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LIGHTNING EDITORIAL: Housing ought to be on Mills River docket

Sometime in 2017, if things go as industrial recruiters hope, the town of Mills River will once again celebrate a plant opening that marks a major coup in new job creation.
The Hendersonville Lightning reported last week that a partnership of Swiss and Canadian manufacturers may invest at least $217 million and hire 350 workers at a new automotive parts plant in Ferncliff Industrial Park over the next six years if the Henderson County Board of Commissioners and Mills River Town Council approve economic development incentives totaling $7.25 million over 14 years.

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An investment of $500,000 a year in public money will pay for itself many times over. We have strongly supported economic development incentives, which have helped Henderson County land hundreds of good-paying jobs and have brought other benefits — see the tourists streaming into the Taproom at the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
A report commissioned by Henderson County validated the elected commissioners’ record of approving the incentives.
“On a strict return-on-investment basis manufacturing promises the strongest returns,” Tom Tveidt, of SYNEVA Economics in Asheville, concluded in his analysis. “All things being equal, the findings would support policy benefiting the growth and retention of manufacturing.”
That policy may mean that a GF Linamar auto supply plant will become Sierra Nevada’s neighbor at the industrial park off N.C. 280 next to the Asheville Regional Airport.
If there is a dark cloud in this sunny forecast it lies in a lack of affordable housing options and the refusal of the Mills River Town Council to take up any meaningful zoning change toward that goal. For two years, the Mills River Planning Board has studied, discussed and recommended that the town add higher density housing options to the zoning code, which with a few exceptions requires residential lots of at least three-quarters of an acre.
The town council has been either willfully complacent or downright hostile to higher density housing. It’s understandable that the Town Council could not stomach a 10-unit per acre proposal the Planning Board sent up in 2014. Then, last April, Town Manager Jeff Wells floated a compromise proposal to add quarter-acre lots to the zoning code. The council reacted coolly before dropping the idea altogether.
At $50,180 a year, the average manufacturing wage in the county is well above service industry work. But even a household income double that does not make an estate home affordable for a working couple with children. By continuing to ignore zoning solutions that would create the market for lower cost housing options, the Mills River council is ensuring that workers going to a job in Mills River are living elsewhere, including Brevard and South Buncombe, and buying groceries and paying property taxes elsewhere.
To enhance a very promising portrait of economic development, the Mills River Town Council should step up to the plate and act on zoning code changes for housing.