Planning and Zoning appointment raises questions

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 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."

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5 thoughts on “Planning and Zoning appointment raises questions

  1. Barry Summers

    Cecil Bothwell will urge City Council to rescind those appointments tonight & re-evaluate the applicants:

    “Upon reflection I am very uncomfortable with our recent appointments to Planning & Zoning for four reasons. I stress that my concern is not primarily about the particular people chosen for P&Z, but about failures in the process. Given the increased importance of P&Z deliberations under the pending implementation of the Downtown Master Plan, I feel that it is particularly important that our appointments be made with full public scrutiny.

    “1. In 2009 the North Carolina General Assembly and Governor Perdue called for explicit adherence to state ethics and open meetings rules by every government body in the state, including boards and commissions.

    “2. The process through which we approved board appointments on February 23 seemed inconsistent with other appointments made during the same meeting. Whereas in earlier votes we nominated, seconded, discussed and voted, for P&Z we were abruptly polled with no nominations and no discussion. I feel like we failed to provide the public with any level of transparency about the reasons for our votes.

    “3. One person thus appointed to P&Z failed to mention a significant potential conflict of interest, either in her application or during her interview. I have learned from four other members of Council that they were unaware of this matter. While it is true that any Commission member must seek recusal from consideration of projects in which the member has an interest, and while such a conflict doesn’t proscribe appointment to the Commission, the failure of disclosure doesn’t square with our interest in accountability to citizens.

    “4. It has come to my attention that one member of the Boards and Commissions Committee was unaware of the timely application for P&Z of a highly qualified woman with a long history of civic participation in our community. How can we tell our constituents that every applicant was given consideration when at least one member of the committee which screened applicants was not made aware of a serious applicant? Failure to interview a highly qualified applicant constitutes a failure of accountability to the people of this community and disrespect for the people who are willing to volunteer their time in public service.

    “City Attorney Bob Oast has indicated to me that the only way to rescind our votes on Feb. 23 of which he is aware is to dissolve the Planning & Zoning Commission and then re-form the Commission and make new appointments.

    “Therefore I move that Council dissolve Asheville’s Planning & Zoning Commission; create a new Planning & Zoning Commission as required by North Carolina state law; reappoint all Planning & Zoning Commission members in good standing as of February 22, 2010; and reevaluate all timely applications as of that date.”

  2. Given the fact that we the citizens, are on to this perception of crony-ism, she’s not going to be able to get anywhere…..Shriner should resign.

    We’re going to be closely watching her, raising big stinks when any conflicts of interest perceptions rise.

  3. Barry Summers

    That’s a good point – will Mrs. Shriner recuse herself when anything involving Chris Peterson, her business partner, comes before P&Z? What about Albert Sneed, the attorney who represented her interests before this very Commission two years ago?

  4. Alan Ditmore

    Hooray for Mannheimer, who can win both same sex domestic partner benefits and develop sufficient housing to make the free market affordable!

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