By Leslee Kulba-Asheville City Council adopted a vision plan for Haywood Road. It was just another scene in urban planning where the neighborhood is made to feel inclusive in developing the same Smart Growth conclusions all other towns across America are visioning. The effort was begun in 2002, but was since derailed multiple times due to other municipal priorities.
As Councilman Gordon Smith noted, the vision is not the same as the form-based code that is coming to Haywood Road. The vision is merely a set of recommendations for the code, which will be a new zoning overlay. The vision plan grouped citizen input into six categories.
Addressing transportation and streetscape issues, the document notes that, despite the best of plans, people are still insisting on driving cars. Over the years, planners had attempted to discourage the use of the automobile, by, for example, limiting the number of parking spaces required for businesses. But that only caused drivers to park in front of peoples’ driveways on side streets, or park in tow-away zones which, incidentally, are not marked in West Asheville.
As citizen Steve Rasmussen mentioned during public comment, the “elephant in the room” was the NC DOT’s ever-postponed plans to realign I-26. Nobody knows where the highway lanes are going to be shifted or when. At any time, it could obliterate a “significant swath” of the best laid plans.
In the meantime, the plan suggests zero setbacks on new buildings will foster pedestrian interaction. Cycling and walkability are to be encouraged. Sidewalks can be made more accessible with fewer utility poles and curb cuts. Sidewalk furniture, like more trash cans, benches, and planted trees will create sense of place.
Another priority was historic preservation. Various strategies were suggested to identify historical properties that obviously aren’t that outstanding. Ways to catalog and mark historic structures, are being considered, and a search for funding sources is recommended.
To determine the “look” of the corridor, the city circulated a preference survey in 2011. It asked people to name model buildings. The plan suggests, “Some of the specific design-related items are already required in the CBD zoned areas and the form and design details of all new buildings outside of these zones could have similar standards such as: pedestrian-level windows, doors and other openings directly on the street; a street wall defining the building height compared to neighboring buildings; defined building roof cap; a change of materials between the ground level and upper floors; enhancements to the streetscape, and outside dining spaces or plazas directly at the sidewalk edge.”
Building size was a big issue among the 600 survey respondents, but there was not a clear consensus on how many stories a building should be. Most citizens responded correctly to what appears to have been a loaded question about whether they wanted mixed-use development. The most popular land-use priorities were green space, streetscaping, historic preservation, sustainable design, mixed-use development, affordable housing, higher-density housing, and business incubaton.
Another objective of the vision plan was economic development. One of the survey questions was, “What type of new business would you support?” By far, the highest vote-getter was a neighborhood hardware store. Aligned with the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce’s push for a Foodtopia brand, several respondents said they wanted new restaurants; particularly ethnic types. Japanese food was the most requested; Ethiopian, second.
Throughout the document was a theme of invading churches. While church property is tax-exempt, visioneers sought to interest churches in sharing their parking lots with night spots, and opening their office space for business incubation.
The fifth concern was safety. The plan reported a decline in violent crime. Its authors correlated the improved safety with changes in design and pulse that made the streets more walkable; especially at night. Another reason crime is believed to have declined is citizens started taking matters into their own hands and created a web site, West Asheville Neighborhoods, where locals can report crimes and suspicious activity. Graffiti, however, continues to be a problem.
All other suggestions were lumped under the category “Neighborhood Related Issues.” Included under this topic were ideas that ranged from storytelling to traffic calming.
In Other Matters –
Asheville’s fire chief, Scott Burnette, and Reems Creek’s Chief Jeff Justice were honored for receiving Chief of the Year awards from the North Carolina Association of Fire Chiefs. City Manager Gary Jackson said this was probably the first time in history both the career and volunteer Chief of the Year awards went to leaders in the same county. Burnette and Justice insisted on sharing the credit with all the good people in their departments.
In addition to recognizing the two chiefs, Jackson went on to honor a score of employees who performed incredibly during the double-strike of the polar vortex. Some places of the city reportedly received 16 inches of snow. Mayor Esther Manheimer said CNN had called wanting to do a story, but staff had been mobilized so effectively, CNN cancelled, saying there was not much to cover.