The recently-released draft of the Downtown Master plan, if approved, would drastically reduce Asheville City Council’s authority over the development process, with only the most massive projects — those over 175,000 square feet — coming for a vote before Council.
Currently, any project over 100,000 square feet qualifies as “Level III” under the city’s development guidelines and must be approved by Council. Under the proposed draft of the Master Plan, that would change. Now any project between 20,000 and 175,000 square feet — or under 15 stories high — would go through the Level II process. That process would change too, with a larger and more powerful Downtown Commission becoming “the primary design review body,” with its approval a required step instead of just a recommendation. Final approval for most projects would rest in the hands of the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission.
The master plan would also require developers to seek public comment earlier in the process.
Council has sometimes rejected or sent back developments when the other boards and commissions — often noting that there’s a limited set of criteria they could use to assess a project — had approved them. A recent example was the controversial Haywood Park project,Wwhich council, citing concerns about height and construction, stopped, and developer Tony Fraga eventually abandoned.
The master plan, developed for $170,000 by Massachusetts-based consulting firm Goody Clancy, will be the subject of a city-run forum at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 15, in the Asheville Civic Center banquet hall. It will come to a vote before Council in March.
— David Forbes, staff writer