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ACTION: Support Road Safety in Downtown Asheville

ACTION: Support Road Safety in Downtown Asheville

ACTION: Support Road Safety in Downtown Asheville

Let the City of Asheville know that you support making College Street and Patton Avenue safer for pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and transit riders. 

The City of Asheville is wavering in its commitment to complete streets and needs your support for the College/Patton project today. MountainTrue has long been a supporter of complete street projects that make moving through our communities safer, easier, and more environmentally sustainable. Our new program Neighbors for More Neighbors WNC also supports such projects as a way to mitigate congestion in our city centers as we make room for more residents there. City staff and traffic engineers have studied this project and responded to community concerns along the way. They have improved the design, consulted with emergency responders, and compared vehicular traffic patterns to other streets in town to demonstrate that this new design would not create the congestion that some opponents of this project fear. Their expert analysis and process have built upon multiple studies and plans that have recommended projects like this one since the 2009 Downtown Master Plan. However, our city’s leadership needs to hear from more voices that support turning College Street and Patton Avenues into complete streets with buffered bike lanes and high-visibility crosswalks. Take action today to encourage Asheville City Council to vote in support of the College/Patton project and make our downtown safer for all users.

Neighbors for More Neighbors WNC advocates for more attainable housing that is built in places and at a scale that most benefits the health of our natural environment. We support attainable housing in and near our city centers because that is an efficient use of infrastructure, it decreases our overall carbon footprint, and also because we want our downtowns to be vibrant, thriving, inclusive places that all people in our community both can and want to access and enjoy. We believe that investments in infrastructure that make downtowns more pedestrian friendly, rather than vehicle oriented, pay off by activating our city center in a personal way and on a human scale. Bike lanes are a part of that landscape not just because they benefit bicyclists, but also because the less car-centric we make our downtown, the more people-centered it becomes. Complete street projects enable vehicle access and safer options for other road users, and, ultimately, we believe that complete streets in our city center will benefit businesses by making downtown a place that residents will want to spend more time and money in. 

Join us in supporting complete street investments in downtown Asheville by supporting the College/Patton Project today. Click here to read our letter of support for the College Street and Patton Avenue Redesign Project. 

ACTION: Support Road Safety in Downtown Asheville

MountainTrue’s Letter of Support for the City of Asheville’s College Street & Patton Avenue Redesign Project

MountainTrue’s Letter of Support for the City of Asheville’s College Street & Patton Avenue Redesign Project

photo credit: City of Asheville project page

October 2, 2023

This week, we sent the letter below to the members of Asheville City Council expressing our support for the College / Patton Project in downtown Asheville because we believe multi-modal transportation investments make denser residential development work best for our communities. You can read more about the project on the city’s website here.

 

Dear  Asheville City Council, 

          City Manager Debra Campbell,

          Director of Transportation, Ken Putnam

          Assistant Director of Transportation, Jessica Morriss 

          Members of the City of Asheville’s Multimodal Transportation Commission

 

I write today on behalf of MountainTrue and Neighbors for More Neighbors WNC asking you to support the College Street and Patton Avenue redesign project.

We took to heart Council member Mosley’s reflection of concern and even anger on behalf of the Black community regarding bike lanes during the August 22 council discussion on this project. The prospect of supporting what feels to some members of our community like “white encroachment in Black neighborhoods” is not a position we take lightly. While we believe that this redesign project would increase safety for all travelers through our downtown—pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers alike—we also take seriously the prospect that such a change may make some members of our community feel even less welcome or included, especially those Council member Mosley spoke on behalf of who are “most vulnerable among us.” 

Additionally, we take seriously the concerns of downtown business owners who are currently beset by a host of challenges and stressors and who feel like the timing of this project is not right. For those owners in particular who have invested in and committed to downtown Asheville even since the years when downtown was nearly deserted and sorely neglected, we regret that the timing of this project feels like a threat rather than a support.

