ASHEVILLE — A first-of-its-kind project creating a roadmap for the next 20 years is poised to change Buncombe County’s growth forever, particularly with respect to housing density and the risk of gentrification as the county’s population is expected to increase by almost 30%.
After a year of public comment and elaboration by county staff, the 2043 Comprehensive Plan was presented to the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners on September 27 as a draft plan, filled with policy suggestions that the commissioners are considering seriously now.
The overall plan – often referred to as a “compensation plan” – will ultimately be a document created by local governments and residents to determine what the community’s direction and vision should be over a long-term 20-year period.
On September 27, the commissioners had their first chance to publicly discuss this plan, which, among many other elements, assumes the county will likely grow by around 80,000 residents by 2045 – from around 270,000 currently to about 350,000 in two decades.
This is according to two estimates – one from Woode & Poole Economics and the other from the French Broad River Metropolitan Planning Organization – included in the Presentation of the compensation plandonated by Leigh Anne King of the county-contracted land use consulting firm Clarion Associates, based in Denver, Colorado, and Chapel Hill.
King, accompanied by Buncombe County Planning Director Nathan Pennington, presented the commissioners with four main areas that will likely benefit from updated policies by spring 2023: conditional zoning, density, infrastructure and housing. affordable.
Much of the discussion revolved around development in the face of growth and how county leaders could engage with the public about needs and issues.
“You have significant development constraints in the county in terms of where you can actually develop,” King told the commissioners.
She said only 21.9% or 21,588 of the county’s 98,600 developable acres have no constraints, meaning they don’t have features that would make them more difficult to develop.
That may mean Buncombe will have to focus on much denser growth rather than spread across the county, according to King’s presentation.
“Density can be a very polarizing topic in many communities, especially thinking about what high density looks like and where it’s going,” she said.
But difficult housing situations are “created equal”, she said. “You can have really poorly designed high-density projects and you can have really well-designed high-density projects. The important thing is to think about the standards that are applied to…encourage growth over time. ”
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The standards applied are essentially at the heart of why the county is pursuing the compensation plan in the first place: it envisions a policy that will help guide staff and councils when making complex and difficult decisions about the development trajectory. local.
This conversation ties in with one that dominated the county’s strategic and fiscal priorities in 2022: affordable housing.
On Sept. 27, commissioners discussed not only density and affordable housing, but also ways to prevent gentrification, a trend in which neighborhoods are overrun with development that drives out longtime and often low-income residents. .
“One of the criticisms of the density argument from people who really care about affordable housing…is, ‘Well, you can build all this, but it’s just going to keep getting gentrified,'” said the Chairman of the Commission, Brownie Newman. The answer to this question is grim, he explained.
“In a developing area like ours, where there’s population pressure, if we’re not producing more supply and there’s development pressure, well we can guarantee you that this problem won’t go away. not just get worse, it’s going to get faster.”
Newman and others have mentioned the power of tourism and how it contributes to the situation.
“We’re spending a ton of money, taxpayers’ money to tell the whole world to come here and check this place out,” he said. “Many of them decide to stay. And it’s so popular, we could, we could build a lot of them. And all that would be expensive, right? Simply because there are enough wealthy people in our society who think, “Living in Asheville would be my dream.”
He said Asheville needed density. He needs to increase the supply of housing, but he needs to come up with a plan that will create regulation.
“Through our own investments and land use policies, we need to create a set of policies so that everything is not just market driven or gentrification only happens with supply.”
According to planning staff, the compensation plan will come back to the community for more feedback as it solidifies.
This will probably happen in mid-November.
Andrew Jones is an investigative reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA TODAY Network. Reach him at @arjonesreports on Facebook and Twitter, 828-226-6203 or [email protected]. Please help support this kind of journalism with a subscription at the Citizen Times.