Planning and zoning appointment raises questions

Planning and zoning appointment raises questions-attachment0

With little fanfare, a majority of Asheville City Council members voted Feb. 23 to appoint Holly Shriner and Mark Brooks to the Planning and Zoning Commission. Each Council member chose two candidates, and Shriner and Brooks garnered the most votes.

The appointment of Brooks, an engineer, hasn’t attracted much attention. But questions have arisen over Council’s choice of Shriner. The handwritten note detailing her prior experience (which the stay-at-home mother submitted from her husband’s accounting office) listed no formal planning background, mostly citing her involvement in her children’s school activities. Some have also questioned whether she’s qualified to serve on a board that deals with technical (and often controversial) development issues.

“I grew up here, my parents are from here, my grandparents are from here — I’ve seen a lot of changes, and I just want to see Asheville grow in a smart way,” Shriner tells Xpress. “I think a little diversity is good on any board. I’ve always given 150 percent to anything I’ve pursued. I’m already talking to planning and zoning members to help get me fully up to speed.”

She adds that she became more interested in development matters when the city began discussing rezoning along the Merrimon Avenue corridor.

Her husband, accountant Foster Shriner, is a partner (along with former Vice Mayor Chris Peterson) in developing the former Deal Buick site on Merrimon Avenue, raising potential conflicts of interest if the project should come before P&Z.

Shriner tells Xpress that she will recuse herself from any decisions involving the site owned by her husband.

An unsuccessful nominee, Joe Minicozzi of Public Interest Projects, has also raised questions concerning the appointment. The professional planner has worked extensively with the Asheville Design Center on a number of local issues, including one of the plans for the proposed Interstate 26 connector.

“Why are they putting someone in this position with zero knowledge of how to do this?” Minicozzi wonders. “Does she know what a comp plan is? Does she know the [Unified Development Ordinance]? Does she know the rules and responsibilities of the planning board, which are to look at our comprehensive plan on a yearly basis and say are we growing the way we want to?”

Minicozzi received three votes to Shriner’s four; real estate agent Russ Towers collected two votes.

Council member Esther Manheimer, who cast one of the votes for Shriner, said the candidate’s lack of development experience was actually a plus.

“We carefully weighed all the applicants,” said Manheimer. “When you look at a board appointment, you have to consider the makeup of that board — whether you’re balancing or imbalancing it. That board has only one woman on it. … I thought it was good to get the voice of someone who didn’t come from an engineering or development background.”

Manheimer added: “I stand by my vote. It brings a different perspective to have a stay-at-home mom on the board. We’ll see how it goes.”

Asked about Shriner’s husband’s co-ownership of the Deal Buick site, Manheimer chuckled and replied, “I did not know that. There you go.”

But when Council members nominate those with development backgrounds, she pointed out, they’re often accused of being too cozy with those interests.

“You get criticized as being pro-developer if you nominate or appoint anyone who’s ever worked with real estate,” said Manheimer, adding that Towers, Brooks and Minicozzi all have ties to real estate or developers.

Council member Gordon Smith, who voted for Brooks and Minicozzi, tells Xpress that he cast his vote because, with the implementation of the proposed changes of the Downtown Master Plan, the commission will wield far more power over development decisions.

“In the next phase, the planning and zoning board is going to become responsible for a lot of review,” he says. “I’m looking for people that can apply [the UDO] effortlessly.”

Minicozzi says he doesn’t see Shriner’s lack of experience as a bonus.

“Is that what you want in an advisory capacity? Couldn’t you just get better citizen input? This is someone that has to read the comprehensive plan [and] understand it on a yearly basis; who has to make a decision if a rezoning is right, based on that plan.”

— David Forbes, staff writer

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29 thoughts on “Planning and zoning appointment raises questions

  1. So we are to believe Manheimer was totally “in the dark” in regards to the close association with Peterson?????

    Another female candidate holds a masters degree that would be useful in the field of P & Z.

  2. shadmarsh

    … I thought it was good to get the voice of someone who didn’t come from an engineering or development background.

    Would your law firm hire someone who had no law experience? What makes governance so different that the people aren’t offered the same consideration? I would hate to think that genitalia, whether it be male or female, would somehow seem more relevant than actual experience and knowledge.

  3. Politics Watcher

    While it does look like Manicozzi has a lot to offer, the statement, “Would your law firm hire someone who had no law experience?” doesn’t make sense either. By that criterion, only lawyers should be elected to law making bodies. (Get thee gone, Gordon and Cecil.) Only bankers and accountants on financial oversight bodies? The city wasn’t hiring Shriner for its Planning and Development staff. Presumably the professional staff will bring the expertise. A citizen advisory board brings citizens’ perspective. Does the egalitarian, democracy-for-all MountainX believe that only the educated elites are qualified to have a say in government? Only citizens with training in journalism allowed to be “citizen journalists?”