While we do not take these concerns lightly, Neighbors for More Neighbors WNC advocates for more attainable housing that is built in places and at a scale that most benefits the health of our natural environment. We support attainable housing in and near our city centers because that is an efficient use of infrastructure, it decreases our overall carbon footprint, and also because we want our downtowns to be vibrant, thriving, inclusive places that all people in our community both can and want to access and enjoy. We believe that investments in infrastructure that make downtowns more pedestrian friendly, rather than vehicle oriented, do pay off by activating our city center in a personal way and on a human scale. Bike lanes are a part of that landscape not just because they benefit bicyclists, but also because the less car-centric we make our downtown, the more people-centered it becomes. Complete street projects both enable vehicle access in addition to providing safer options for other road users, and, ultimately, we believe that complete streets in our city center will benefit downtown businesses by making downtown a place that residents will want to spend more time and money in.  

When vulnerable members of our community and business owners feel that complete street projects like College/Patton go against their interests, we take time to step back and question our assumptions. It is true that the most vocal and visible champions for bicycle infrastructure in our community are white. It is also true that the challenges of both implementing this project and then adjusting to the new road design would be most immediately felt by the business owners whose businesses are located within the project footprint. Yet it is also frequently true that unwanted or even feared changes, once experienced, prove to be appealing and beneficial in unexpected ways. 

We respect our city staff and traffic engineers who have studied this project and responded to concerns along the way. They have improved the design by increasing loading zone space and decreasing impacts to drivers by moving the bike lanes to the left side of traffic, instead of the right. They have consulted with and received support from emergency responders in our community. And they have compared vehicular traffic patterns to other streets in town to demonstrate that this new design would not create the delays or congestion that some opponents of this project fear. We trust their expert analysis and their process, which has built upon multiple studies and plans that have recommended projects like this one since the 2009 Downtown Master Plan.

Neighbors for More Neighbors WNC advocates for housing that is financially attainable and responsibly located. We also advocate for transportation investments that make our community more affordable and make denser patterns of development work best for all members of our community. And we do that advocacy as thoughtfully and respectfully as possible, trying to honor all the different lived experiences that will be impacted by the changes we promote. We seek to listen, understand, learn, and partner with individuals and groups who want Asheville and WNC to be the best they can be. It is from this place that we ask for your support of the College/Patton project in the hopes that it ultimately proves to be more beneficial to our community than harmful and in the hopes that all members of our community, from the most vulnerable to the most privileged, find themselves able to access and enjoy our city center as neighbors welcoming more neighbors.

Sincerely, 

Susan Bean, Housing & Transportation Director for MountainTrue

Hendersonville’s Gen H Community Survey is live. Here are our suggestions.

Hendersonville’s Gen H Community Survey is live. Here are our suggestions.

Hendersonville’s Gen H Community Survey is live. Here are our suggestions.

The City of Hendersonville is seeking public input for its Gen H Community Survey as part of its 2045 Comprehensive Plan and to establish a long-term vision for sustainable growth and conservation. The survey is available in English and Spanish and is open through November 14, 2023. 

The following are our suggestions on the survey questions most relevant to the issues of conservation, environmental protection, and healthy communities. We hope you consider our recommendations when filling out your survey. If you have any questions or concerns, please reach out to MountainTrue’s Southern Regional Director, Nancy Díaz, for more information at nancy@mountaintrue.org.

 

Q1 – As you look into the future, what are the top three things you are most concerned about for Hendersonville? (Select 3)

Please consider including “Environmental Health” and “Housing” among your three selections. Prioritizing and investing in environmental protection is critical to making us more resilient to climate change challenges and maintaining Hendersonville residents’ health. 

