With the Interstate-26 Connector design forum looming on the near horizon, Asheville City Council took a last opportunity to thank those agencies that plan to participate, and to urge the N.C. Department of Transportation to consider all the possibilities emerging from the forum.
At their July 11 meeting — a short and sweet one, with no public hearings on the agenda — Council members spent a half hour debating whether to tone down the language in their resolution.
Council member Charles Worley saw the wording as a chance to acknowledge the DOT’s willingness to participate — the key, he said, to the forum’s success. Eventually, Council members compromised, saying Asheville “supports and requests” the DOT and the Federal Highway Administration to “give thorough consideration and evaluation to all the feasible possibilities resulting from the Community Design Forum.”
Mayor Leni Sitnick noted that the resolution stops short of endorsing any details about the project. Any such endorsements will come after the results of the forum (scheduled for July 21-22 at the Renaissance Hotel) are in, she said.
This is actually the second half of the forum. The first meetings, held in June, were designed to inform the public about the history of the connector project, the need for it, and some possible routes. The design portion will try to meld the ideas and opinions of transportation experts and the public into a functional project design that most folks can live with.
Betty Lawrence, a member of the I-26 Connector Awareness Group, said she appreciated the resolution. She added that, while the public’s new relationship with the DOT isn’t perfect, “Everybody is trying very hard.”
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for Asheville to get something that works for the city, not just a new highway,” she said about the design forum, adding, “I think we can have both.”
Council streamlines plat review
Once again, Council briefly addressed the approval process for preliminary plats for major subdivisions. A proposed amendment to the Unified Development Ordinance had failed on June 27 because, with two Council members absent, it didn’t garner the necessary two-thirds majority.
But this time — with newly married Council member Terry Bellamy (formerly Terry Whitmire) on hand to support it — the amendment passed 5-1 with little discussion.
Council member Brian Peterson again voted against the change, which will shorten the review time for plats from four weeks to two. Peterson said the new process might prevent residents from contributing important information about the projects.
Plats are subdivision maps showing the streets and utilities but no specific design features. Until now, plats have been evaluated by both the Technical Review Committee and the Planning and Zoning Commission, giving members of the public two chances to voice opinions. But in the interest of saving builders time and money, the second meeting (with P&Z) has now been eliminated.
City Planner Gerald Green said he understands the city’s concerns about public participation, but that in his 10 years of working for the city, he has never seen a plat turned down. Plats, he said, are based on technical standards in the UDO. Either a plat meets the technical specifications or it doesn’t; there’s no room for judgment calls. This seemed to satisfy most Council members.
But Mayor Sitnick, although satisfied with the amendment, was still concerned about giving the public a chance to comment. She directed staff to create a guide to the development process “so folks who want to participate will know how and where to.” The guide, she said, should cover everything from the time requirements for notices of public hearings to the procedure for contributing letters to the public record for quasi-judicial public hearings.
City Manager Jim Westbrook said staff is already working on such a guide, which could be produced as a series of pamphlets. For example, he said, there might be one on conditional-use permits and another on the approval and appeal of master plans.