A Jan. 15 forum held in the Asheville Civic Center banquet hall and attended by 200 people was intended to be the unveiling of the long-awaited Downtown Master Plan draft. But with that document made public 10 days earlier (see it here) and objections already being raised in the community, the plan’s designers found themselves defending rather than introducing their recommendations. Meanwhile, a group of citizens that formed an advisory committee during the development of the draft asked the sometimes-polarized public to try to find unity.
By way of example, Kitty Love, founder of Arts2People and the Lexington Avenue Arts and Fun Festival, stood next to fellow advisory committee member, architect and Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce board chair Peter Alberice and spoke to the crowd.
“Some of the people I consider my constituents consider me a sellout just for being here,” Love said. “[But] at this point, my position is to stand by this plan. There is enough common ground to move this thing forward.”
So far, most noise from the community has surrounded the plan’s call for a design district — an independent and publicly funded body that would manage downtown — and a change in the development-approval process that would increase the authority of City Council-appointed commissions.
The previous Monday, the advisory committee gathered and talked about the tenuous compromise necessary to get the plan off the ground, or, as Downtown Commission Chair Pat Whalen put it: “Helping our community see the big picture and not the details of your personal ox getting gored.”
“I hope,” he continued, “we’re going to be able to overcome our little differences.”
Noting the extensive give-and-take reached by the advisory committee members, restaurateur and Downtown Association member Dwight Butner said, “I have begun looking at this less as a plan than as a treaty.”
When Whalen repeated that line on Thursday night, it raised chuckles from the crowd, but David Dixon of consulting firm Goody Clancy, which drafted the plan, seemed aware that there is a good bit of selling left to be done before Asheville is convinced of the draft.
Dixon said the plan is at about its “85 percent mark” and noted that his e-mail inbox is full from questions and concerns by Asheville residents.
Local architect Tom Gallaher, who is a subcontractor for Goody Clancy, defended the development-approval revamp, saying that policy, not politics, should guide new buildings. “Get City Council out of the approval process to the extent that you can,” he said.
But letting go is a big step in a city where large-scale developments have been stopped or stalled at the City Council level, and some still feel burned by the ones that have gone through. Said one audience member during a Q&A session at the meeting’s end: “There needs to be a way for citizens, when they see a project that just doesn’t cut the mustard, to say ‘No!’”
The meeting kicked off a three-week comment period on the draft, during which residents can drop off comments at the YMI Cultural Center, Pack Memorial Library or the city’s Office Of Economic Development. They can also be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Brian Postelle, staff writer
photo by Jonathan Welch