The lack of attainable housing is a significant challenge for Hendersonville, and how we address that challenge directly impacts our environmental health. According to the North Carolina Office of State Budget and Management, Henderson County’s population is expected to grow by 30.28% between 2020 and 2050. However, existing residents already struggle to find housing that meets their needs. So, as we build homes to accommodate growth, we need to ensure that growth is responsible and sustainable by minimizing the impacts of our built environment. A 2021 Housing Needs Assessment conducted by Bowen National Research for the Dogwood Health Trust found that Henderson County has an overall vacancy rate of 0.2% with zero subsidized units available. This keeps housing in Hendersonville and Henderson County out of reach and forces many working families to commute from further and further away — increasing commuting costs, vehicle miles traveled, and carbon emissions. We hope our community’s vision for the future can be one that provides attainable housing in areas that already have infrastructure and amenities so that we can minimize the footprint of our built environment and protect more of our farms and forests from sprawl. 

 

Q4 – Based on data from the U.S. Census and state population projections, Henderson County has grown by 9% from 2000-2020. The County is projected to grow an additional 8% by 2030. Approximately 4,000 new housing units would need to be constructed by 2030 to accommodate new residents. Some percentage of this growth will occur within the City of Hendersonville. Where in Hendersonville do you think new development (homes, jobs, etc.) should occur?

Please consider choosing “Within the existing city limits with increased density.” Our cities and small towns should function as our communities’ economic, cultural, and residential centers. We should prioritize public and private development where we’ve already invested in infrastructure. At the same time, we should discourage any infrastructure expansion that induces sprawl into natural areas or the rural landscape. 

 

Q5 – What are your top three priorities as Hendersonville plans for its future? (Select 3)

Please consider including “Preserving farmland and critical environmental areas” and “Providing a range of housing opportunities and choices at various price ranges” among your three selections. As mentioned above, Hendersonville and Henderson County are suffering a housing crisis that is making it difficult, if not impossible, for teachers, nurses, restaurant workers, civil servants, and other workers to commute to work and even stay in our communities. By allowing for a greater variety of housing choices and building more within our urban centers, we are more likely to meet our housing needs without infringing upon our forests and farmlands. 

 

Q6 – To me, “quality development” means: (Select 3)

Please consider including “Good streetscapes” and “Walkable, safe environments” among your three selections. Making our communities safe, walkable, and bikeable is critical to reducing our dependence on cars and fossil fuels. It also encourages an active lifestyle, which can benefit physical and mental health. 

 

Q7 – Do you feel that Hendersonville has enough housing units?

As mentioned in our discussion of Question 1, Henderson County had an overall vacancy rate of 0.2% and zero available subsidized units, according to the 2021 Housing Needs Assessment conducted by Bowen National Research. We don’t have the housing to accommodate our current needs, let alone the needs of a growing population. 

 

Q8 – From your first home as an adult to the home where you spend your adult life and the home where you plan to grow old, a community can provide a variety of housing types for all the various life stages based on needs and cost of living. Looking to the future, what housing types (beyond single-family houses) does Hendersonville need to ensure residents can find housing to match their life stage? (Select all that apply.)

Please consider including “Missing Middle Housing” among your selections. “Missing middle housing” is a term used in urban planning and housing policy to describe a range of housing types that were built frequently in the early 20th century, that are scaled to fit in with existing neighborhoods, but that haven’t been built much in recent decades. Hence, the label “missing.” Common examples of these kinds of homes include duplexes, triplexes, and townhomes. By not adding these kinds of homes to the market in recent years, we have created a gap in housing options that can contribute to issues such as affordability and housing shortages. Missing middle housing is a potential solution to address these challenges and create more diverse and sustainable communities.

 

Q10 – What are your top three improvements for downtown?

Please consider including “Safe/improved pedestrian and bike connections in and to downtown from neighborhoods” and “New and/or improved public spaces/parks” among your three selections. Making Hendersonville more walkable and bikeable is better for our environment, pedestrian and cyclist safety, and public health. 

 

Q14 – Rank what Hendersonville needs most: (Rank your priorities)

Please consider selecting “Housing” as your top priority. As discussed in the discussion to Question 1, Hendersonville is facing a dire housing shortage. While more jobs and amenities such as shopping and dining are desirable, we are in desperate need of housing for the workers that we would need to staff these positions. 

