ASHEVILLE – As the city flourished and collapsed in repeated cycles over the last century, a small piece of dense forest survived the saws and bulldozers buzzing and roaring around it.
Now, in the center of one of Asheville’s biggest boom areas – the hugely popular South Slope brewery district – the half acres of what conservationists believe are old oaks have finally found their place.
In a city in dire need of housing, a developer has 54 affordable homes on Collier Ave. 11, a winding and seldom-used back road that connects the interior of the South Slope.
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But local residents pointing to the loss of 891 acres of Asheville’s canopy in 10 years and the resulting harmful effects on the climate are making their own suggestion: Ravenscroft Preserve. This is the name of the Ravenscroft School that once stood on the site, and this is what they hope to name the wooded area that will be preserved and made available to the public.
“So much of the land in downtown Asheville has been used for development, and other than half an acre, there are no real forests at all – and they are old trees,” said Dawn Chavez, director of the Asheville GreenWorks nonprofit.
Outside of the forest, there aren’t any other green spaces within a five to ten minute walk, Chavez said, leaving anyone who lives or spends in the area – which includes tourists as well as some of the city’s poorest residents who use the transit station and the Buncombe County’s Social Services building – with little recovery from summers that keep getting hotter due to climate change and the heat exacerbated by the hard surfaces of downtown.
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The land is owned by the Tribute Companies of Wilmington, which has a massive $ 90 million development of 488 units at the factories on the western edge of the South Slope, between Coxe and Asheland Avenues.
Tribute is not tied to affordable development and has offered to sell the land to conservationists for $ 600,000, Chavez said. (As evidence of the rising land values, the county estimate of the property rose from $ 521,000 in 2017 to $ 901,700 this year.)
Tribute Co-Executive Investment and Development Director Matt Maynard and Chris Day, a senior project manager for Civil Design Concepts, an Asheville engineering firm that works with Tribute, did not respond to messages asking for comments on June 20.
At a city council public hearing on the project more than a year ago, Day said that from his point of view not only a design professional, but also a resident, every result is a “win-win situation”.
“If the nonprofit goes ahead and maintains the site, we have some advantages there. But otherwise we have a great, affordable 54-unit housing project on the South Slope, very close to transit, very close to the mission hospital, schools. ” It’s a great project, “Day said at the hearing on May 26, 2020.
At a meeting on June 9 the following month, the council voted 6-1 to subsidize affordability with a land use incentive grant of $ 383,292 spread over 21 years.
For people earning 80% or less of the median income in the region, rents would be fixed for 20 years. Under current conditions, that means that a single person making no more than $ 42,000 would pay $ 884 a month for a studio apartment, and a family of four making $ 60,100 would pay $ 1,301 – Pay dollars for a three bedroom apartment.
Members of the public who opposed the subsidy said that while affordability is very important, it should not mean that lower-income residents have to live in the middle of a heat island.
Longtime conservationist Dixie Deerman said the project would “tear down and ruin and destroy the last of the forest and potential public green space in the South Slope neighborhood.”
Deerman, who also calls Lady Passion and joins the nature-based Wicca religion, has staged high-profile protests to save trees. She called the proposal “outrageous”.
Even council members who voted in favor of the subsidy said agreeing to it doesn’t mean the site would necessarily be developed.
“This land use incentive grant does not mean that this effort and negotiation with the developer is complete and the decision has been made,” said former councilor and current Senator Julie Mayfield, who is also co-director of the environmental nonprofit MountainTrue.
Conservationists say they raised $ 45,000 (8% of the asking price) through individual contributions and made a $ 10,000 deposit. Tribute has given them until September to raise the money, though they could potentially get a one-year extension, Chavez said.
“Our hope is that tribute companies will donate the land to GreenWorks for conservation purposes,” said Chavez, adding that Maynard is open to the possibility and is working to see what kind of tax credit the company could receive.
If this succeeds, conservationists want to install a public footpath with lookout points to see the sunrise and sunset. Invasive plants would be removed, but the area would generally be left in a natural state.
If the 22 oak trees, which reach heights of 58 to 109 feet, survive, it will be the second time in less than a decade that they have dodged a bullet. In 2008, the council approved approved plans for four seven-story buildings and one six-story 150-condominium building around the north end of Collier at Ravenscroft Drive.
The Great Recession stopped this project. Now conservationists hope that other forces can secure the fate of the trees forever.
In mid-August, Chavez said they would host a walking event starting near the city center on Church Street all the way to the Woods “to raise awareness of the initiative and highlight that Collier Avenue is a tree-lined, shaded gate from downtown to the convenience of the South Slope neighborhood. “
Joel Burgess has lived in WNC for more than 20 years covering politics, government and other news. He has written award-winning stories on topics ranging from gerrymandering to police violence. Please support this type of journalism with a subscription to the Citizen Times.