AshevilleCity - County Gov.Leslee KulbaNews Stories

Commissioners told zoning hurts the poor

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By Leslee Kulba –

The Buncombe County Commissioners held their third district community meeting of the season at the Bee Tree fire department Tuesday night. This time, the representatives of District 2, Ellen Frost and Mike Fryar, took the lead.

The most significant concern of the night was raised by Dede Styles. Styles has been frequenting county planning board meetings since the onset of countywide zoning, and she sees what she considers a systematic bias against the poor.

Styles said decisions always favor those with money. Government doesn’t consider other forms of investment like caring for the land, raising a family, or going off to war-torn parts of the world to defend the country. That last statement is significant in that soldiers are purportedly going to war to protect the home turf, the American people including legislators and planners, and the American way of life. But back home, the legislators and planners are making rules to reduce property rights and diminish the concept of having the freedom to mind one’s own business and live a good life down on the farm.

Styles said the good people of Lyda Cove take care of the land. Many have been there more than three or four generations working the soil, putting up barns, and homesteading. Then, rich people from elsewhere decide they want to put up a second home in the farming community, and they don’t like the way the country riff-raff have settled down. Country ways are unsightly, so the rich use their money and influence to pass ordinances.

As an example, Styles told how families with McMansions on the hill were able to shoot down a proposal that would have restricted the color of paint they could use on their homes. People who can afford no better than a mobile home, however, are now told what kinds of setbacks are required and even how their roofs must slope.

Taking the cake, however, was the way the county treated two of its veterans. In two isolated incidents, soldiers had returned home after, as Styles described it, investing their lives in the country. Their families, doing the best they could, offered them the option of setting up a mobile home on the family land. It wouldn’t be much by today’s standards, but it would help the young couples get their feet on the ground before moving up the housing ladder.

Instead, the attempts to get the necessary zoning changes were shot down by the planning board.

In one instance, the neighbors in Lyda Cove knew the proposed change didn’t have much of a chance because it would represent spot zoning. They therefore banded together and went as a group to request a massive change from R2 to R3 for the whole neighborhood.

Iris Sluder offered to tell the rest of the story. She said the new zoning might have been fine except it was next discovered that the water and sewer provision at the particular site was not up to code for an additional dwelling. The story, however, did have a happy ending. The couple was able to get a small place in Woodfin, where the regulatory hassles weren’t as bad. The mom was out $200 for the application that went nowhere, though.

County Chair David Gantt challenged the claims. He said he had been serving on the board for seventeen years, and was rather certain the county had forced no one out of his home. He said he even at one point asked the tax collector, Gary Roberts, point blank, if it had ever been done, and Roberts said no.

Viewing tax collection as a public service, the county strives to work with those unable to pay. They will accept payment plans, credit cards, or possibly something else that will make sure the money is transferred. There are even special programs offering partial exemptions for the elderly and veterans.

The county’s zoning ordinance also caught fire from Richard Hudson, who described himself as being in the real estate and insurance businesses in Black Mountain. Hudson said the codes were “antiquated,” moving against the concept of achieving affordability through greater density. As one example, he mentioned the cost of supplying water and sewer when residential lot sizes could be no smaller than 10,000 sq. ft.

Throughout the meeting, Gantt assured the citizens that the commissioners had their best interest at heart, and when they find something is not working, they intend to change it. The first round of community meetings are only evidence of that philosophy in practice.

To show the commissioners are not sitting idly by amidst cries for more affordable housing, he called on Cindy Weeks, investment director for Mountain Housing Opportunities. Weeks announced the nonprofit’s recent receipt of $75,000 to go toward transforming the old Beacon plant into a mixed-use development with workforce housing.

On Monday, Commissioners Holly Jones and Brownie Newman took the lead in the community meeting intended to collect input from residents in the downtown District 1. Highlights from the discussion included an overview of the construction of two new schools for the city and a decision to temporarily halt the expenditure of $10 million for an indoor firing range for sheriff’s deputies.

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