King Cecil's Serf City (from Xpress commentary)
King Cecil's Serf City
Are Developers the Absolute Monarchs of Asheville?
By Bill Branyon
Recently Asheville City Council paid $15,000 to survey what our citizens want for the future of the city. According to an Asheville Citizen article, two of the three top survey priorities are: "get a handle on development” and “don't move here." You can Google the survey’s verbatim anti-development tirades from over a hundred citizens. They’re laced with shrieks such as: “rape of the mountains,” “uncontrolled, greed-fueled development by amoral outsiders,” and “population growth!!! Yikes!!”
But, according to Mountain Xpress, Mayor Bellamy said the survey was skewed because of “certain high-profile events … notably the Parkside/Pack Square drama.” And that was that. The costly survey was ignored, no Counselor significantly protested, and the apparent wishes of the people were completely dismissed.
It’s true that the Parkside controversy was a particularly odiferous example of manic development. But when hasn’t there been a huge development controversy? It's easy enough to remember the elephantine Ellington, Tony Fraga’s twin-towers, the gated earth sore on Reynold’s Mountain, I-26’s catastrophic Connector, Staple’s Great Wall of Merrimon, - the list goes on and on. The survey probably would have had similar results if taken anytime during the last five or ten years. When it comes to development, could it be that Council is not the least bit interested in what the majority of Ashevillians want? Or does the depressing recession make such concerns irrelevant?
From spec houses to spec Mac-Cities
The answer may be found on a field trip to see the astounding new growth in South Asheville's Biltmore Park, including a new YMCA, Cineplex, hospital annex and even a college. It's a whole new city of well over a million square feet. That’s roughly equivalent to fifteen Super Walmarts. And that’s on top of the 1,350 housing units and many other large structures already there. Jack Cecil is the CEO of the Parks’ flagship corporation, Biltmore Farms. In an interview he contended that “way more” than half the people moving to Biltmore Park are from Buncombe County. Its denizens can serenely walk to get most of their needs and thus reduce our county’s car-caused air pollution. The actual statistics about the origin of the Park’s inhabitants are unavailable.
But that’s just the start. Motor south to the 600,000 square foot, Cecil-built ghost town, the Biltmore Square Mall. Take a right and soon discover Biltmore Farms’ magnificent Biltmore Lake development. Or journey just east to their "Bramble." The "Lake" is a pastoral mixture of 800 high-priced, often eerily empty homes, hiking trails, and a big, beautiful lake that’s aggressively off limits to its blue-collar Enka neighbors. The gated Bramble has finished over 120 of its planned 500 houses, as well as three large parks and miles of hiking trails through pristine forests.
Mr. Cecil is building spectacular spec cities! If only 30% of his housing units are filled by out-of-town residents, that’s about a thousand new Asheville families spewing exhaust, crowding, and frenzy!
An Audience with a King
While talking with the handsome Mr. Cecil, I craftily compared Biltmore Park to Paris. “Oh yes,” he replied with easy charm, “and look at the trees near the roundabout. When their branches grow together they’ll form a pleached tree canopy like those of the Champs Elysees.”
I was enchanted, and then humbled when he noted that they're already employing 300 people with a $40 million payroll, and are planning another 850,000 square feet of office space. He’s one of the few hopes of our crashing WNC economy!
Mr. Cecil plans to harness the Park’s “triply redundant,” high capacity bandwidth to enable a “place based, community building” development. It will utilize the “indigenous assets” of the area’s population and unparalleled “biotechnological potential,” in order to grow a “knowledge centered, vital urban fabric” rivaling the quality of Boston.
It sounds great. Or is his jargon just a rebranding of the same old exploitation of our matchless mountain environment and artistically intelligent people?
Mr. Cecil's family includes a line of aristocrats who for many decades controlled the measureless treasures of the gargantuan British Empire, robber-baron Commodore Vanderbilt who was arguably the richest man on the entire planet, and even Jackie Onassis Kennedy. Nevertheless, shouldn’t the democratic decisions of us common folk have more power than those of his amazing family?
Overthrowing the Dictators of Asheville
Given these and many other rampant growth realities, it’s become as plain as the 175,000-square-foot Cecil-owned Biltmore House that Asheville is an omnipotent dictatorship of large landowners and big money. Except for a few high profile exceptions, citizen concerns about growth are about as relevant as medieval serfs’ begging for consideration from their overlords.
Though the recent survey was revealing, I think that if Asheville had a comprehensive referendum on growth, the fast growth preferences would sadly win. Most people believe we can’t afford anything else because they think it’s the only way to make jobs. Thus to gain any control over the ecology of our region, we need a flourishing, but equilibrium, economy that takes basic care of everyone. Then Asheville would grow only if we, the majority of an economically secure people, wanted it to.
The current recession is a great opportunity to achieve this since a pure profit economy is pretty hard to defend these days. And the transition would be quickly assured if Asheville’s many investors joined with Mr. Cecil to use their good taste, grace, and wealth to help.
Bill Branyon is a local writer who is working on his latest book:
Liberating liberals. Contact him at email@example.com
Clear-cutting Tiger's Woods
WNC Golf Through Progressive Eyes
By Bill Branyon
Okay okay, I admit it. I play golf. I like to think I’m a leftist liberal with a pure passion for social justice, but I play this game that many consider a major symbol of wasteful wealth. Also, no one knows better than we in WNC that golf courses are the tree-trouncing vanguard of ecology-killing developments, and the gluttonous maw of the many poisons needed to keep greens gleaming.
