Putting on the moves

For years, people have complained that Asheville’s Unified Development Ordinance is a cumbersome, unwieldy monster that adds unnecessary time and expense to land-development projects. Considering the layers of boards, committees and other groups charged with reviewing development proposals, we can conclude that the critics have a point.

How, then, to explain the fact that in recent years, highly controversial downtown projects have sailed quietly and smoothly through the administrative process before bursting like a thunderclap upon the public’s consciousness in late-stage public hearings? (Think Staples, the Grove Park Inn’s City/County Plaza building, the Battery Park parking garage, Parkside, and Tony Fraga’s Haywood Park development.) How did these proposals move through planning and zoning boards or review committees, as well as the Pack Square Conservancy and the Downtown Commission, without serious challenge—or even meaningful public input?

Could it be that Asheville harbors a cadre of well-connected professionals who are experts at navigating (dare one say manipulating?) the city’s development process? People whose expertise is available for a hefty fee to well-heeled developers?

Not a chance. How do I know that? If any such shenanigans were afoot, Asheville’s daily newspaper and its local TV newshounds would have been all over the story long ago.

— John D. Johnston, Jr.

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