Land use plan review ‘back on track’

Waynesville leaders vowed to speed up a review of the town’s land use plan after an article in The Smoky Mountain News two weeks ago revealed the process is months behind schedule.

The town board directed Town Planner Paul Benson to launch the review in March in response to mounting complaints from developers. A steering committee was appointed in May to lead the review, and a consulting firm was supposed to be selected in June. Yet six months have passed, and Town Planner Paul Benson has still not picked a consultant.

“It’s been slower than we anticipated,” admitted Town Manager Lee Galloway.

That won’t be the case anymore. After the article appeared, town officials told Benson to hurry up.

“I think he understands he needs to put a higher priority on it and move the process more quickly,” Galloway said.

“There have been discussions with town staff and we’re going to move ahead with this,” confirmed Mayor Gavin Brown. “It’s back on track.”

The award-winning plan was passed five years ago and has been lauded as a progressive vision for creating an attractive, pedestrian-friendly community. But it’s also been criticized as being too strict, and some fear its turning away potential businesses that don’t want to comply. The review will determine where there is room for give and take without compromising the town’s vision.

Town officials say they’re close to hiring the municipal planning firm the Lawrence Group as a consultant. The firm, which has offices in Charlotte and other parts of the country, is familiar with Western North Carolina. It helped conduct the Mountain Landscapes Initiative this summer, the largest community-based regional planning project ever in WNC.

“I think they’ve got a good understanding of people in our area,” Galloway said.

The initial cost estimate from the Lawrence Group was more than the amount the town had budgeted for a consultant. Waynesville officials are currently working to adjust the scope of the project so they can afford to hire the firm, Brown said.

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