Does it help that I believe all courses should be designated general-use parks, free for everyone, at least thrice a week? No. That makes me a heinously happy hypocrite.
Still, I don't totally lose my progressive attitudes when on the course. Take the Asheville Municiple links. All Ashevillians own it, and sometimes I play with amazingly straight-hitting former caddies, or monster-driving blue-collar workers. Muny’s front nine has three holes on busy Swanannoa River Road. Its car drivers commonly scream expletives during your backswing. These blasphemes are sometimes the hidden hate of class warfare, only with the tragic twist of so-called lower class razzing lower class for playing so-called upper class games.
In return we golfers launch round white missiles hooking towards their windshields, though these are mainly accidents of our casually destructive prerogatives.
Broadmoor Golf Course which is located by the airport, has about twenty refreshing lakes, but people hauling by on I-26 should watch out for heavy hitters hooking on whole eleven. The course is classified an Audubon sanctuary since it preserves birds and uses less pesticides. But why should any course use any poisons? Just play winter rules year round - which means moving the ball from lousy lies - and get over our vain, earth-killing perfectionism. Also, the cost might decrease dramatically.
Given the rate of pre-recession development in WNC, and our elected officials refusal to seriously confront capitalism, maybe the only hope for the few remaining WNC green spaces is to turn them into non-pesticide golf courses. No?
Drive-by Whackings on Kimberly Avenue
I do approach golf a little differently than the average competitive Republican, taking seriously Mark Twain's observation that "golf is a good walk spoiled." The scenery is my number one priority and Reems Creek's mountainous marvel in Weaverville, and High Vista's vast horizons just south of Sandy Bottoms, take the local cake in the breathtaking-views department. Though they're a bit pricey at $45.
The lower rent golfer can just as beautifully play cheaper courses about thirty minutes from Asheville. These include the pastoral paradise of Waynesville Country Club for $25 after 3pm, or the always sweet Crooked Creek in Hendersonville at $32, cart included. In contrast, Grove Park’s course charges $149 for its interesting, Donald Ross layout. That’s over $8 per hole or $2 per swing for a good player. Every swing could feed a struggling family of four a generous portion of macaroni and cheese!
Meanwhile the mostly upper-class strollers and drivers along Kimberly Avenue are bombarded by hundreds of potentially deadly golf balls every year. They seem to tolerate this quietly, accepting a golfer’s right to slice, regardless of consequences. CNN.com reported over 300,000 major golf injuries in America over a "few year's time", though I couldn't find statistics on how many were innocent bystanders.
If a person openly threw several hard rocks a day at people on a busy thoroughfare, they’d be arrested quickly for assault and battery with a deadly weapon. Golfing is such a great game that it awards players a year-round license to do this with impunity, and with greater velocity. It’s like the collateral damage in Iraq. The army didn’t mean to blow up that school, but it just got in the way of their trajectory.
Golf's Greedy Gandhi
Golf’s Jesus, Tiger Woods, stares determinedly out from Asheville billboards proclaiming: "See what inspired me." He recently invited what the Asheville Citizen described as “an army of luxury SUVs” carrying a "thousand people" to see his golf development which straddles Fairview and Swannanoa. While dedicating it Woods praised the visibility of the location: “I grew up [in Southern California] where there was nothing but smog. We couldn’t see anything.”
Many of his prospects soon hope to be dumping exhaust from their luxury SUVs into an Asheville air inversion bowl that rivals Los Angeles in its ability to trap poison gases. Many will build vacation homes on land where lots alone go for up to $3,000,000. That's enough to keep a family of four above the $22,500-federal-poverty line for over 130 years.
This is the same Tiger whose father claimed he'd be the next "Gandhi," according to a 1997 Sports Illustrated story, and whose Buddhism inspires him to contribute to monks who’ve renounced all material goods. Now he's become the apostle of environmental destruction for fabulously frivolous greed. He already has hundreds of millions of dollars made mainly from Nike and other sweat-shop-supporting sponsors.
Has my golfing hero been totally corrupted by golf’s "upper" class charms? Maybe. Yet he’s still a living, racial revolution each week as he beats about seventy mostly white men, often playing on white only, or token minority, golf courses. Perhaps his Stanford education missed Voltaire’s view that we aren’t living in the best of all possible worlds. This would explain his naiveté in financing huge charities to teach golf to ghetto kids. Odds are they’d have to spend a weeks, sweat-shop pay check, to play on expensive big-city courses.
My perverse dedication to golf has led to extremely conservative venues. I’ve played the divine Country Club of Asheville and hear Biltmore Forest Country Club is fine. Both however are super exclusive, extremely expensive, and neither offers scholarships for those of us who are extremely compatible socially, but less fortunate financially.
Yet I'll keep struggling with their game, knowing that if the revolution comes it better be nonviolent or we selfish golfers may be the first guillotined. If so, hopefully my head will roll, like a one putt goal, straight into a sewer hole - shouting: “Finally, a hole in one!”
PS: If any of you BFCC threesomes need a ringer fourth, give me a call.
Bill Branyon is a local writer working on his next book: Liberating Liberals. Contact him at billbranyon@Yahoo.com