  4. shadmarsh

    That was a question directed specifically to Councilwoman Manheimer, hence the “your law firm.” Nice try tho Cullen.

    If one was cynical perhaps he or she could suggest that this vote by Manheimer was an attempt to put a little distance (politically speaking) between her and Bothwell and Smith, as she was running the risk of being branded one of them libruls after her support for DPB…only if one was cynical tho.

  5. Erock

    Wow, being in the line of work which deals with Zoning and developments, I’m surprised. This is ridiculous. I guess experience and years of trying to perfect one’s craft doesn’t mean anything, but knowing people sure helps out a ton!

  6. Jeff Fobes

    Gordon Smith has added a post at Scrutiny Hooligans about his vote and its basis at http://scrutinyhooligans.us/2010/03/01/pee-en-zee/

    Smith writes: “In retrospect, I wish I’d done the vote a little differently and asked for a discussion period rather than simply going around and naming our choices. The learning curve is an unforgiving mistress.”

    And then he calls for comments thusly: “Because this thread has the possibility of going completely off the rails, I’m going to ask all you Hooligans to keep a couple of things in mind – 1) Keep it factual; 2) Remember that all of us, even when we disagree, want a better Asheville.”

    There are two comments at the time of this comment’s posting.

  7. Drifter 1

    This is just another fine example of Mrs. Manheimer placing her political agenda before the best interests of her community. This is a sad sad thing.

  8. travelah

    I don’t think Smith has any reason to second guess his vote. Experience in these matters is invaluable unless this is an area the city feels is acceptable with a lot of risk.

  9. travelah

    Planning and development is a serious undertaking for any growing community and discounting experience with these issues as Manheimer did is risky. If the city feels that is an acceptable risk, well, so be it. Just don’t complain later.

  10. Barry Summers

    Trav, the risk and the outrage isn’t because of Holly Shriner’s inexperience. It’s because of her clear conflict of interest that wasn’t disclosed prior to the vote. I find it hard to believe that some, if not all, who put her candidacy forward and voted for her knew very well who she was.

  11. “I find it hard to believe that some, if not all, who put her candidacy forward and voted for her knew very well who she was. “

    I totally agree. SHAME on those who did.

  12. jeff

    This is pretty pathetic. Council, can we PLEASE ask you to pay attention?

    Mrs. Shriner — in the interest of the City of Asheville, would you please consider withdrawing from this position? Your total inexperience and clear conflict of interest (in being married to a partner in a huge development project) is reason enough.

    If you at all managed to NOT mention your relationship to the Merrimon project in the lead-up to this, I’d say you should absolutely resign from the P&Z Commission.

  13. Barry Summers

    Obviously, I meant to say: I find it hard to believe that some, if not all, who put her candidacy forward and voted for her didn’t know very well who she was.

  14. JWTJr

    It not too late to undo and appointment. Those who nominated her should have vetted her better. Did they vet her and missed the details? Did they know and hope it flew under the radar (most likely)? Both are unacceptable.

  15. Barry Summers

    I agree. I think Council should re-open the whole P&Z appointment process. If not, this will drag out & cast a taint on anything P&Z does over the next term. Given how powerful P&Z will become under the new Downtown Master Plan, it should be unacceptable to everyone to have such a cloud cast over it.

  16. MABOAT

    WoW, Sour Grapes.

    What “conflict” of interest has created all this turmoil? Does the Shriner family have something currently on the docket at the P&Z Board? Are you saying that anyone that ever submitted a plan to the P&Z Board is disqualified from ever working with the Board? What, legitimately, is a “Conflict Of Interest?”

    I wonder is there any P&Z Board Member that qualifies as NOT having some sort of conflict of interest.. through their own personal interests, work, ownership of property etc…

    Maybe P&Z needs a born & bred Asheville Citizen with a true love for this town. How about a “fresh” outlook from an average citizen’s standpoint.

    Stay At Home Mom’s do not get the credit they deserve. According to her resume she has put herself out there consistently and been an active part of the community while raising a family.

    Peacefully submitted by yet another “Domestic Engineer.”

  17. Y’all think this is controversial — just wait till Jan Davis succeeds in stocking the Downtown Commission with two more developers, especially if one of them is Tony Fraga (whom he’s already tried to bend the procedures to get on). The DTC will have similar new powers of downtown development review to P&Z’s, and the Downtown Master Plan is emphatic about the importance of getting non-developers represented on it. (It’s a little different from P&Z in that it will be looking at design issues rather than zoning technicalities, etc.)

