Merrimon angst runs deep

Thanks to Emily Patrick for her thorough review, covering recent development and ongoing controversy on Merrimon Avenue [“Ruffled Feathers,” Aug. 7 Xpress]. One clarification: The Merrimon Study Group was not part of the Five Points Neighborhood Group. It was a mix of businesspeople and other professionals with vested interest in Merrimon who were asked by the city to look at planning issues on Merrimon Avenue.

The Merrimon Avenue Business Group, headed by Chris Peterson, was not mentioned in the article, but this group was also active throughout the two-year Merrimon planning process. Peterson was also a regular attendee of the Study Group, bringing many of the business community’s concerns to our weekly meetings.

I was dismayed and puzzled to read that Holly Shriner, his business partner, claimed to not know about that process. This is not a criticism of Shriner. She is a conscientious member of the city Planning & Zoning Commission. I want to clarify that the planning process was as inclusive as we could make it at the time.

We held weekly open “breakfast meetings” at Atlanta Bread Co., making it easy for Peterson, a part-owner of the property, to attend. We met with the Council of Independent Business Owners and held several tough meetings with Merrimon business owners to hash out our final compromises and recommendations to the city. Throughout the process I sent regular updates to Mayor Terry Bellamy and the city planning director outlining our progress. They never expressed any reservations to us about our process. Several members of the study group had done this type of planning process before and were committed to making it accessible to anyone. Our “Guide for Merrimon Development” sailed through planning commission review with no protests, only praise from the commission for our hard work.

I spoke with a planning consultant afterward [who estimated] our study would have cost the city $40,000 to $50,000. If they’d hired an outside consultant, as they’re now doing for Haywood Road, it would have cost the city much more.

If a rug was ever “pulled out from under us,” as Holly mentioned, it was the final City Council meeting where business owners who’d never participated in the process showed up, and Mayor Bellamy fully supported them. [Billie Harper Buie is a former member, Planning & Zoning Commission.]

— Billie Harper Buie
Asheville

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