Candidates: Review necessary to keep land use plan viable

All the candidates running for Waynesville town board and mayor seem to agree on one thing when it comes to the land-use plan: that a comprehensive review of how it’s working can’t hurt.

Even the staunchest supporters of the town’s smart growth guidelines were unilateral in their reference to the land-use plan as a “living, breathing document” that could use a review.

“I believe it has been a living, breathing document with compromise on both sides,” said Alderwoman Libba Feichter.

LeRoy Roberson, a town board candidate who largely support the land-use plan, conjured the same term.

“I consider it a living document that is going to have to change as the town changes. It can’t be inflexible,” Roberson said.

Alderman Gavin Brown, a chief proponent of the land-use plan, said the intention was never to create a rigid document that would sit on a shelf and get dusty. Next year marks the five-year anniversary of the land-use plan’s implementation. Brown, who is running for mayor, said the right amount of time has now passed to objectively assess how the guidelines have been working and determine what changes, if any, are needed.

Town planner Paul Benson agreed.

“I recommend some time in the next year the town appoint a blue ribbon committee to go through the ordinance and see what’s working and what’s not working,” Benson said. “It is about time to reopen it and let people look at it and discuss it and make sure it is still what the community wants.”

Benson said he hears a lot of grumbling from developers.

Of course, that alone isn’t a reason to change the guidelines, said town zoning officer Byron Hickox.

“Complaints aren’t a reason to change it. Problems with implementation is a reason to change it,” Hickox said.

Some of those problems may be loopholes that need tightening, Hickox said. Some businesses have found ways to meet the letter of the law when it comes to architectural guidelines, but not the spirit of the law. Take the new McDonald’s on Russ Avenue for instance. It looks OK, but not that great.

“They met the letter of the ordinance. The execution of it is not the best in the world,” Hickox said.

Other times, a developer proposes an attractive building that for some reason doesn’t fit the guidelines.

“My standard is if it is a good development for the town and the ordinance doesn’t let it happen, we need to find a way to amend our ordinance,” Benson said. “What is a good development, I can’t exactly tell you, but I know it when I see it.”

Charles Miller, a town board candidate who showed up for an interview armed with a copy of the town’s land-use plan, said he appreciates the work of the citizen-led task force that steered the plan’s creation. He said they likely knew that it would occasionally need revisiting, however.

“I respect the people who spent the ungodly amount of time it must have taken to come up with this 2020 Land Development plan,” said Miller. “I am satisfied that those people knew there would be some problems in it. With a major undertaking like this, there had to be some problems with it. I just think we should look at it again and see what problems have occurred and why they have occurred.”

For other candidates — those who don’t support much of the land-use plan — their idea of reviewing the land-use plan is really more like a major overhaul.

Alderman Kenneth Moore wants a committee comprised of developers, Realtors and the construction industry to have a go at rewriting the town’s guidelines.

“In all due respect to the board of aldermen and the mayor and everyone else involved with it, there are citizens that are unhappy with the land-use plan,” Moore said. “I think it is time to take another look at it and see if we can make it more workable for everyone.”

Russell “Ty” McLean, a town board candidate, couldn’t agree more.

“I think many provisions of this land-use plan need to be completely rewritten, or we just need to come up with an entire new land-use plan that makes more economic sense and common sense,” McLean said.

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