Asheville City Council

“There is nothing in here [pointing to the plan] that carries the force of an ordinance. … Things change.”

— Asheville Mayor Charles Worley, speaking about the 2025 Plan

It’s more than 200 pages long, has been in development for more than two years, and reflects the collective wishes of hundreds of Asheville residents. But Asheville’s 2025 Plan must now win City Council’s approval. And at their July 8 formal meeting, Council members went public with their feelings about the current draft version of the weighty document.

The lively discussion had all the earmarks of a book club dissecting the manuscript du jour: Some liked the plot, some liked the premise, and one didn’t make it past the title.

And while it’s often said that everyone’s a critic, in this case, the critics are also the editors.

The plan, a successor to the 2010 Plan (adopted by the city in 1987 after a lengthy process involving extensive citizen input) is still weeks away from a formal Council vote. But Planning and Development DirectorScott Shuford took advantage of the evening’s light agenda to solicit feedback from the seven decision-makers so that, he said, he could “make adjustments” and do “some final wordsmithing” before the document comes up for a vote. If adopted, the 2025 Plan will provide guidance on such often-thorny issues as land use, transportation, air and water quality, and economic growth as the city charts its course over the next 22 years.

Council member Jim Ellis, who recently announced his intention to seek a second term, launched the discussion, offering only glowing compliments. “Hundreds of citizens spent thousands of hours putting this together,” noted Ellis, adding: “It’s a great guideline, a blueprint; it’s not set in concrete like the UDO. I think it’s an excellent document, and I’m prepared to adopt it.”

Vice Mayor Terry Bellamy, though supportive of the plan, was a little more cautious. She asked Shuford if it’s common practice for cities to engage in such long-range planning, wondering aloud whether Asheville might be “looking too far out” by trying to plan for the next 22 years. Shuford assured her that such planning is common and that the plan itself is flexible. “We anticipate multiple amendments” he assured her. Bellamy then suggested adding benchmarks to the document as a way to evaluate the city’s progress toward meeting the stated goals — Shuford readily agreed to incorporate that idea into his final draft of the plan.

Bellamy, however, wasn’t finished. Citing the example of the Wal-Mart Supercenter approved by Council last year, she also raised the question of how “big-box stores” will figure in Asheville’s future. (The current draft of the plan specifically states that such projects would constitute “less desirable or undesirable growth.”) But Asheville, noted Bellamy, serves (and will continue to serve) as a commercial hub for the whole mountain region. With that in mind, she questioned the wisdom of excluding big-box stores. Shuford concurred, informing Bellamy that he is “planning on taking that section out.”

Council member Joe Dunn, on the other hand, flat out panned the plan, which emphasizes the need to promote alternative transportation, calling it “unrealistic.” He shook his head in disbelief, reminding his audience that Asheville isn’t New York or the Northeast. “Folks around here aren’t going to ride bicycles or take the bus,” Dunn declared, adding, “I wish they would, but they won’t.” He also called the plan “elitist” for suggesting that the city try to move away from attracting minimum-wage jobs, such as those in the fast-food industry. “Any job is better than no job,” he intoned.

Dunn added that the 2025 Plan is “loaded with regulations” that will allow city staff to “micromanage site design and structure design” — a prospect that clearly troubled him. “Where will it ever stop?” he asked. “It seems the city wants to control the three P’s: people, property and permitting.” Dunn concluded his remarks by stating: “I can’t support this document. … Plans change, and visions are like ghosts — they only appear to certain people. Let’s not put a lot of faith in either one of them.”

Next up was Council member Brian Peterson, who suggested that the plan should put more emphasis on improving infrastructure. That, he said, would facilitate the development process by proactively addressing the kinds of concerns (such as traffic, sidewalks and parks) that typically crop up when neighborhoods square off against developers.

Council member Carl Mumpower echoed Dunn’s complaint about elitist language, commenting, “There’s tone in here — and it’s not a good model for a community that wants to be inclusive.” Mumpower also characterized the plan as being “much too large and bulky.” He even questioned city staff’s frequent references to the document as a “comprehensive plan.” “‘Land-use guide’ is something I’m more comfortable with,” said Mumpower.

In an interview with Xpress after the meeting, Mumpower explained: “It’s an inflated title that doesn’t really reflect the reality. It’s not a city plan; it’s a very narrow document. I think that a city plan would deal with infrastructure, city services, government, environmental quality [and] social concerns (such as drugs, schools and health). What we have here is really a land-use guide.”

Council member Holly Jones, on the other hand, wasn’t so bothered by the nuances of name. “I don’t care what we call it,” she declared. “Whatever it’s called, it’s powerful. … It’s part of what leadership can offer a community. That’s vision.”

But Mayor Charles Worley appeared to have the last word on the matter. “There is nothing in here [pointing to the plan] that carries the force of an ordinance,” he observed. “We’re not setting something in concrete. Things change.”

At that, Shuford tucked the plan under his arm and left the podium; the editors had spoken. Shuford now has some changes to make and more “wordsmithing” to do before bringing a final draft back to Council.

And it seems likely that the hundreds of city residents who helped author the plan by taking part in a series of community meetings over the last two years will be eagerly awaiting the finished product to see exactly how much, as Worley put it, “Things change.”

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