Sustainable WNC

The Gateway to Sustainability in Western North Carolina

June Update

June 10th, 2007 by robin

Spring Wrap up

It’s been a busy couple of months on council and I have been immersed in a number of different projects that have kept me busy. I also experienced a computer crash due to operator errors that are too embarrassing to go into, and lost all the data on my computer. If you have written me in the past month or so and I have not responded please forgive me. . Also, if you have taken part in an email campaign I can not reply to each of those emails individually. I would be sitting at my computer all day and not able to get any work done if I were to answer every email I get in those high volume times, especially since those are the time I most likely needed to be doing my research and exploration of the issue. I hope I can answer some of the questions from most of those emails in this letter, though I might have lost your email address when the computer went down. Please feel free to share this newsletter to those you think might be interested. If you received this newsletter and do not want to continue to receive it you can unsubscribe at the bottom of the page.

Steep Slope Ordinance.
This ordinance is still in the works though I feel like we are getting a much better handle on it than when we first received it. We are scheduled to have an additional work/information session in June so that we can get deeper into the discussion of the viewshed concerns. I feel like we have made a good start toward the safety issues for building on slopes in our city, but of course there is more work to be done concerning clarifying the areas that specifically needed geotechnical review. An important addition to the ordinance for me would to make sure that single family homes are included. Currently they do not have to comply with the hillside regulations and since a good majority of the building we project for these areas will most likely be residential infill it is essential that they to adhere to the ordinance.

Some of the best learning that happened for me with this steep slope issue has to do with the whole process of public forums and participation. I am currently requesting that we reevaluate the way we do our forums to include a much more deliberative process that gives the citizens the opportunity to the same information, concerns, issues, pressures, etc that we on council receive rather than just taking input. I believe that we will get the best answers from the public when they are privy to the same information we have and can fully participate in finding the best answers. To often we ask for input without fully appraising the public of all the information we have first. I have been researching the different options of deliberative democracy, appreciative inquiry and some of the work of the Buckminster Fuller institute and Design Science for some other processes that we could utilize. There has been plenty of research gathered on the value of good public process and the accuracy of the work done if there is a broad enough stakeholder group utilized along the way.

Recent Successes

As you have probably heard by now City Council has taken some very important steps in addressing our organizational energy usage with the adoption of two important resolutions. These resolutions were initially passed in Dec of 06 and then sent to the Sustainable Advisory Committee on Energy and the Environment, a newly formed citizens committee tasked with fleshing out the questions, concerns and issues of Council on these important topics. The committee is comprised of 9 people selected from over 45 applicants from the city of Asheville. Council deliberately chose these people to offer a diverse and b road based perspective and as someone who has worked closely with them over the past 5 months I can tell you that my respect and admiration grow for the time, energy and dedication they offer in service to our community.
The committee was tasked with two goals.
1) the development of an energy conservation goal for city operations
2) the determination of the LEED (leadership in energy and environmental design) certification for new municipal building construction (for more information on LEED go to www.usgbc.org)

The committee approached these two tasks with intense research, scrutiny and discussion and brought back their recommendations that were then adopted by Council last month.

1) that the city will pursue a 2% annual reduction in energy usage (greenhouse gas emissions) each year
2) that in order to maximize cost and energy savings the city would build all occupied buildings over 5000s sq ft to LEED gold standards

Both of these initiatives are significant for their far reaching impact and their fiscally responsible approach to rising energy costs. I applaud and thank this committee for their work.

Another recent success has been the finalization of Beaucatcher Overlook Park. This new 30 acre city park, located above McCormick field on the upper hillside facing downtown, will provide an extraordinary opportunity for our citizens and visitors to experience the wonders of our natural habitat within walking distance of city center. The park was secured with commitments from the County, the city
Trust for Public Land and private donors and will become property of the city of Asheville at the end of the three year purchase contract. Over the next year, the steering committee for this park will expand its membership, in order to roll out a series of design charettes and public fundraising events to support the park amenities. We hope you will join us in desigining and building this legacy landmark. Please send your tax deductible contributions to Maggie Clancy % of Trust for Public Land, 15 Lawterdale Road, Asheville NC 28804. If you are interested in working with us on the park, contact me and let me know how you would like to help!

Hub Update

I know a lot of you have heard about the HUB and are wondering what is happening with this new proposal for regional economic development. I have had the honor of being appointed , along with Mayor Bellamy, to the steering committee of that board as a council representative. The board has been meeting monthly to receive reports from the various “clusters” of economic activity that are the crucial organizing elements of the HUB. These different clusters, representing the different economic engines of our region, have been meeting over the past few years exploring the synergistic and collaborative partnerships that could be built to mutually support the good of all. It has been exciting to witness the many conversations, alignments, and collaborations that are emerging from these discussions.

