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."