At the Forum for Deerfield Residents

Remarks at the Deerfield Voter Education Event, March 28th. It’s notable that although the demographic wasn’t exactly the same as the one at the Buncombe Dems convention, the entire room still a) feels that more hotels are NOT in Asheville’s best interest and b) that City Council isn’t listening to that perspective from its residents. After my presentation, I spoke with at least a dozen people who felt that the Asheville they knew and loved was slipping away to become a bland tourist playground.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

“If you don’t build it, they won’t come.”

Here’s an interesting article in the Congress for New Urbanism’s journal that seems germane to the debate over Merrimon Ave.

What if it were a good thing to discourage increased car traffic, and instead provide better public transportation along major corridors? That would improve quality of life and reduce the city’s carbon footprint as well.

“You really don’t believe in induced demand, if you don’t also believe in reduced demand. Traffic engineering/planning is going on a hundred years as a profession. It’s time to learn from history, to believe the science, to get smart about street design, to fully use the idea of reduced demand where it has the potential to improve a city’s economy, society, and mobility.”

Utterly Untransparent

City Council Meeting, March 8th: The Avery Project

In a stunning reversal, and using a procedure no one can remember ever implementing before, City Council reconsidered its 5-2 vote—take just 2 weeks previously—against “The Avery” project, a large, high-end residential development at the corner of Clingman and Hilliard. (Ordinarily, a downvoted project like this would not be allowed to return to Council for 12 months.)

I rose to ask how the public was to make sense of this unusual development, and what communications took place between the applicant, Council members, and City staff.

The mayor responded by saying that such communications would be public record—but experience shows that getting ahold of those public records is an often very slow (months) and unsatisfactory process.

I believe that Council members should disclose the substance of their conversations with people who have business before Council proactively.

This particular project went from 9 80% AMI units to 18, and will accept housing vouchers for those additional 9 (if, of course, the voucher program says they qualify). So that’s good, if not super-helpful for those suffering most in Asheville’s housing crunch. 

With this modification, the project sailed through. Not a single Councilmember was inclined to share their own process of reconsidering this project before the vote. I believe I heard one “nay,” but I can’t be sure. For some reason this vote was not taken member-by-member.

Everything about this was extraordinary. It was a huge reversal. It was done in two weeks. And not a single Councilmember chose to explain their change of opinion.

There was a remarkable lack of transparency and accountability in this process, which does not inspire public trust and confidence in government. The people’s work should be done in public, because this is Our City.

The Spark That Lit The Fuse

On May 14, 2109, City Council met to decide the fate of Asheville’s iconic Flatiron Building. Its owner wanted to sell it (for $12 Million) to out-of-town developers. The sale would not go through unless the property was granted a conditional zoning that would permit the developers to gut the historic building and turn it into a high-end hotel.

The conditional zoning was granted by a 4-3 vote, and Asheville lost a irreplaceable local anchor for small businesses, creatives, and professionals in the heart of downtown. That terrible decision lit a fire in my heart which, over time, became this campaign.

Three years later, the Flatiron building is still under “renovation,” still destined to be yet another among way too many downtown hotels. And City Council has continued to make decisions that disregard the needs, concerns, and well-being of residents and our homegrown economy. We get lip service about public engagement, but in practice Council has not been responsive to our voices, inclusive of our perspectives, or transparent about their decision-making. It’s time to hold them accountable, because this is OUR CITY—not the visitors’, not the Tourist Development Authority’s, not a handful of wealthy investors’, not City Council’s.

Together, we can change how City Council serves Asheville residents.

[Read the full text of my speech “Who is Asheville For?”]