From my perspective the great value of the HUB is that it is recognizing the existing natural economic, social and environmental resources of our community and seeks to enhance, support and nurture those within a sustainable economic development plan for the region. . The exciting process of the HUB has been that as the alignment of these different clusters has begun, so has the partnerships., Out of these partnerships there are a variety of interesting opportunities arising that could be the basis for ensuring a strong, economic stability for our community. The HUB also recognizes that a focus on economics alone will not provide the stability our region needs. Good jobs, attention to the affordability of our community, educational opportunities, quality of life and infrastructure support are just some of the many benefits that I see ahead. The next step in the process is determining just how the city and county will engage with the HUB, both financially and structurally.
Go to www.ashevillehub.org to see the new web site and get a more indepth look at this ongoing process.

Development
An attention to the development of our region is one of the most important issues I see on our horizons here. (Literally) All of us know that we have been “discovered”, as they say, for the many wonderful qualities our region has to offer. But this discovery could have the potential of damaging the very essence of what makes our home so special. As someone who has lived here for almost 20 years I appreciate the uniqueness of the Asheville area with other places I have lived. Asheville has become my home after rootlessly traveling the world with my military family and it is its environmental beauty, the richeness of those resources, the architectural qualities and diversity, the unique, artistic culture and the balance of urban and rural lifestyles that attracts me the most. When I first cam to Asheville it was a much different place than it is now, simultaneously a place of opportunity and lack of economic options. Downtown was a ghost town with a few dedicated and visionary retailers (my husband and I were some of them with our architectural salvage business, and only one coffeehouse, Malaprops!) Today we are known internationally for the quality, diversity and beauty of our downtown area.

It has been a n exciting time to live here and experience the revitalization of this beautiful city. Now we sit at a crucial point where all the vision and work that went into creating what we have could be easily over swept it we don’t formulate that vision into a guiding development plan. Through a development master plan we can direct the new growth to ensure that it continues to enhance our city and region and not just extract our economic prosperity solely for the benefit of market investors who care little for what is left behind. I believe the other opportunity that exists with the development of a good master plan is that we can guide development toward supporting the strategic goals of our community. Just like planting a garden, the first steps are deciding what you want to grow and where you will plant them. Not many of us garden simply by tilling the soil and seeing what comes up.

And what is good for our community is also welcomed by the development community. The good developers that I have met are more than happy to build what a community wants, where they want it, if only that community would let them know. They are not in the business of ruining things, but they are in the business of building. Our task is to help them see, through a thorough process of inquiry, design and decision how we would like our city to grow. I am supporting the inclusion of funds within the city budget for a downtown master plan. I am also constantly seeking dialogue with our county commissioners, the private and non profit groups and others who are interested in this topic with hopes that we will begin a comprehensive look at development within the county as a whole. The choices we have are to plan to maintain and support our strong urban and town centers, our agrarian and historically diverse way of life or to succumb to the endless “modern” suburban sprawl that is plaguing so many areas in this country. Sitting down together and planning is the key to our regional success.

The city Budget

Wow, and I thought balancing the family checkbook took time! We are entering the second month of deliberations on the city budget. It is an incredible opportunity for understanding the dynamic workings of a local government. Seeing where the money is directed gives one a sense of the breath and scope of the work that your city government takes on. I am impressed with the “hidden’ work that our city employees do everyday to take care of the many things that we citizens take for granted. There is always more we could do no doubt, but balancing those needs and trying to keep taxes as low as possible is an interesting process. We will vote on adopting the budget in June after receiving public comment. Kudos to our finance division for all the fine work they are doing for us right now. We are keeping them hopping!

France
In June I will be participating in a sister cities exchange program in Saumur France. The focus of the trip will be to share the local governmental environmental initiatives we are each undertaking for the benefit of our communities. I will be accompanying a small delegation consisting of local educators, environmental scientists and sister city members. We will have the opportunity to participate in a variety of celebrations that this beautiful French city will have to celebrate their history, their upcoming election and the environment. It will be an honor to participate in this trip and I beg your forgiveness for my absences from council during that time.

ICLEI conference
In July I have been invited to participate in a national conference hosted by ICLEI (international cities leading environmental initiatives) that is focused on the challenges, success and best practices of local governments. The city of Asheville joined this international organization last year and have been utilizing their software and support to inventory our energy footprint. We are currently gathering the relevant information and entering the data and should have our baseline inventory sometime this fall. From here we will monitor our energy usage each year to meet our energy reduction goal. ICLEI also offers a variety of programs and technical assistances as well as networking cities together for a global effect. I have been asked to participate on a panel and share what we have done here in Asheville and am excited about representing us there. I am still currently arranging my personal schedule in order to represent our city at this event.

