Around the region: Hendersonville, Woodfin, Brevard envision the future via comprehensive plans

BIG PLANS: Matthew Manley, Hendersonville's strategic projects manager, heads up the team developing the city's 2045 comprehensive plan. Photo by Justin McGuire

When Hendersonville officials began developing the city’s new comprehensive plan, they set their sights far into the future.

“We toyed around with the idea of a 100-year plan and trying to get people to really think long term,” says Matthew Manley, the city’s strategic projects manager. “This is a long-term vision, and the decisions that we make can have really lasting impacts. You build buildings that are going to be around for 100 years, you build new roads that are going to be around for longer than that.”

Officials ultimately scaled back to a more modest time frame, gearing the plan to 2045. But getting residents of the city of 15,000 to think generationally remains a priority, as evidenced by the name picked for the plan: Gen H, in which the H stands for Hendersonville. “The people who are going to be most impacted by it are our younger generation,” Manley explains. “We were looking for something kind of catchy to get people thinking.”

Hendersonville, which is set to complete its plan next year, is among several local municipalities looking to the future. The City of Brevard in Transylvania County recently adopted a 2030 comprehensive land-use plan, while the Town of Woodfin in Buncombe County finished a plan draft that covers the next 10-20 years.

North Carolina requires local governments that enforce zoning to have comprehensive or land use plans. Such long-term road maps are particularly critical in fast-growing Western North Carolina, says Bob Boylan, director of the Local Government Training Program at Western Carolina University’s Public Policy Institute.

“No matter how you feel about why things are heating temperature-wise, things are getting warmer,” he says. “So a lot of folks are starting to move to higher elevations, and there is nothing about that trend that I foresee slowing down or stopping. If municipalities don’t have a comprehensive plan five years out, 10 years out, they’re just going to be reacting to all these changes rather than making proactive decisions.”

“Around the Region” is a new monthly Xpress feature examining issues facing cities and towns throughout Western North Carolina. For the first installment, we look at how Hendersonville, Woodfin and Brevard are planning to navigate growth and what comes with it — housing costs, transportation, employment and environmental protection.

A question of trade-offs

Hendersonville is updating its 2030 plan, which it developed in 2009 and 2010, Manley says.

From August through mid-November, officials collected input from as many residents as possible. They conducted a 23-question survey. They held public meetings. They conducted more than 40 pop-up events at high school football games, the Hendersonville Farmers Market, the monthly Rhythm & Brews concert series and more. And they went door to door in the Green Meadows affordable housing development, had a presence at El Centro, a community center for the Latino community, and distributed Spanish-language versions of all materials.

“We tried a number of avenues to reach not just the general population, but also to get some really targeted participation from groups [such as Black and Latino] that have historically been underrepresented,” Manley says.

Many residents listed affordable housing as a major need in the city. Manley says that has led to some interesting conversations about trade-offs. For instance, he explains, city officials considering new high-density developments in recent years have run into opposition from people who want to see the area’s farmland and apple orchards preserved.

“That’s a struggle not just for Hendersonville,” he says. “All across the country, we have this need for housing, but people don’t want to see their small town change or see the landscape change in their neighborhood.”

Officials even created a game to demonstrate some of the hard choices planners have to make. Players were presented with a map of the city and icons representing housing growth, conservation, historic preservation, trails and sidewalks/bike lanes. They then earned points by placing icons in various places. Those points unlocked other icons.

So, for instance, 500 points allowed  players to place an employment icon on the map. One employment icon allowed them to place one transportation icon on the board; two allowed them to place a community place icon, representing areas to preserve, conserve or build parks.

“We’ve gotten a lot of great feedback on that. People say, ‘I feel like I really got [to experience] a day in the life of a city planner,’ ” Manley says.

Hendersonville officials took photos of the completed game boards and will use them as community input when formulating the comprehensive plan.

Like Asheville, Hendersonville relies on tourism as one of its major economic drivers. And like Asheville, the city is grappling with the effects of a tourism-based economy.

“Some of the conversation we’re hearing is about whether there is still the same level of need to be marketing the community for tourism,” Manley says. “Are there impacts of that in terms of how it’s affecting our housing? We have a lot of second homes that  sit vacant for a number of months out of the year and that are not contributing to our housing stock.”

And, he says, employees of downtown restaurants and shops often can’t afford to live in the community and rack up big costs to commute in from outlying areas.

“Transportation is a really critical component [of the plan],” Manley says. “There’s been a big push for more walking and biking opportunities and infill development. If we’re able to put people within walking or biking distance of employment opportunities, in a place that they can afford to live, that’s really the ideal outcome that we’re shooting for.”

Officials want to have a draft ready for review by April. Manley hopes to have the plan finalized by early summer.

‘How do we grow?’

“There are so many smaller jurisdictions that make up the greater Asheville metropolitan area that don’t have the resources that Asheville does,” says WCU’s Boylan. “But because of their proximity, they’re having a lot of the issues that Asheville is having.”

