Nortth Buncombe – Weaverville and Woodfin have been havens for those who wanted municipal amenities without the trapping of big cities. A small town responsive government that has a good police department, provides trash pick-up, and doesn’t waste taxpayers’ money. They keep traditions in place and have unique communities.
The Tribune put some questions to the mayors of the towns to get their reaction on whether their towns are becoming more like Asheville.
Patrick Fitzsimmons, Mayor of Weaverville, was asked, “What do you think the town’s outlook is over the next few years? “Weaverville will continue to grow in population, diversity, and vibrance. We are a very popular area for retirees, work-from-home professionals, and digital nomads. For several years, we saw the average age of our population increase until it was over 55 (15 years over the national average). That trend is reversing as a result of increased housing availability (recently built apartment complexes, new house developments), and influx of new folks due to COVID, and a changing workforce that is more mobile. This [is] a good thing for our town. Young professionals with families add to our civic health.”
Do you believe the town is moving toward being more like Asheville in the last few years? “I am not sure what it means to become more or less like Asheville,” said Fitzsimmons. “Being like Asheville is not a standard I use to measure our success. I do know it is important that we grow in a managed and thoughtful way that allows us to thrive while maintaining the small-town charm and character we all love.”
What do you think is behind the move toward/away from being like Asheville? “If you compare our demographics with Asheville’s, you will see we are very different communities. Weaverville is older, wealthier, and better educated as a whole,” explained Fitzsimmons. “Asheville would do well to become more like Weaverville.”
“I am very enthusiastic about Weaverville’s future. I hear folks lamenting about growth and development, and I get that, but there are towns all across this country that are losing population, have declining tax bases, their youth are fleeing, and local economies are drying up,” he said of Weaverville’s current position. “In Weaverville, we have all the opposite problems. I would much rather manage growth and success than decline and failure.”
When asked if he could think of a way Weaverville was becoming more like Asheville, Fitzsimmons said, “We both have thoroughfares named Merrimon.” Asked to name some ways Weaverville is keeping its identity? Fitzsimons chose another street. “The Main St. commercial corridor is now more likely to remain home to only locally owned small businesses due to zoning changes we have made. This is a feature we all love and want to preserve.
“If you want to experience Weaverville, I encourage you to shop on Main St., visit our parks, walk around the heart of town, and go to events at the Community Center. If you want to experience bland living that looks like everywhere else, then visit the chain store-driven business district around exit 19. We love those businesses being in town and available to us, but they are the same as everywhere else.”
He added, “We have one of the best educated, financially secure, and generally happy populations of any town. We have municipal services other towns envy. Neighborhoods around us seek being annexed into town. This is a great place to live. Who wouldn’t want to be here?”
Jerry VeHaun has been the Woodfin mayor for the past 20 years. He’s seen a lot of things, and it’s also his last few days as the mayor as he has chosen not to run for re-election, so the Tribune asked him, “What do you think the town’s outlook is over the next few years? “Well, it’s going to depend a lot on what the economy does, and if the economy does improve over what it is now, it will be slow going.”
Do you believe the town is moving toward being more like Asheville in the last few years? “I think there’s some people that would like it to be more like Asheville. I’m certainly not one of them.”
What do you think is behind the move toward or away from being like Asheville? “Well, people that moved here that don’t understand the history of small towns – you know, whether it be Woodfin, Weaverville, Black Mountain, or anybody else. A lot of them would like to have it like it was from where they moved here from and that’s not always possible and not always feasible. VeHaun pointed out the reason Woodfin was incorporated back in 1971 was in order not to be taken over by a significant annexation by the City of Asheville.
Asked if he saw Woodfin becoming more like Asheville as a bad thing, he said, “Oh yeah, yeah. Most definitely. Asheville is spending a lot of money on things. I feel like they could do better if they took care of their taxpayers.” He pointed to one item, like road repair.
Asked if he could name some ways the town is becoming more like Asheville. “Well, if you’re not careful when you start adopting ordinances that Asheville may have come up with…such as banning plastic bags… that’s one example,” VeHaun said that would affect everything from grocery stores to restaurants to retail. He said if Buncombe County adopts one then Woodfin, Weaverville, and Black Mountain will follow.
He summed it up by saying, “I think the long-term residents of Woodfin don’t want like Asheville’s got. For example, they don’t want the homeless population that Asheville got. They would expect to see the town do something about it if they started panhandling and living on the side of the woods or something like that. They don’t want a lot of the new ideas some people have.”
He also believes the residents of the town appreciate the police force they currently have, not one like Asheville, which has been belittled by the city council and demoralized to the point of not being able to recruit. The Woodfin Police only has one vacancy, unlike Asheville Police, who are down as much as 40% by some accounts.