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Commissioner candidate gets real about growth

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Kern Family RS

Is this the first time you have run for office? It is. I have, though, been very involved in the community. That’s where I got my start in public service. I’ve been active with a very diverse group of projects.

Where were you born and raised? I was born in Greensboro, but moved to Erwin, Tennessee when I was four and I grew up there.

What brought you here? I have always loved the mountains. I didn’t want to be on that side of the mountain, more is happening here. I also have family here.

Tell me about your family: I have been married for 15 years to my wife, Kirsten who is a physical therapist. We have two boys: Caswell who is 11 years old and Christian who is 8 years old.

What’s your professional background? I’m a homebuilder. I also organize the French Broad Music Festival in Hot Springs. I’m not a musician, but I’m the guy who is the organizer and does all the work no one else wants. I’m responsible for handling the security, the contracts and paying everyone. I think that’s applicable to this race because it’s a charitable festival. We get people from all different walks of life, united for a common cause. The event supports several local charities.

As a builder, what are your thoughts on all the growth in this area? For instance, what are your thoughts on the Leicester Highway widening? I’m a realist, a pragmatist and an idealist. The realist in me says it’s the right thing to widen the highway. We have traffic problems in Buncombe County we’ve never had before and it will only get worse if we don’t do something.

However, there’s the old adage, “If you build it, they will come.” If we create four lanes in Leicester, will this create more growth? I understand and sympathize, but for safety reasons, I don’t think we should have a two-lane road that’s clogged for an emergency. It’s a no-win situation.

While the highway is being widened in Leicester, there are far more serious traffic issues in Woodfin and Weaverville right now. Is the focus in the right area? I haven’t seen the priority list for the DOT, but I think Woodfin and Weaverville should be at the top of the list. When we hear traffic shouldn’t get out of hand in Leicester, well, it’s already out of control in Weaverville and Woodfin and it has been for at least five years.

Why do you want to serve this area? I love the people. My family is from these mountains and I can relate to the people here. I understand their issues. I truly like the people of Western North Carolina and I like the fact we have people from other areas, with other perspectives. I think there’s a passion to keep this area nice. I think there’s a wonderful mix of people here who appreciate the mountains and the small town feel.

I grew up on a farm in the hills where we grew tobacco and I was constantly in the woods. I tried living in Greensboro twice and hated it. I need the security of the mountains. I couldn’t wait to get back.

What are the issues you feel most passionate about in this commissioner race? I think the biggest issue is land use and there’s so much tied to that issue like: traffic, urban sprawl, smart growth, accessibility issues, transportation issues like whether to extend bus service, etc… All these things are related. Over-development is a topic many people are concerned about, as I am. Being a builder, I understand how this industry puts food on a lot of tables in this county. I would never propose the ending of growth. I think the key is HOW we handle growth. We need more thought put into things like the above. Affordable housing another big issue tied into growth. I hear people tell me that affordable housing is a big-city issue. But, it’s all relative.

Higher rents and pricier housing seems to be stretching out to the outlying areas. Is this a concern to you? I think Weaverville and Woodfin are now experiencing the same pain which Ashville has experienced for a long time in terms of higher housing costs and traffic. I worked in affordable housing for two years for non-profits. I wrote the grants, dealt with various funders, and handled projects with tax credits and I was the project manager for many of these projects. I understand who the clients are. I understand how these projects work and how they are funded and what doesn’t work.

What else would you like voters to know? I have experience in early childhood education. I served on the board for the Mountain Area Child and Family Center (now called Verner Center for Early Learning) for five years. I understand the issues related to Head Start and Early Head Start and the need for those programs in this community.

Read more about Matt Kern and his candidacy at http://www.mattkernforcommission.com/.

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