The Buckerettes
For a look at what this council woman does in her “spare time” go to the website of The Buckerettes. We are three women ( bass, guitar and violin, all three singers) performing a “free-range” of musical offerings. You can catch us at local festivals, venues and private events. www.thebuckerettes.com

Drought update
As many of you know we are experiencing a drought here in WNC. As a gardener myself I am taking measures to mulch my garden to aid in moisture retention and my plants are responding graciously! The following update was issued to us from David Hanks, the water director, and I thought it relevant to the community at large. Though we are currently NOT in drought conditions a few rain dances could be in order!

“The Lake (at North Fork) is almost full (1.4 feet below the spillway) and we were currently not in drought conditions at either North Fork or the Mills River WTP. I could see folks on wells being very concerned due to virtually no rain lately but our lake is in very good shape as is the Mills and French Broad Rivers (we have intakes in to both at Mills River) which gives us a lot of flexibility at that plant.
Also we monitor the lake level daily and drought conditions on a weekly basis with 10 week out projections and if the lake should start dropping quickly we would react accordingly per our conservation/drought plan. Currently it would take a drought of more than 180 days to cause a problem - the area above North Fork actually received rain Wednesday evening. The lake has dropped approximately 4 inches in the past 3 weeks.”

Conservation corner:
Join me and other conspiring clotheslines enthusiasts in a Summer Campaign to Bring back the Clothesline. While the weather permits it, hanging your clothes out to dry offers a myriad of benefits to those who will take the plunge into this ancient domestic artform:
• The sweet, sweet smell of line dried clothes and sheets
• The time enjoyed being outside, listening to the birds, really experiencing our beautiful weather as your ally in domestic chores
• The knowledge that YOU are doing something to protect our planet from the damaging effects of global warming
• Dollars saved from reduced energy usage

Visit the EPA Interactive web-based tool, Energy Star @ home
(www.energystar.gov/home), to learn more ways to make your home
energy-efficient. Homeowners can see where they’re doing well, find areas
for improvement, and learn how they can use energy more efficiently to save
money and enjoy year-round comfort in their home. Homeowners will also be
able to share their home improvement stories or read and learn about others
who have saved through energy-efficient upgrades.

If you would like to receive my newsletters on a regular basis please contact me at rcape@charter.net and let me know.

March 18th, 2007 by robin

Thanks for joining us for the opening of this conversation on sustainability in Western North Carolina.  “Sustainability”,what just a few years ago was a topic relegated to a small group of people concerned about the future, is now an issue very much moving into the mainstream consciousness.  The question is not whether of not sustainability is important, but instead, how do we define, clarify and implement the ideas of sustainability so that they are second nature to our decision making processes. 
First, so that you and I share the same lexicon.  Sustainability, as I use the word, is the utilization of practices that “meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability for future generations to meet their own needs” (Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland) and that incorporates an attention to the three legs of community well-being; the social, the environmental and the economic realms. This attention to the triple bottom line will ensure that decisions made and directions taken will contain a real costs analysis and provide the greatest opportunity for a world that works for all.

We are blessed here in Western North Carolina to have a community that is working on, interested in, dedicated to, the ideas of sustainability.  We have a large number of non- profits who work to these ends, individuals in family farms and alternative energy and small businesses that recognize that  local delivery of essential goods are essential to a sustainable community and many more people who are seeking to live their lives and conduct their by applying the principles of sustainable living to their every day actions.  It has been exciting over the past year to have been a part of this growing public dialog and to be sitting on the Asheville City Council where I have the opportunity to bring the elements of sustainability to the decisions we make each week. 

What I have learned is how much we need to be willing to learn.  I have always been interested in the environment, living in harmony with the land and my social values.  As a small business woman I strove to build work that sustained those ideas while allowing me to make a living, too.  Now sitting in a context that allows me to have input on larger community issues I recognize that it is imperative that I seek out more information, more knowledge, more insights into the real practices of sustainability as they have evolved  in the past 25 years. 

An area of great interest to me, and to many here in the mountains is the idea of sustainable development.  What exactly is sustainable development and how do we do it well?  As someone who moved back off the land and into the city 20 years ago, I realize that I am among a growing number of the world’s population for whom urban existence is a satisfying way of life.  Cities are the new opportunity for sustainable development, primarily, I believe, because they offer the opportunity for us to work together to achieve our goals and dreams for our lives.  I believe some of the main work of the next few decades will be the development of healthier human relationships and the realization that we are all essentially one in the human family.  The world will not work unless it works for us all.  This does not mean we all are the same or have all the same things, but that we all have the basic elements that are necessary for a healthy life and the opportunity to pursue our happiness as human beings.

Living in town offers many opportunities for sustainability.  I now drive less miles per week than I did per day when I lived in the country, and if we can forge the community will and legislative changes necessary we can create and support a transportation system that will reduce that mileage even more.    I look forward to the day that my electric car is parked in the garage more than it is out, when my bicycle is a safe means to get around town and the buses ( or street cars ) run in 15 minute increments for those rainy or lazy days.