 

Q16 – On a scale of 1-5, with 1 being least important and 5 being extremely important, how important is the natural environment to Hendersonville’s identity?

Please consider selecting “5 – Extremely Important.” Protecting our natural environment is critical to maintaining our Appalachian mountain identity, addressing climate change, and supporting good public health. Our natural environment provides essential ecosystem services such as clean air and water, pollination, and climate regulation. A comprehensive plan that prioritizes the natural environment can help the City become more resilient to climate change. Natural features like wetlands and green spaces can mitigate flooding, absorb excess rainwater, and provide shade and cooling in heat waves. Access to green spaces, parks, and natural areas enhances the City’s aesthetic appeal and provides recreational opportunities for residents. By integrating environmental considerations into urban planning, Hendersonville can create a more resilient, livable, and attractive community for current and future generations.

 

Q18. Thinking about how the plan could impact Hendersonville’s parks, greenspace and greenway facilities over the next 20-40 years, what is most important to you? (Rank your priorities)

There are no wrong answers here, but please consider selecting “Parks that protect environmental health and natural resources” and “Neighborhood parks that meet the daily and year-round needs of nearby residents” among your highest priorities. Public parks can provide many important environmental benefits, improving air and water quality, supporting biodiversity and local pollinators, and mitigating urban heat. Parks can be developed in a way to mitigate flooding, absorb excess rainwaters, and provide shade and cooling during heatwaves. Public parks also offer spaces for recreation, exercise, and relaxation, promoting physical and mental well-being. They serve as gathering points for community events and social interactions, fostering a sense of belonging and cohesion. Parks are essential for children’s development, providing safe play areas and opportunities to connect with nature. In short, public parks enrich the quality of life in communities by enhancing health, culture, environment, and social connections, making them a fundamental aspect of urban planning and community development.

 

Q21 – What are your priorities for making Hendersonville more walkable and bikeable? (Rank your priorities)

Again, there are no wrong answers here, but we hope you will consider including “Streets with sidewalks,” “Bikeways and bike lanes,” and “Greenway trails” among your top priorities. Making Hendersonville more walkable and bikeable benefits residents and the environment alike by making our City more vibrant, efficient, and livable. Walkable and bikeable cities reduce dependence on cars, leading to lower greenhouse gas emissions, improved air quality, and decreased traffic congestion. Fewer cars on the road can alleviate traffic congestion, making cities more efficient and reducing commuting time. Well-designed pedestrian and bike infrastructure enhances safety for vulnerable road users, reducing accidents and injuries. Pedestrian and bike-friendly cities are also more inclusive, offering transportation options for people who cannot drive, including older adults, children, and individuals with disabilities.

 

Q23 – How would you rank the following areas of sustainability from most important to least important? Are there any focus areas you think need to be added? (Rank your priorities)

There are no wrong answers here, and all the options are interrelated and critical to ensuring a sustainable future for Hendersonville. Let the City know where your priorities lie, and, most importantly, don’t forget to take the survey!

With your participation, we believe that Hendersonville could develop a well-considered comprehensive plan that could serve as a model for other communities throughout Western North Carolina. 

Thank you for your time and consideration. 

We Are Speaking Up in Support of Needed Housing in Hiawassee, GA

We Are Speaking Up in Support of Needed Housing in Hiawassee, GA

We Are Speaking Up in Support of Needed Housing in Hiawassee, GA

This month, Neighbors for More Neighbors WNC and MountainTrue staff collaborated to evaluate and subsequently express full support for a proposed housing development for Hiawassee, GA. The project is called The Commons at Lake Chatuge, and it’s a development that would create the kind of homes we believe are needed for our communities to be healthy, to protect water quality, and prevent continued loss of our farms and forests due to sprawl development. Here are the reasons why we support these kinds of projects generally and also why The Commons specifically aligns with our goals:

 

