7/11/2011 - Buncombe's fastest growth still in suburbs, but Asheville neighborhood also gain
by Mark Barrett
Neighborhoods are the heart of Asheville and Western North Carolina!
ARDEN -- Good schools and at least a little green space were high on the shopping list when Allen and Karla Goethe were making their escape from the big-city life of Boston 10 years ago.
Their search led them to a home off Weston Road, where Karla Goethe said the couple's son "could go out and play in the woods and be a boy."
Thousands of similar choices helped make southern Buncombe County -- Arden, Skyland and Avery's Creek -- the county's fastest growing area from 2000 to 2010, according to newly released census data.
South Buncombe's population grew 28 percent during the decade, significantly more than Buncombe County's overall 15.5 percent growth rate.
The most rapid growth over the period occurred in county's suburban areas, but population rose in some areas much more quickly than others. Leicester and Fairview were population magnets, while Barnardsville's total changed little.
Some neighborhoods close to the city core also saw significant numbers of new residents, a break with trends from the decade before.
Montford, Kenilworth and West Asheville all attracted people interested in urban living, but some North Asheville neighborhoods actually lost population.
The shifts help explain trends like commercial growth along corridors like Hendersonville Road, Airport Road and West Asheville's Haywood Road.
"The residential (growth) drives the commercial," said John Spake, a commercial real estate agent. "Without the neighborhoods, the commercial would not be built."
They also concern some who say a suburban land use pattern eats up green space, cements reliance on the automobile and makes providing government services more expensive.
South Buncombe has been the county's biggest growth area for some time.
Retired corporate executive Jim Lesko and his wife came to Arden in 1989 after careers that took them around the world.
"We moved here because this is a garden spot," Lesko said.
He said the couple chose an established neighborhood partly because they "wanted to live in a cross section of society" instead of a retirement community and partly because, "We wanted to be in a place that was zoned. We wanted a place that had that protection."
The list of reasons observers say south Buncomb e is popular is a long one.
"The southern part of the county tends to be a little bit flatter in terms of having developable land," said Carrie Runser-Turner, a senior planner at Land-of-Sky Regional Council. It also has good access to water and sewer lines, she said, "a big precursor to growth."
Other influences are transportation corridors like Interstate 26 and Hendersonville Road, the presence of several major employers, proximity to fast-growing Henderson County and the good reputation of local schools, observers said.
There are downsides to suburban growth, said Joe Minicozzi, executive director of the Asheville Downtown Association and a consultant to a downtown developer.
It is harder for government to recoup the cost of infrastructure like a water line, he said, because it will serve fewer people per mile in a low-density environment.
The need to drive longer distances to work or shop means suburban residents are "burning more carbon, more gas," he said. And, when homes are spread farther apart it is harder to make public transportation work as an alternative to driving.
Lesko and Karla Goethe said south Buncombe has retained the qualities that first attracted them to the area, even if there have been changes.
Local government has "managed that growth, I think, rather well," Lesko said.
"Traffic in the morning sometimes gets backed up" on Mills Gap Road, Goethe said, but compared to what she once faced in Boston, "It's nothing."
In the middle
Living in older neighborhoods in Asheville hasn't always been the hip thing to do.
West Asheville's population grew by only 3.4 percent from 1990 to 2000, and the number of people living in central Asheville -- downtown and neighborhoods adjoining it -- actually fell slightly over that period, according to the new census data. Much of it was released June 30.
But now, Mark Atkinson can look out the windows of the family furniture store at the corner of Haywood and Brevard roads in West Asheville's traditional business district at virtually any time and see people walking around.
West Asheville grew 15.4 percent from 2000 to 2010, and central Asheville's population was up 8.8 percent.
A new wave of restaurants, nightclubs and stores has swept over Haywood Road in recent years, and new residents have come to the neighborhoods on either side of the corridor.
"A lot of people decided (West Asheville) was the cool side of town," Atkinson said.
They also found that it was the less expensive side.
West Asheville has historically been a more working class area and had property available at a reasonable price for construction of "infill" development in recent years, observers say. That attracted young families priced out of other parts of town.
"West Asheville was the low-hanging fruit for builders during the boom time," said Mike Figura, a real estate broker who has been involved in some residential developments in the area.
Some other Asheville neighborhoods just do not have much vacant land, he said, and what property is available "is either very expensive or has topographic challenges."
Retirees Ed and Kate Daigel moved into a condominium in a small development off Shelburne Road in 2008.
Even though it's a good hike, they regularly walk up to Haywood Road to visit West End Bakery and other spots.
Those businesses are part of what attracted them to the area in the first place. "There is so much culture here, music and movies. There's so much going on in Asheville," Kate D aigel said.