A comprehensive review of the town of Waynesville’s award-winning land use plan is set to begin following the town’s selection last week of a consulting company to lead the process.
The board of aldermen unanimously approved a $54,000 contract with the Lawrence Group, a regional planning firm that recently completed work on the Mountain Landscapes Initiative.
Town Planner Paul Benson called the Lawrence Group “the leading firm in the state with this type of ordinance.”
“We feel like it’s a great fit,” Benson said. “The firm can come in and tie up the loose ends, perfect our regulations and improve the readability; add good graphics to it and make it a more understandable ordinance.”
Benson has come under fire recently for being slow to move the review process along. The entire process was slated to take six months, but in November — the sixth month since the town decided to update the ordinance — Benson had yet to select a consultant to guide the review.
Benson blamed the delay on the large number of permits his office has had to review, as well as two other ongoing studies that have taken up time — the Russ Avenue Corridor Study and Pedestrian Plan.
“We may be moving slow and steady, but we are moving,” Benson told aldermen.
Benson said a town-appointed steering committee intends to meet weekly with the Lawrence Group to facilitate the process. At this point, the town will rely on the committee, not community input, to guide the review.
All told, the review will take almost a year rather than the six months originally budgeted. Benson said the six-month timeline wasn’t realistic.
“I apologize about the optimistic schedule. It wasn’t realistic given the workload we had at the time,” he said.
Mayor Gavin Brown, who has recently expressed discontent with the slow pace of the review process, said he’s ready to move it forward and won’t dwell on the delay.
“I’m not going to worry about yesterday,” he said. “We need to move forward on this.”
Alderman LeRoy Roberson told Benson to keep the town updated.
“I’d like a monthly report about what the committee was doing,” he said. “For months I was kind of in the dark.”
No South Main?
Though the review process is moving ahead, some may feel it’s leaving out the most vital part — South Main Street, a corridor that is rapidly developing due to the opening of Super Wal-Mart, Best Buy and other stores.
Benson said it was too expensive to incorporate a corridor study of South Main Street in the land use review process.
Business owners and Realtors in the South Main area have been some of the most vocal in calling for the land use plan review.
Roger Winge, a Realtor, said he wasn’t able to sell a prime parcel of land to Walgreen’s because the chain took issue with the town’s land use plan. Joe Taylor, chairman of the board of Old Town Bank, said the bank has been waiting for the land use review to be conducted before constructing a permanent building.
Benson noted that even though South Main won’t be incorporated into the town’s review process, the N.C. Department of Transportation is working on its own corridor study of the area. Benson said DOT is considering implementing a 100-foot right of way along South Main and widening it to a four-lane road with a center median, sidewalks and bike lanes.
Town officials, however, said they’d still like to see the area incorporated into a review of the land use plan.
“South Main Street is a hot spot for development right now,” said Town Manager Lee Galloway. “Maybe we can see if there’s some things that are cheaper. We need to talk to (the Lawrence Group) about some smaller scale work, possibly.”
Alderman Libba Feichter agreed that South Main Street should be included.
“I think it’s really, really important to get South Main Street right,” Feichter said. “It needs to be done right. All the advice we can get will make it a better end product.”
Benson said he will talk with the Lawrence Group to see if South Main Street can be worked into the review process.
About the land use plan
In 2003, the Waynesville town board passed a groundbreaking land-use plan that elevated the town to a state example of smart growth principles. The plan calls for landscaped parking lots, sidewalks, street trees and more attractive buildings, with the aim of making Waynesville a more walkable community. Critics of the plan have called the guidelines too onerous and say they deter commercial growth. The town is about to start a review of the plan to make sure it has been effective.