  18. Alan

    This is exactly why I wrote a letter congratulating Mannheimer, though I didn’t realize just how good she was until after the election. She is a cultural liberal as shown by her SSDPB vote but also will support sufficient development to develop an affordable housing market. And she has the deciding vote on both, just as I predicted. HOORAY!

  19. If by “sufficient” you mean the overheated, speculative luxury condo & ridgetop developments that dominated our market and depended on people flipping residences rather than living in them — hey, that kind of development is deader than subprime mortgages, and that bubble won’t be back for decades if ever.

    We need a better way to house ourselves than hoping for trickle-down from the hyper-rich, or building even bigger and uglier boxes in the name of “affordability”. There’s plenty of good, existing, unoccupied stock in this overbuilt area that could be retrofitted and renovated or used as is — if we ever return to earth and remember that houses are supposed to be homes and not just financial commodities.

    But OMG, such obvious common sense smacks of “socialism” <:o

  20. Alan

    The ultimate result of “luxury” overbuilding is an affordable housing market because unless torn down, all these extra condos must eventually be liquidated at affordable prices. We knew all along that the real buyers would not be the intended target market but would be working class.

    Barry, was this rezoning proposal that Sneed opposed a zoning increase or a zoning reduction??? That matters a great deal to your argument, although it doesn’t necessarily make Sneed a hypocrite because lawyers in their professional capacity do routinely argue against their personal positions.
    Only if they argued against a zoning reduction would that imply hypocrisy as a zoning reduction on the Merrimon bus line would be consistent with all 3 smartgrowth, property rights, and an affordable housing supply and market.
    Gene Johnson is right that it is only elitist, NIMBYist, segregationist neighborhood interests that support conventional zoning in Asheville as represented by the current UDO. The real environmentalists are with property rights for allowing high density hirise construction with no parking requirements.

  21. Piffy!

    well said, *Diuvei. Although it is often cheaper and more energy-efficient to tear these old, drafty, often toxic houses down. But i agree with the sentiment you are giving 100%. Homes should be homes, not just investments.

    What about a law stating you cant own more than 2 homes?

  22. Barry Summers

    I’ve always advocated eliminating banks & making it illegal to own any more cash than you can carry on your person, but nobody else seems to like that idea…

  23. Jon Elliston

    Hey folks,

    We’re enjoying most of the discussion here, and hope you are to, but please help us stay on the important topic of the P&Z appointments.

    Thanks,

    Jon Elliston, managing editor

  24. Barry Summers

    Okay.

    I’ve always advocated making it illegal for P&Z appointees to own any more cash than they can carry on their persons, but nobody else seems to like that idea…

    Sorry Jon. Couldn’t resist.

    Um, Alan, I think you’re posting your comments from the Scrutiny Hooligans thread straight over here without people here knowing what you’re talking about.

    “Barry, was this rezoning proposal that Sneed opposed a zoning increase or a zoning reduction???”

    I had mentioned over at SH that Albert Sneed had represented Foster Shriner and the other Deal Buick site investors before P&Z and City Council in 2007, where they opposed re-zoning their parcel along with the rest of Merrimon Ave.

    As I understand the Aug. 2007 zoning discussion, a lot of disparate groups proposed zoning all of Merrimon to Mixed Use District, or MXD. To answer your question, Alan, one of the arguments in favor of MXD was that it would actually increase density in most areas. The Deal Buick investors argued for an exemption, wanting to keep their Highway Business (HB) zoning. They were proposing an ‘Urban Village’ project for that site, so it perplexed some in the debate at the time, because they would have to apply for a zoning change down the road anyway to actually build what they claimed they wanted to build, so why oppose/complicate the entire Merrimon MXD rezoning? Cynics might say that while they could easily go ahead & do the Urban Village project if Merrimon were rezoned MXD, it would preclude them from changing their minds later & simply selling the whole thing to a big box chain, which is allowed under HB.

    The whole point of that is that now, Foster’s wife sits on the very Commission that plays a role in a future re-zoning debate.

  25. “The whole point of that is that now, Foster’s wife sits on the very Commission that plays a role in a future re-zoning debate.

    And a council member who are known to be affiliated with developers says when the questionable appointment choice issue is pointed out (“Shriner’s husband’s co-ownership of the Deal Buick site, Manheimer chuckled and replied, “I did not know that. There you go.””)

    We’re to believe this.???…yeah, right! I wonder how long she’ll be chuckling as this plays out. If Shriner’s wife stays on this Board, she must herself from any decisions that have the possibility of benefiting her husband and his business partners.

  26. Alan Ditmore

    The density limit for HB zoning is 32 units per acre. There doesn’t seem to be an MXD zone so either Summers is making it up or it is only a proposal. Anyway, unless “MXD” has a disity limit higher than 32 units per acre, HB remains a better option for a mixed use sustainable development as the nominee requested.

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