By Robert Turner
Two new bond initiatives strive to improve the quality of life here in Buncombe County for decades to come.
“The problems we face with the loss of landscapes and farmland, and the affordability of living here, are getting worse and accelerating,” said organizer and bond advocate Marc Hunt. “The county is stepping up here. And now is the right time.”
On November 8, Buncombe County voters will have the opportunity to vote “yes” on two separate general obligation bond measures: a $30 million bond that will support the protection of productive farmland, natural open space and clean water in our streams and rivers; and a $40 million bond to support affordable and workforce housing.
On the conservation bond issue, county commissioners have set a target goal of protecting 20 percent of the land in Buncombe County by 2030, and they hope to conserve an additional 6,000 acres to achieve that end. This bond will help to preserve farmland and other open space, as well as support development of recreational trails and greenways across the community.
County commissioners have also set a goal of ensuring that by 2030 up to 3,150 new affordable housing units are made available for our residents and workers who are unable to afford the increasing costs of living here.
After the county commissioners voted in June to place these two bond measures on the November ballot for residents to vote on, advocates from both conservation and affordable housing came together to form a new organization that is working to spread the word about the upcoming ballot referendum. The Better With Bonds | Buncombe Votes Yes campaign was organized to inform citizens about the bond programs and to encourage them to vote “yes” to both bonds on the November 8 ballot.
Formally registered with the Buncombe County Board of Elections as Campaign for Buncombe’s Future, a 13-member committee of community members, along with a volunteer staff of five, now manages the campaign with the goal to inform the public about the bonds and ensure their success.
During the weeks leading up to Election Day, the campaign will be increasingly active with speaking engagements, news articles, social media posts, the gathering of endorsements and other traditional forms of voter outreach. You can donate or volunteer at the website BetterWithBonds.org.
If passed, the combined bonds would cost a typical Buncombe County household a maximum of $32 per year over 20 years, but would not likely come with a tax increase. The $70 million county investment could actually be used to attract and leverage twice that much money from other state and federal funds, nonprofits and other sources, doubling its impact, says Hunt, campaign director for the Better with Bonds campaign.
Hunt seems to be the right man for the job as campaign director. The motto that he lives by is this: “Life is short. Get things done.” He has dedicated most of his life to serving people: in political life as a member of City Council and working for nonprofits like Self Help Credit Union and the Open Space Institute.
“Protecting our diminishing open spaces and ensuring economic affordability for our people are two of the greatest challenges we have,” says Hunt. “The county stepping up with these bond programs in response is exactly the right thing to do at the right time. Bond funding is the best way to achieve big goals. These are big goals.”
County commissioner Terri Wells has been a strong advocate within the county commissioners office for both bonds, and she understands the importance of preserving farmland and open space. She comes from a family that has farmed the same land in the county for nine generations and is still deeply connected to that land. “Land is so important for our future—our future generations depend on it and what we leave behind,” says Wells. “This is an opportunity for us to positively impact two issues that the majority of the people whom I have spoken with over the past three years agree on. People want working folks and families to have affordable housing in Buncombe County. They also deeply care about this place we all call home, and they want us to conserve our mountains, water resources and farmland. For Buncombe to thrive, not only for us but for our future generations, we need to conserve our natural resources, maintain working lands and preserve places for people to explore, relax and stay connected to our natural world. It is because we care about both our people and this place that we must lead our community, working alongside many partners, in accomplishing this important work.”
Commissioner Wells spends a lot of time thinking about the quality of life for all residents of the county, and as to the affordable housing bond, she says, “Decent, affordable housing is a quality-of-life issue.”
I found it very interesting that two diverse groups of people joined forces in one organization to advocate for both bond initiatives, and while different, the two bonds don’t seem to conflict in any way.
“The bonds will support affordable housing within areas that don’t threaten farmland or our surrounding natural spaces,” says Hunt. “Affordable construction and development, by its nature, means denser development and infill, and not necessarily more sprawl. We must plan for it, and that’s part of the important work that the county planning committee is working on.” The Comprehensive Plan 2043 initiative that Hunt is referring to, now under way, will be used by local government as a broad, long-range planning tool for the community. This plan will guide local government over the next 20-year period and will look at land uses, infrastructure and key community services.
A lot of that valuable planning work will help guide the county on how the conservation and housing bonds, if passed, would be spent. And they’ve done a good job reaching out to the community for comments and input. The Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee is seeking some kind of growth and conservation balance, between a strong economy and the conservation of natural resources.
“We can do both in a strategic way,” says Wells. I agree.
We must recognize that there are physical limitations to growth and progress set by Planet Earth, and also set by our surrounding mountains and natural environment. Finding the right balance by setting aside some land for farming and protecting environmental biodiversity is a good thing to do. Helping people find an affordable place to live is the right thing to do.
Don’t forget to vote “yes” on November 8.
Robert Turner is the author of Lewis Mumford and the Food Fighters: A Food Revolution in America. Download the first chapter for free at EatYourView.com.