One of those is the Town of Woodfin, a Buncombe County community of nearly 8,000 residents. The town released a draft of its comprehensive plan, called Woodfin Together. Officials hope to adopt a final version by January, says Town Manager Shannon Tuch.

Like Hendersonville, Woodfin made public input a priority, conducting a survey and holding numerous public meetings. Managing growth, protecting the environment, improving transportation options and creating employment opportunities were the key issues identified, she says.

The draft lists “strong growth pressures” as the No. 1 trend affecting Woodfin.

“Woodfin’s attractive location in the beautiful North Carolina mountains, on the French Broad River, and abutting Asheville and [UNC Asheville] is causing strong growth demand,” the draft states. “Since 2000, Woodfin has outgrown peer communities of Fletcher and Black Mountain by population change and has attracted interest in new development and investment.”

The draft highlights some of Woodfin’s other challenges, including a poverty rate higher than Buncombe County as a whole and physical constraints to growth.

Rugged terrain and a disconnected street network present challenges to density and redevelopment, the draft says, but some strategic sites remain in town limits. “There’s still a lot of opportunity for growth that wouldn’t necessarily be a trade-off. So I think that’s where our ‘how do we grow?’ conversation becomes so important.”

Woodfin isn’t as tourist-dependent as Hendersonville, but the town is developing recreational facilities along the French Broad River, including the Woodfin Greenway and Blueway. The $7.2 million project will include the Whitewater Wave, a feature for whitewater paddling and surfing; five miles of greenway along the river and Beaverdam Creek; and a new park and the expansion of Riverside Park.

 Eventually, the Greenway and Blueway will connect with Asheville’s River Arts District’s greenway.

“That could become a really effective alternative transportation option for commuters,” Tuch says. “So stuff like that is what we’re focused on in the parks.”

Small footprint

Brevard officials began planning the city’s 2030 comprehensive plan in 2020, but got sidetracked when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. In late 2021, they got back to it and completed the plan in March. Like Hendersonville and Woodfin, they solicited public input and identified people’s No. 1 concern.

“Housing, housing, housing, housing,” says Aaron Bland, assistant planning director for the Transylvania County city of 7,700. “That was far and away the biggest thing that people wanted to talk about or have the plan address.”

The city faces a big challenge, though, when it comes to creating new housing.

“We can’t really grow out,” Bland explains. “We’ve got [Pisgah National Forest] on one side, we’ve got a mile-wide floodplain from the French Broad River on the other side and mountains on the north that prevent water or sewer from expanding without being really, really expensive. And so there definitely is a big trade-off for building new stuff.”

That means the city will have to embrace apartment buildings, which aren’t prevalent now, because they house lots of people and can be built within existing utility service areas.

Another opportunity for Brevard is taking advantage of its location near Pisgah National Forest and DuPont State Recreational Forest.

“Tourists who are going to Pisgah National Forest or DuPont, they’re kind of on the periphery of Brevard [city limits],” he says. “We want to pull them downtown, let them see the whole city, ideally have them stay here and not just make a day trip here.”

One way to do that will be increasing walking and biking options. The city operates the nearly complete Estatoe Trail public greenway, which starts at the national forest and crosses downtown before ending near Brevard High School. But downtown itself lacks biking options.

“We’re trying to have more bicycle-friendly streets and not just rely on the greenway, the separated infrastructure, but actually make the streets more bicycle-friendly to cyclists of all ages and abilities,” he says. That could help draw more recreational tourists downtown, Bland says, but it also will serve the needs of people living in the city.

“Being a tourism destination town versus improving the quality of life for full-time residents is something that came up a lot in the public input,” he says. “How do we balance that out? How do we diversify our economy? We don’t want our eggs in that one basket.”

AROUND THE REGION: Do you live in a small town or city in Western North Carolina? We want to hear from you. What are the top issues facing your community? What stories aren’t being told? Contact Xpress reporter Justin McGuire at



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About Justin McGuire
Justin McGuire is a UNC Chapel Hill graduate with more than 30 years of experience as a writer and editor. His work has appeared in The Sporting News, the (Rock Hill, SC) Herald and various other publications. Follow me @jmcguireMLB

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2 thoughts on “Around the region: Hendersonville, Woodfin, Brevard envision the future via comprehensive plans

  1. Jt

    None of these plans are worth a tinker’s damn without very clear zoning mandates and enforcement. Words like consider, option, explore, possible, potential…. meaningless weasel words. Give politicians an inch toward being controlled by development money and they’ll take a mile. I’ve seen it happen time and time again in my local government years. Plans that tick a box without unequivocal requirements for preservation and development restrictions are an insult to the public.

  2. indy499

    Any “solutions” that feature more bikepaths for commuters is a sure tell that you are reading nonsense.

    How did our small band of bike enthusiasts become so powerful? Excluding recreational mountain biking the number of bike riders is tiny. The number of regular bike commuters can be counted on 1 hand

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