any sidewalks.  After a huge outcry from the community, the developer decided to revise his project.  Over 600 individuals along Overlook Road emailed me to express their opposition and nearly 200 showed up at a resident town hall last Wednesday.  In a recent article John Boyle commented, “Residents banded together to fight the proposal, which is not uncommon in itself, but the passion was more intense than I've seen in a long time.”

There are no easy answers to development concerns, but here are three things than can help right now.

  1. Neighborhood input: As a result of our efforts on another proposed development, the City of Asheville now requires developers to notify and meet with residents as a condition for certain projects to proceed.  This allows residents to raise concerns and have their questions answered, often leading to a better ultimate project.  It also prevents developers from blindsiding or quietly slipping something by residents, which is what almost happened recently on Overlook Road.  We should consider expanding this requirement to more developments and the County should adopt it as well.
  2. Road, bike and pedestrian infrastructure: If the existing infrastructure is not adequate, then either don’t allow the development to occur or require improvements to happen at the same time as the development.  In many communities, residents are forced to use their cars to get around because they don’t have adequate sidewalks, bike lanes or transit.  That’s bad for traffic, the environment, and resident health.
  3. Make governments accountable: Residents who raise concerns often run into what I call the “not my problem” problem.  If they call the City with a complaint, they’re told it’s a County or Department of Transportation problem.  Even if technically true, the excuses need to stop and we need these governments to work together to address problems.  We need to have a coordinated zoning and development process between the City and the County for land on the borders and we need the Department of Transportation to much be more engaged in addressing the traffic problems throughout the City on their roads.

While I don’t expect these ideas to fix everything, they are a good start.  We can do a lot better than we’re doing now.  Will you help?