P&Z weighs in on Downtown Master Plan

The draft downtown master plan continues to make appearances and gather input around Asheville on its way to a March appearance before City Council. On Jan. 22, Project Manager Sasha Vrtunski presented the draft to the Planning and Zoning Commission, one of two bodies whose responsibilities would increase if the plan were adopted as is.

In a move to make the review process for proposed developments more “transparent and predictable,” the Technical Review Commission, Downtown Commission and Planning and Zoning Commission would each have the power to approve projects, depending on the scale. Level II projects, for example (those involving 20,000 to 175,000 square feet and up to 15 stories) would go to P&Z for final approval. Currently, City Council must sign off on level III projects as well as conditional-use permits.

The intent, say consultants Goody Clancy, who produced the draft plan, is to make approval dependent on compliance with design guidelines spelled out in the plan rather than the current City Council’s political bent.

But Planning and Zoning Commission Chair Steven Sizemore noted that draft allows developers unhappy with P&Z’s ruling to appeal to City Council. That, he said, means that Council winds up ruling on the projects anyway. He also pointed out that no such appeals process appears to be in place for members of the public opposed to a development project. In other cities, noted Planning and Development Director Judy Daniel, such cases typically wind up in court—a situation Sizemore said the plan should strive to avoid.

“If you only have the ability to go through the legal process, you invite more lawsuits,” said Sizemore. “I think it may be a good idea for some appeal process for the public, but that it meet some kind of threshold.”

The Planning and Zoning Commission did not take any formal action on the draft, though it is slated to vote on the final version next month. Meanwhile, the public can continue to comment on the draft until Feb. 6.

To send comments on the plan, contact Project Manager Sasha Vrtunski at svrtunski@ashevillenc.gov or at 232-4599.

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