  • Location: By building homes within walking distance of grocery stores, restaurants, jobs, and town centers, we reduce daily vehicle miles traveled and our community’s carbon footprint. Additionally, building in or near our town centers relieves development pressure on surrounding farms and forests that we need for watershed protection, wildlife habitat, and carbon sequestration. The project site on Main Street, not far from the center of town — and with existing water and sewer access — is ideal placement and more fiscally responsible.
  • Small size: This project would build homes of 700-1,100 square feet, which we support because smaller homes generate less stormwater runoff and require less energy to heat and cool. We also need smaller home options in our communities for working families or elderly residents who want to downsize. 
  • Variety: 21 of the homes are proposed to be townhomes or duplexes — a housing type that further increases energy efficiency by taking advantage of shared walls. While duplexes also represent a housing type that has been less commonly built in recent decades, they are a beneficial addition to a community’s housing stock and create different kinds of homes for people to choose from as their lives and needs change over time.
  • Affordability: Because this developer is passionate about creating housing communities to serve the workforce, the sale price for all of these homes will be lower than would otherwise be possible on Hiawassee’s regular housing market. And through the company’s business model, 15 homes will have 25% lower pricing, making them even more affordable.  Having more reasonably priced homes within a community helps maintain a community’s health and vibrancy by ensuring that a wider range of income earners can live and work there, filling critical positions in a community’s workforce.

 

MountainTrue has a long history of advocating for responsible growth across the region. Continuing that tradition, Neighbors for More Neighbors WNC is committed to supporting projects representing the kind of built environment that causes the least harm to our natural environment while also promoting healthy communities within which our families and neighbors can thrive. MountainTrue Western Regional Director Callie Moore spoke in support of the project at the City of Hiawassee Building & Planning Committee’s public hearing on Thursday, September 7, 2023. Stay tuned for project updates coming soon! 

Public Testimony from MountainTrue’s Housing & Transportation Director, Susan Bean

Public Testimony from MountainTrue’s Housing & Transportation Director, Susan Bean

Public Testimony from MountainTrue’s Housing & Transportation Director, Susan Bean

Susan Bean on MountainTrue’s support of the missing middle housing study proposed by the City of Asheville: 

 

As an environmental advocacy group, MountainTrue recognizes the undeniable connection between the built environment and the natural environment. How we build in our cities and where people are able to live has a tremendous impact on our region’s farms and forests. The more choices people have about how close they can live to schools, jobs, and grocery stores, the more they can access the lifestyle that suits their needs best. 

By creating more housing options that are within walking distance of restaurants and bus routes and commercial centers, people will be better able to age in place or decrease their commute times. This kind of lifestyle is both attractive to a growing population and also benefits the environment through increased energy efficiency and decreased carbon emissions. The development of modest-sized, compactly built, energy-efficient housing within walking distance of jobs and services is one of the best things we can do to fight climate change. 

I hope this study will take into consideration concerns existing residents like me have about the prospects of gentrification and displacement, preservation of urban tree canopy, and local neighborhood character. However, I am also hopeful that considering such concerns from the start as we pursue the creation of more climate friendly housing options for people who want to find a home for themselves in our community, will allow for all of us to welcome new neighbors in a spirit of cooperation rather than competition.

I look forward to continuing to support the City of Asheville as it works to remove barriers to missing middle housing and seeks to provide more housing choice within our community for our neighbors who need places to live. Thank you for your consideration and for this opportunity to speak with you tonight.

2023 Western North Carolina Conservation Legislative Priorities

2023 Western North Carolina Conservation Legislative Priorities

2023 Western North Carolina Conservation Legislative Priorities

Protect Public Health – and the Jobs and Businesses that Rely on Clean Water

A recent report conducted by economists at Western Carolina University commissioned by the French Broad River Partnership found the total economic impact of the French Broad River and its tributaries is $3.8 billion annually, and river-reliant businesses create or maintain 38,554 jobs each year. In 2015, more than 55,000 people used a commercial outfitter to enjoy the French Broad, and thousands more used the river without an outfitter. 