How we use land is directly related to the transportation issue. For  example, it takes an adequate density, from a minimum of 7 units/acre to support a bare bones bus service but the potential for multi modal transportation service jumps dramatically at a density of 15 units/acre (http://www.lincolninst.edu/pubs/dl/666_campoli_maclean-a.pdf).  Until we get a functioning transit system we will face the increased frustrations that an automobile centered lifestyle pushes upon us.  Delayed travel time, increased air pollution, dangers to our pedestrian and bicycling opportunities and log jams of congestion. 

Smart Growth, as a development vision, is a return to community-building that engages the principles of good design, adequate densities to support public infrastructure, mixed, vibrant centers that contain business, retail, civic and residential units all intermingled and deemphasize a dependence on the automobile for basic daily needs. These ideas form the basis of Smart Growth and here in Asheville we have adopted those principles in our Asheville 2025 Plan.  But we seem to have real reservations about accepting these principles when they come in the form of new development projects.  Every time I have sought to support these ideas within our community I have been charged with not caring about our city and giving into development pressures.

In response to those charges I would like to share with you what it looks like from where I sit.  First,  how people use the land they own and buy is essentially up to them unless regulated by local zoning and building codes.  Cities and counties have the option of creating these codes through a process of public involvement and legislative action.  Currently in Asheville, we operate under a set of codes called the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) that was developed in the late 1990’s.  This was a very long process that engaged the community in coming up with the basic “bones” that would determine our development patterns.  Upon these bones were hung the ordinances and guidelines that developers, both large and small, use when looking at how they can use their properties. Much of it is very good, and some of it is not.

Now, one thing we do know is that life changes.  Both for individuals and cities.  Pressures on the stock market, a successful (over-successful) campaign to market Asheville and an increasing population has made Asheville’s real estate market the new boom.  Combine that with the realities of the global climate prediction, energy crisis and instabilities of family incomes and we have a whole new world right here at home.  Land that was once able to hold a traditional mountain home nestled onto its side is being manipulated by modern building techniques to hold mega mansions that scar our hillsides with their size and their demands for views.  We have been discovered and most of us don’t like what that could hold for us.

And unfortunately our UDO is unprepared to adapt as quickly as we need it to to these new changes.  When looking at what is wrong with our development in Asheville, I do not believe that it is density that is the greatest threat.  House size, grading , energy usage of the structures, placement in fragile areas, distance from town, activity centers or transit lines, lack of pedestrian or bike infrastructure options; these are the factors that concern me the most as we seek to direct development along more sustainable lines.

As Council members  we are limited as to how we can direct the development that is coming and already here.  While the idea of a moratorium is one that I have initially expressed support for I find now that I am afraid it will do more harm than good in the long run.  If Asheville puts a moratorium on building we will just encourage more building to be directed out into the county.  This will impact farmland and natural area preservation, increase Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) and overall have a detrimental impact on the community and environmental health of our region.  We are working with staff to create incentives,(both economic and process), to encourage development along and in the appropriate areas of our city where redevelopment could do the most good, specifically the Central Business District, the commercial corridors and the Riverside area.  We are also working on numerous revisions to the UDO that will hopefully address the areas of major concern and will have the greatest impact. (steep slope, sub-divisions, etc ). Until then I am happy when we get the opportunity on Council to do a Conditional Use project because it offers the chance to get a BETTER project than we would if they just followed the guidelines of the UDO. It affords a dialog that is aimed specifically at that piece of land, that  particular project, and enables us to craft the best adaptation of our codes to fit the ideas of sustainability. It is in these instances that  community input and negotiation has its strongest possibilities for helping shape the new development coming and not having us be the victims of the rigid boilerplate that typically defines the coding system. 

The opportunity of this highly concentrated development period is that we can have the greatest impact on the types of buildings that our citizens will inhabit in the future.  This Council has done a good job of encouraging the development community to look at Green Building, LEED certification and other methods to build the best buildings that can be built.  We are continuing to look into ways to incentives these initiatives and be even more encouraging to these important building techniques.   Currently the City’s new citizen committee, Sustainable Advisory Committee on Energy and the Environment (SACEE) is working on the perameters that the City will utilize in their own municipal projects.   They are also working on developing the energy conservation goal that will guide the City in reducing its own energy and greenhouse gas emissions footprint. 

It is an exciting time to be engaged in the issues of sustainability. Everything we do is important.  I encourage you to get involved, to continue to be involved and to look at your own life and how to make it more sustainable as we seek as a whole, to make our community more sustainable. 

For more information on my work, go to my website: www.robinforasheville.com

Hello world!

March 16th, 2007 by robin

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