Asheville master plan consultants respond to criticism

Last week, development activist Steve Rasmussen released a report blasting the proposed Downtown Master Plan. Now Goody Clancy, the consultants behind the master plan, have fired back with their own report, asserting that the plan provides more public input, promotes smarter, greener growth and has substantial “teeth” to control development.

One of Rasmussen’s major criticisms is that the plan may drastically reduce Asheville City Council’s authority over development, limiting it to only the largest projects, a step he sees as being in the interests of developers.

Not so, Goody Clancy’s report asserts.

“Not just developers, but also much of the public at large and city council are frustrated with the current process that typically forces judgment on complex developments into a lengthy eleventh-hour city council hearing with no real opportunity for productive discussion among council, the public, city project review staff, volunteer design reviewers and the developer,” the report says. “The current practice of project-by-project review by City Council was suitable when major development projects were simpler and less frequent, but is strained with the greater amount of development demand evident in recent years.”

Goody Clancy notes that under the plan, developers would be required to hold community meetings for any project over 50,000 square feet, that City Council would have to approve the master plan itself and that the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission, while not elected, “is appointed by Council and thus has indirect political accountability.”

Another proposal from the plan that Rasmussen roundly criticized was the creation of the Asheville Development District, an eventually independent governing board that would handle most of the day-to-day operations of downtown and have considerable powers. Rasmussen said this constitutes “Soviet-style central planning” and would be open to corruption.

In their rebuttal, Goody Clancy says that such districts work well in many cities.

“Downtown Community Improvement Districts (CID) are commonplace in other cities, and simple, standard good practices for choosing their board members and staff prevent them being ‘petri dishes for corruption,’” the report reads. “Such development authorities are typically small and lean operations that can provide significant benefit; there is no point to or likelihood of creating a large powerful bureaucracy as is alleged below.”

They also note that City Council would still have the final word on major projects backed by the ADD.

Rasmussen also pointedly said that the plan’s proposed development guidelines lacked sufficient strength and that Goody Clancy had ruled out using local historical districts to control development.

“Local historic districts often tend to suppress development and redevelopment –- this has been a desirable outcome in the predominantly residential Montford neighborhood, but could unduly restrict downtown’s opportunities to grow or even hold its place as the region’s economic engine,” the rebuttal reads, adding that the plan doesn’t close off the possibility of using local historical districts, but recommends further study.

When it comes to height guidelines, Goody Clancy disagrees with Rasmussen that they were made with an eye towards not impeding projects like Tony Fraga’s now-stalled Haywood Park project, noting that the Battery Park area would fall under a height limit, and that it is higher than other parts of downtown not due to any one project, but because of “the precedent of some of downtown’s tallest buildings in the area” and other local design factors, also adding that if adopted, the plan’s guidelines would actually restrict some of the more controversial projects that have come forward over the past few years.

“These judgments are irrespective of the presence of the FIRC [Fraga’s company] proposal and do not reflect any influence of the developer. FIRC’s proposed residential tower would not be permitted as submitted under the proposed height zones as it would be within 40 feet of Haywood,” the report reads. “Note that
the Ellington (already approved, 23 stories) would violate the proposed height zones if proposed anew, as its site is in the recommended 145’ (14-15 stories) height zone.”

The master plan is now in its public-comment phase, and those who wish to voice their opinion before the final draft goes to City Council are invited to comment at Council will vote on the plan in March.

— David Forbes, staff writer


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2 thoughts on “Asheville master plan consultants respond to criticism

  1. 9-volt

    Interesting rebuttal. I can see both sides of the coin and hope a reasonable compromise can be reached. The are many good things in the master plan. The details of the ADD board members and staff still seem to be hinge point.

  2. Gordon Smith

    The hard work that’s gone into creating this Plan ought to be applauded, so kudos to everyone who’s given their time and energy to creating it.

    The two biggest sticking points as I read it are (1) the details of a revised / combined UDO and Master Plan with both mandatory and voluntary requirements; and (2) How a downtown district authority would be created and overseen.

    Neither of these two points are addressed directly in the most recent draft of the Plan.

    I advocate that the revised UDO move the bar and make our downtown one of the most sustainable in the nation. LEED standards could be the baseline from which we begin. Incentives could be reserved for Gold LEED and for adaptive re-use and retrofitting older buildings. If you don’t want to build at least LEED, then you’re out of step with the direction of the City and it’ll cost you.

    Regarding the formation, selection, and oversight of a downtown district authority, there are a lot of ways to go about it. We could ensure that artists, businesses, restaurants, street vendors, law enforcement, musicians, etc. all have a seat at the table of that board. We could have public votes of confidence for the leadership of that board every two years along with our Council elections. What we can’t have is anything that doesn’t promote transparency, participation, and democratic values.

    If you haven’t read the master plan, sit down and take an hour to do so. There’s a heap of good stuff in there, but the devil is in the details of the building guidelines and the district authority.

    It’s my hope that the final draft specifically addresses both.

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