Asheville City Council member Chris Pelly, a longtime neighborhood activist, has proposed the creation of an advisory committee intended to improve communication between the city of Asheville and neighborhoods. The committee may also play a role in resource allocation and the development process.
Pelly said the impetus from the idea came from conflicts he observed in his time with the Coalition of Asheville Neighborhoods.
“I saw instances again and again where the lack of communication between City Hall and neighborhoods often manifested itself in conflict over development proposals due to miscommunication or lack of communication,” Pelly said. “My thinking on this is to provide a formal process for communicating.”
“I don’t know if it will be a cure-all, but I think it’s the beginning of institutionalizing that communication,” Pelly adds.
Pelly says that a lot of specifics about the committee — including its selection and powers — remain up in the air, though he anticipates representatives from different areas of the city, perhaps based on ZIP code.
“I’m willing to let this thing play out how it may,” he says. “My goal for 2012 is to get the process started.”
The committee could also provide resources better enabling neighborhoods to organize community associations, work with the city to allocate resources and “improve the development process, and residents’ ability to access the process.”
On what say in development the committee might have, Pelly cites 1998 hearings in each neighborhood during the development of the Unified Development Ordinance, when city staff brought around zoning maps for residents’ perusal.
“People really felt listened to because oftentimes there were some tweaks and changes made,” he remembers. “I look to try and replicate that in some form or another; of communicating with the communities and saying ‘are we doing it right?’”
During the campaign, Pelly was critical of steps by the city to center more power for development approval, especially over downtown projects, in the hands of the appointed Planning and Zoning Commission, a step many neighborhood advocates also criticized as undemocratic. Advocates of the changes, including some Council members, said the steps were necessary to improve the predictability of the approval process.
Next year, he said, Pelly will begin talking to city staff to refine the proposal for the committee, before seeking support on Council.