By yesterday evening, the room on the bottom floor of West Asheville's community center was covered in maps. They showed the current zoning of the area's Haywood Road corridor, along with topography, possible development and more. On some of the maps were pieces of translucent paper, where various community members had written their desires for specific areas or pieces of property, complete with lists of what they don't want ('big walls" like the Staples on Merrimon Avenue) and what they do (another grocery store, wider sidewalks).
The event was part of the city's planning process to overhaul rules along the corridor to adopt a form-based code. Unless one's well-acquainted with the arcana of urban design, form-based codes are probably an unfamiliar concept. Traditional zoning regulates areas by use (residential, commercial, industrial, etc.) while form-based code regulates what kind of structures and scale of building are allowed in a place. This makes it more friendly to mixed-use buildings. However, as city of Asheville planner Alan Glines told Xpress, the city can still encourage certain uses through the design rules it mandates for particular neighborhoods, or by offering incentives for a use in an area.
"It's a complicated thing, but people are having fun," he noted.
"People don't want to lose that funky character," planner Sasha Vrtunski said. "They like the energy, the older buildings, but they want to more walkability. We've heard a lot of concerns about how safe it is to cross Haywood."
By this point, planning staff and consultants from Austin, Texas-based Code Studio, were into day three of this process, with smaller design workshops (charrettes as planners love to call them) throughout the weekend, responsible for the array of suggestions and aversions written on the maps of West Asheville's core.
However, while the idea was ostensibly to gather community input, and the maps bore witness to the fact that some people had weighed in with their thoughts, most attendees who made the descent yesterday evening were still taking a "wait and see" attitude. They cited that reason—"I'm still making my mind up," as one man put it— when refusing to comment to Xpress. Their interactions took the form of questions to staff and the consultants, along with expressing some general concerns. The need for more bike lanes, some "pocket parks" (like Pritchard Park in downtown), more affordable housing, and concerns about "the threat of height" were all mentioned during the discussions.
One of the attendees who was ready to talk was Brian Repass, who lives nearby the corridor. While he has a masters in public administration, he said he knew relatively little about form-based code.
"I want to see protection for the good parts, but an ability to expand," he said of his goals for the new design rules. "We've got to be able to grow."
The consultants, working with city staff, will take the public input from this process and proceed to draw up new rules for the area, before presenting them to the city's Planning and Zoning Commission and, eventually, to Asheville City Council.