Citizen on Board (A citizen report): Urban Design & Development subcommittee (Sept. 29 mtg)

With this blog post, we offer what Xpress hopes will be an ongoing series of citizen-reported coverage of meetings of Asheville boards and commissions. This first report was prepared by Steve Rasmussen, both the text the the accompanying audio file. In this case, the citizen doing the recording and reporting also sits on the board. If you would like to participate in the “Citizen on Board” project, please email

Urban Design and Development subcommittee of the Downtown Master Plan Action Committee.

DATE OF THIS MEETING: Sept. 29, 2009

MEMBERS PRESENT: Sasha Vrtunski, John Rogers, Peter Alberice, David Pearson, Steve Rasmussen, Tom Gallaher, Jessica Bernstein, Alan Glines, Lindsay Thompson.

Download the full audio file (MP3)

This first meeting was an orientation for the new community members. It also covered “Recommendations” vs. “requirements,” and description of what this committee will do.

As a guide to either listening along to the entire audio file or to fast forward to some key discussions, we offer the following notes:

Excerpt 1: 11:30-13:00 minutes/seconds Gallaher: The Downtown Task Force (DTC) and other groups have taken recommendations and moved them into requirements, and vice-versa—so that kind of trade-off is always possible. Bernstein: Describes what this committee will do—make further tweaks in the Appendix and send result to Council. (In the Downtown Mater Plan (DTMP) Appendix, “recommendations” are optional design guidelines, whereas “requirements” will be written into the UDO code.)

* Section of UDO to be reworked: Sec. 7-8-18 Central Business District, particularly (f) Development Standards: (5) Setback standards, (7) Height standards, (9) Parking/loading standards, (13) Design and operation standards, (14) Downtown Design Review Guidelines.

Excerpt 2: (19:21-20:00 minutes/seconds) Glines: Downtown has never had a height maximum, and this is probably the one single strongest thing the MP came up with … interestingly, we’ll have to look at how we define height …

* (26:00 minutes/seconds) Will start by dealing (next meeting) with the process changes for development review that are spelled out in Strategy 6.

Excerpt 3: (27:12-32:00 minutes/seconds) Jessica explains the Master Plan’s changes to the development review process. “A project just under 100,000 square feet could have a significant community impact, yet [right now] it’s only being evaluated for driveway width and door openings and setbacks. Some members of the public have a concern that if a project has a significant community impact it needs to be evaluated by a board that could look at compatibility and that type of thing. … The new thresholds also factor in height limits. So the new Level II is [not only between 20,000 and 175,000 square feet, but] also up to 145 feet … the ‘intermediate height zone’.” The new Level III, which goes to City Council, would not only include any building over 175,000 square feet, but also any over 145 feet tall—i.e., in the tallest height zone.

>Excerpt04: (33:45-41:14) LISTEN TO THIS IF NO OTHER!!! Discussion among staff and members of how to keep Council involved with the crucial subjective aspects of development review—community impact, etc.—so they are not just rubber-stamping other boards’ approvals. 39:30 Conditional ZONING (as opposed to current “conditional use”) would allow Council to still consider the “7 Conditions” that take into account community impact, whether a project fits with other city plans, etc., but would not require the universally unpopular “quasi-judicial hearing”.

* Segues into discussion of variances, and their role in conditional-zoning and Council involvement early on in process.

Excerpt 5: (44:55-47:09) Peter Alberice: Origin of the old design guidelines in flatland Colorado; and importance of predictability in development-review process, of resolving compatibility with other plans, getting Council members involved, etc. early on.

Excerpt 6: (47:10-48:19) LEAD HIGHLIGHT: Sasha—“We’re talking about a paradigm shift for Asheville. And one thing it depends on is the Downtown Commission—the public trusting them more, and also being able to say no more, and being really standing up to developers a little bit more and being stronger with them …”

* Batteries ran out on my recorder at 50:09, about 10 minutes before meeting ended, as we began overview of handouts (Strategies 4, 5, and 6 from the Master Plan and Appendices).

One bit of news at that point: Montford residents have complained, according to Alan Glines, about part of their neighborhood’s inclusion in the Master Plan’s proposed “intermediate height zone,” which would allow buildings up to 145 feet high. This part of the zone will probably need to be shrunk back to I-240 boundary; see map in Master Plan Appendices, page S4-8, the “Building Height Zone diagram”.

Also missed was emphasis by John Rogers on importance of viewing these standards through the lens of preserving and enhancing Asheville’s vibrant street and sidewalk life.

Next meeting, Oct. 7, will deal with changes to the development-review process.

This subcommittee is tasked with turning the requirements and recommendations in Strategies 4, 5, and 6 of the Asheville Downtown Master Plan into law in the city’s Unified Development Ordinance.

Asheville’s Downtown Master Plan, designed by Boston consulting firm Goody-Clancy with extensive community input, was adopted by City Council in May, 2009. But Council voted to adopt only the broad outlines of the Plan, leaving it to the city’s Planning Dept. to work out the often controversial specifics such as height limits on new buildings, architectural design guidelines, park shadowing, etc., which are addressed in the Plan’s Appendix. The Planning Dept. and the Downtown Commission worked together to assemble an Action Committee including community volunteers, Commission members, and Planning staff that will work out these details and encode them into the city’s ordinances. The Action Committee is divided into subcommittees based primarily on the six “strategies” outlined in the Master Plan.

The Urban Design and Development subcommittee is tackling the thorniest and most-debated aspects of the Plan—those mentioned above, as well as others such as shifting much of the responsibility for development review from City Council and the city’s Technical Review Committee to the Planning & Zoning Commission and the Downtown Commission. Its decisions on how to implement the Master Plan could affect the shape of Asheville for years to come—not only downtown, but potentially in other parts of the city, if the Downtown Master Plan proves to be a successful model for regulating urban growth.

—From the community: Bob Carr, owner of Tops for Shoes David Pearson, landscape architect at Kerns Land Planning & Design Steve Rasmussen, co-leader of Coven Oldenwilde Lindsay Thompson, attorney at Van Winkle Law Firm

—From the Downtown Commission’s Design Review Subcommittee: Peter Alberice, architect at Camille-Alberice Architects Brad Galbraith, president and partner in Kimmel Development Group Jesse Plaster, developer; chairman of Downtown Commission John Rogers, architect at Rogers/Chenevert Architects Harry Weiss, urban projects director for Public Interest Projects.

—From the City of Asheville: Sasha Vrtunski, project manager for Downtown Master Plan Jessica Bernstein, urban planner Julia Cogburn, urban planner Tom Gallaher, Goody-Clancy consulting member Alan Glines, urban planner

Sasha Vrtunski

Lindsay Thompson

David Pearson

Bob Carr

Tom Gallaher

Jessica Bernstein

Peter Alberice

Steve Rasmussen ,,
Alan Glines ,
Harry Weiss ,
Julia Cogburn


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