Feudalism, American Style

By Leslee Kulba

It used to go without saying that overall housing costs are more affordable when government doesn’t interject itself as middleman. Now, politicians show they care by making things more expensive.

At Asheville City Council’s last meeting, Deerfield, a retirement community, contributed $250,000 to the city’s Housing Trust Fund. Mayor Esther Manheimer said the gift represented the largest check she remembered the city receiving, and she hoped it would set a trend for things to come. By way of contrast, council also approved a three-story, 130-unit retirement development at the corner of Long Shoals Road and Overlook Road. Council didn’t have many questions. Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler asked if the property would be on the tax rolls, as it used to be owned by the Asheville Pentecostal Holiness Church. She was told the land was being sold to a for-profit developer and will be.

Representing the project, Richard Trainter and Bob Lewis explained the developer wanted to build in Asheville because a market analysis indicated there was demand for senior living. They were going to invest $35,000,000 in the project and ask for no tax abatement. What’s more, the senior community would not increase demand for public services. They don’t use the schools; and they won’t overburden the roads, because many amenities would be provided on-site, only about half the residents would drive, and most would prefer to take the shuttle in groups.

In public comment later in the meeting, citizen Rachael Bliss said council should have required some units to be subsidized. She recommended council “push” harder toward that end with future projects.

Council also approved changes to the city’s Land Use Incentive Grant (LUIG) policy. After it was first adopted in 2010, a couple of developers showed some interest, but nobody actually used it. Then, some developers approached city leadership and explained that to take advantage of the incentives, a developer would have to build with a profit margin so low, no bank would willingly finance such foreseen liability. The policy was since revised five times.

The policy awards grants on a point system, with points available for the percentage of units that are affordable to homeless persons and persons earning under 60% AMI, under 80% AMI, and between 80% and 100% AMI; the duration of rent control; proximity to transit; whether a project uses Energy Star appliances, is Green Built, or has solar panels; and other features. Citizen David Nutter described LUIGs and fee rebates as synthetic tax increment financing because the state does not allow tax abatement by that name.

In Other Matters

Council overrode the state’s implementation of district elections, even though the legislature is still in session with the power to pass legislation undoing council’s undoing. Councilor Vijay Kapoor offered the only dissenting vote of the evening. He said during the process, nobody on council had taken the time to investigate the facts. Instead, it was a private citizen, Jonathan Wainscott, otherwise criticized as, “that man [who] does not understand his privilege,” who procured and analyzed voting data and concluded the proposed districts would aggregate people who historically voted for people of color in a way that would likely get more people of color in office. After council’s vote, Wainscott said it wouldn’t be Republicans giving council backlash for what they just did.

Also during public comment, several desperate students begged members of council to act immediately, in any way, fair or foul, to save the planet. It started with Alex, who stood up to address the issue during public comment on council’s consent agenda. The mayor informed her that council was only taking comment on items on the consent agenda, so Alex said she wanted the climate crisis to be added to the consent agenda. She was told that was not the way the consent agenda worked, so Alex returned during general public comment to criticize council for not listening.

Alex was among a growing number saying the city is being duped by Duke Energy into feeling green while supporting big business. Another youth, Sally Thames, was exhausted, tired of sacrificing her life and interests in the fight for the planet when government was moving at glacial speed, reducing emissions only an unqualified 1%.

Councilor Julie Mayfield explained that government follows the rule of law, so it cannot move as fast as some people might like. Also, she said the city is collaborating with Duke, which has its own goals as does the city. No groups will agree 100%, but they can work together toward common goals.

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