Just about any proposed development within Asheville’s central business district has to go before the city’s Downtown Commission. Appointed by City Council, the group advises city leaders on conditions to be placed on potential projects and also signs off on design standards for development.
But unlike other commissions, such as Planning and Zoning, this one has never had firm bylaws concerning things like conflict of interest or quorums—the number of people required for a legal vote. Now, however, the Downtown Commission is seeing a growing number of development proposals, forcing the group to take a hard look at itself.
Four of the 11 members work in some aspect of development, two own downtown restaurants and one, Jan Davis (who owns a downtown tire store), is the city’s vice mayor. That means there’s a good chance that one or more commission members might have to recuse themselves from a particular vote. Davis, for instance, cannot vote on any level-three proposals—because they will later come before Council. And given that not everyone can make every meeting, the voting body sometimes gets lean.
“A lot of this is an ethics issue,” says staff liaison Stephanie Monson, noting that the recent unanimous support for a new hotel at 51 Biltmore Ave. consisted of only four votes.
Under proposed new rules, six members would have to be present and active in order for a vote to be taken. A subcommittee plans to meet again to fine-tune the new rules, and the commission may be poised to adopt them at their next regular meeting, slated for Nov. 14.