Residents wanting more of a say in Asheville and Buncombe County’s development process may benefit this coming January from a new Mountain Xpress guide to local government decision-making.
“With hotels proliferating in downtown Asheville, infill construction booming in neighborhoods like Oakley and West Asheville and bulldozers grading soil for new homes and businesses in rural Buncombe County — we can see daily the impacts of development on the way Western North Carolinians live,” says Xpress Publisher Jeff Fobes. “Helping readers better understand how they can have a say in the region’s development seemed like a natural fit with the paper’s goals.”
The project is being undertaken as part of the paper’s mission to build community and strengthen democracy at the local level.
The idea recently received a major boost from the American Press Institute. As part of the Local News Ideas-to-Action Series, the Virginia-based national media nonprofit awarded Xpress a $9,300 grant to create a guide to local government decision-making for land development. Out of 74 applicants, 10 media organizations from across the U.S. received funding, including New Hampshire Public Radio, The Coloradoan in Fort Collins, Colo., and the Washington City Paper.
Similar to Xpress’ award-winning 2020 voter guide, the new guide will help residents navigate the sometimes daunting procedures of and players in local government so they can better participate in the process. The guide will cover the many stages of review that different types of development projects face on their way from concept to final approval, what aspects are considered at each step and what avenues exist for public input.
Xpress will distribute the document as an insert in one of the paper’s January issues, as well as partner with local institutions such as libraries and nonprofits to make it available throughout the year.
Readers are being invited to share their thoughts on how a development guide could best inform their efforts. An online survey is currently accessible through Wednesday, Sept. 22, at avl.mx/ad1. Responses will shape the content and design of the publication, which will be developed in October and November.
“To create the most useful guide we can, we want to learn what challenges people face in making their voices heard, what frustrations they most often feel and what tools they think will give them the best chance at improving development projects,” explains Assistant Editor Daniel Walton, who is heading up the project.
In addition to the survey, three online conversations about the project are scheduled via Zoom for 6 p.m. Monday, Sept. 13 (avl.mx/ae1); 1 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 16 (avl.mx/adz); and 10 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 18 (avl.mx/ady). Advance registration is requested, but drop-in attendance is also welcomed.
Comments can also be sent directly to Walton at DWalton@MountainX.com or 828-251-1333, ext. 138.