Why the Building Boom on Long Shoals? - TribPapers

Why the Building Boom on Long Shoals?

The woods of Lake Julian are fast becoming a booming metropolis.

Asheville – Long Shoals Road is a construction zone. Signs read, “Future Home of Great Smiles,” “Coming Soon Beverly-Grant,” “For Sale 5.9 Acres,” etc. Something’s going up next to Magoo’s, which hasn’t been there that long, either. Millstone Construction and Management has begun work on the 185-unit Meridian on Lake Julian and the 66-unit Kessler on Long Shoals. Last fall, Julian Woods and Sona were still under construction.

For years, Long Shoals was a nice, forested road connecting Skyland Exxon to the interstate. Lake Julian was a nice place to go for some quiet canoeing or to let the dog sniff out trails. When Biltmore Park Town Square came along in 2009, its building boom was self-contained. In fact, the neighborhood didn’t change much even after former Buncombe County Manager Wanda Greene put together a shell-game deal to woo Linamar to build a facility on the lake. The change seemed to occur right around the time Duke Energy decommissioned its coal-powered electrical plant, and that would have been 4 p.m. on January 29, 2020.

Granted, getting rid of the little white cloud over Lake Julian definitely improved the community ambience. But shrewd businessmen anticipated this. That’s why Jack, for example, while living in Michigan in the 1990s, fantasized about buying up property around Canton while it was dirt cheap. Those were the days before Brownie Newman campaigned for the Clean Smokestacks Act. The pollution was so bad that Taylor, working through various organizations for pragmatic approaches to sustainable living, fantasized about a commercial in which a family, driving down the highway on vacation, passes the Asheville sign and breaks out in a chorus of, “Who dun it?” Back then, Jack was convinced there was no way that people were going to endure this for long.

While complaints abounded about coal technology in general, the little white cloud didn’t bother locals as much as it did air quality experts. Back in November, Urban Planner Clay Mitchell mentioned Energy Community Tax Credit Bonuses during a public hearing for a 279-unit multifamily development near Lake Julian. The bonuses apply to investment (ITC) in technology for generating electricity as well as the production (PTC) of electricity from clean, renewable sources.

The Lake Julian area became an Energy Community after the decommissioning of the coal-fired plant. The Inflation Reduction Act targeted Energy Communities as places to support greener technologies as well as workers displaced from the coal industry. The incentives are pretty rich, so Mitchell was asked if they were a Putinesque poison pill of sorts; that is, if people want to decommission coal plants to clean up the air, they end up raping the earth by incentivizing gangbuster development.

Mitchell, of course, didn’t think so. Homeowners can take advantage of the basic 30% tax credit, but it’s nonresidential developers who get additional tax credits. They may claim an additional 10% credit for constructing in an Energy Community and another 10% for building with parts and materials made in the USA. Then, they can accelerate depreciation by up to 75% of the total cost.

A drive-by inspection of the construction on Long Shoals Road does not reveal solar or wind farms; and Energy Star appliances, high-R insulation, LED lightbulbs, rain cisterns, and similar greenwashes that help earn other government incentives fall short of the investment or production criteria. With the exception of south-facing windows, there’s hardly a hint of solar design. Mitchell suggested more salient factors contributing to the boom.

“I believe that the general pressure and desire to build housing apply to the city and county area as a whole, given the desire for folks to relocate here. As to the specific location near the lake, that is not clear to me. It could be land availability, the positive impact of decommissioning the coal plant, background general growth, and so on. I do not think there is any specific incentive (local, state, or federal) that is contributing to the growth in the area beyond the city and county’s approach to zoning and supporting housing opportunities.”

The City of Asheville is taking a multifaceted approach to increasing housing stock that is affordable to low- to moderate-income households. It is making city-owned land available for rent-controlled, affordable housing; it is continuing to provide low-interest loans through its Housing Trust Fund; and it has finally amended its Land Use Incentive Grant policy to the point developers can make it work. In line with the conventional wisdom of policy analysts, it also offers fee rebates, expedited plan reviews, and sewer connection discounts for qualified projects.