Looking Ahead with Leadership Asheville & John Ross - TribPapers
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Looking Ahead with Leadership Asheville & John Ross

Local author, John Ross, was winner of the National Outdoor Book Award. Photo courtesy of John Ross.

Asheville – On Wednesday, February 23rd, Leadership Asheville Forum held a virtual program with renowned author, John Ross, an authority on the French Broad River and the speaker at the forum. He presented a provocative talk with a slideshow, seeking answers to this question: For more than 14,000 years, the watershed has sustained human populations. What do we need to begin doing now so the watershed will continue to do so for generations to come? There were approximately 50 people present on Zoom who listened then later gave opinions in a survey. 

Ross’ recently published book, Through the Mountains: The French Broad River and Time is a wealth of information with the history surrounding the French Broad River. It, of course, follows in the footsteps of Wilma Dykeman’s classic The French Broad, published in 1955. The LAF Forum, however, concentrated primarily on the last chapter of Ross’s book, The Planners’ Paradox. “Over the next 50 years, the future of the French Broad watershed, like that of watersheds everywhere, will be delineated by natural and cultural evolution along five vectors: population, climate, energy, transportation, and industry.” (Page 200) Some of the issues brought up during this presentation are below. 

The ever growing population and constant development in this area must be dealt with, as huge swaths of land and hills turn into red clay. New high rise apartments are built in response to the growing popularity of this area. One question asked was: What must we do to insure that our natural terrain continues to attract industry and residents? Then, will downtown Asheville have increased hotel and condo development, and then go the way of the Battery Park and the Vanderbilt?

Climate and the need to prepare for whatever changes are in store are of utmost importance to this area. Asheville is surrounded by steep slopes, and hurricanes stall over the Blue Ridge. With torrential rains there are huge floods, mud & land slides, and closed roads causing incredible damage. A question asked was, “What are the best ways to deal with overflowing water?” Storm water and better water drainage systems need to be developed. On the opposite side of the coin, there are droughts followed by fires, such as those in 2016. What can the county and city do to deal with these types of problems, how can they mitigate the damage? 

The most recent book by John Ross, is Through the Mountains, the French Broad River and Time. Photo courtesy of John Ross

Solar Energy is increasing throughout this area with many incentives given—even in agriculture. A slide was shown with a patch of vegetables being grown right under a solar panel. There are also electric cooperatives throughout North Carolina. Many new inventions and directions are taking place with regards to transportation. Additional slides were shown of trucks powered by induction electricity from highways. Induction electric highways could be self-heating and melt the ice and snow. What help that would have been recently on Interstate 26! All these new inventions will undoubtedly be solutions for the not-too-distant-future.

Meanwhile, tourism continues to grow. The Biltmore Estate brings many tourists to this area, as does the beauty of the mountains. Now there is the Pratt & Whitney aircraft plant being built in Buncombe County. A question was asked: What else must we do to meet the needs of the workforce—those minimum wage workers for the new motels and hotels and the new industry plant workers? One thought Ross suggested, “Perhaps hospitality workers could receive free bus passes paid for by the hotel taxes.”

Buncombe County’s Comprehensive Plan for 2043

Ross praised county leaders for their foresight in working on a broad long-range plan for this community. On the website it states, “This plan will focus on the next 20-year period and will look at the relationships between land uses, infrastructure, and key community services and amenities. A comprehensive plan is not limited to studying land use components – it can include other areas of focus such as safety, public health, affordability, multi-generational needs, equity, and more.” 

The Plan is broken up into 4 Phases. It is currently ending Phase 2 and starting Phase 3 which “builds off the results of the prior two phases and continues to gather feedback from the community on the evolving draft plan. The Plan will include a refined vision, goals, policies, and strategies. A policy is a set of guidelines to help the County make decisions or act in accordance with the vision of the Plan.”

Meetings with community members are continually taking place to get feedback on needed changes. It is very important to participate in these meetings when possible. Just this week meetings were held to discuss redesigning Merrimon Avenue to make it more bicycle friendly. The proposed project is part of the NCDOT’s upcoming resurfacing project, and considers about 2.3 miles of Merrimon Avenue from I-240 to Midland Road at Beaver Lake. To learn more or get involved, visit the Comprehensive Plan website.

The Leadership Asheville Forum 

“While historically an alumni association of the graduates of the community leadership programs at UNC Asheville, the Leadership Asheville Forum (LAF) has become an association open to the public. The mission of the Forum is two-fold: (1) providing public forums on issues critical to the well-being of the Asheville-Buncombe County community; and (2) providing opportunities for members to network with other leaders in the community. The Forum seeks to fulfill its mission by encouraging its members to become active in the network of community leaders, by offering a neutral and focused discussion of important local issues, and by promoting camaraderie and networking among the its members,” quoted from www.leadershipashevilleforum.com, where more information can be found. The next meeting will be at noon on March 23 on “Housing in WNC.”

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