Unfortunately, bacteria pollution threatens this economic engine by making the watershed unsafe for the thousands of people who play in it every year. Contaminated water poses health problems, including gastrointestinal, skin, ear, respiratory, eye, neurologic, and infections. 

Water quality testing in the heavily-used French Broad River watershed indicates the presence of E. coli and fecal coliform at levels that are unsafe for human exposure much of the time. One of the most popular areas for recreation, a 19-mile section of the French Broad River – from the Asheville Regional Airport,  through the Biltmore Estate and the River Arts District in downtown Asheville – was added to NC’s list of impaired waterways in 2022.

To protect public health and the jobs and businesses that rely on safe recreational waters, MountainTrue supports the following initiatives to reduce bacterial pollution:

  • Increase local WNC funding to help farmers improve water quality. Agricultural waste is a significant source of E. coli and other bacterial pollution in WNC rivers and streams, especially the French Broad River which, as mentioned above, was recently listed as impaired for fecal coliform. Unfortunately, demand for state funding to help WNC farmers afford improvements that would reduce this pollution far outstrips the current budget. Expanding state funding for local Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs) to meet this demand is critical to improving recreational water quality in WNC. We would like to request a $2 million nonrecurring allocation to SWCDs in the French Broad Watershed, allocated through the existing Agricultural Cost-Share Program, specifically for livestock operation improvement projects.  
  • Help property owners reduce stormwater pollution. The Community Conservation Assistance Program (CCAP) allows WNC’s SWCDs to help property owners reduce stormwater pollution in impaired waters.  Like the cost share program for farmers, funding for CCAP assistance is insufficient to meet demand. Providing WNC SWCD’s with an additional $500,000 for the CCAP program will significantly reduce stormwater pollution in rivers and streams already impacted by bacterial pollution. 


Other policy and funding initiatives that MountainTrue supports:

  • Abundant Housing Legislation – Opportunities for dense, energy-efficient housing located close to jobs reduce energy demand and transportation emissions. We support legislation to address housing availability and affordability.
  • Dam Removal Fund Implementation – The NCGA previously allocated $7.5 million to remove antiquated dams on waterways across WNC. MountainTrue is committed to advancing policies that give state agencies the support they need to advance dam removal projects efficiently.
  • Expand Transportation Funding – NC’s transportation funding relies on the gas tax, which is diminishing as people drive less and vehicles become more efficient. We support legislation that creates new sources of funding and expands the use to include stand-alone bike-ped projects.
  • Stormwater management reform for redevelopment projects – Recent amendments to G.S. 143‑214.7 deny local governments the option of requiring stormwater mitigation on redevelopment projects. We support legislation to repeal those changes.
  • Safe Passage Fund – As roadway construction creates new barriers to long-established wildlife corridors, inevitably, animals are increasingly encountering humans and their vehicles. We are joining a coalition of organizations seeking $10 million to support wildlife crossing projects.
  • Agency staffing needs and pay equity – State agencies across the board are struggling to hire and retain staff due to budget constraints and competition with the private sector. MountainTrue supports maximizing investments in state agency staff positions and salaries.

WNC Public Access and Recreation Investments:

  • Expand the Blue Ridge Snorkel Trail to include one publicly-accessible site in each WNC county, along with educational materials ($150,000 nonrecurring to Mainspring Conservation Trust).
  • Improve River Walk in downtown Murphy by building a boardwalk for Fisherman’s Loop, and extending the path to a housing development ($250,000 nonrecurring to the Town of Murphy).
  • Improve public access to the Watauga River Paddle Trail by purchasing an additional access point in Watauga County ($500,000 nonrecurring to Watauga County).
  • Expand access to the Green River and adjacent lands by developing a new access point at South Wilson Hill Road ($150,000 nonrecurring to Polk County Community Foundation).
  • Enhance Chestnut Mountain Nature Park by expanding paths and trails and improving the playground and creekside park ($450,000 nonrecurring to the Town of Canton).