It’s past time for land use review to get started

The acknowledgement by Waynesville’s leaders that they let a review of the town’s much-heralded land use plan languish and now intend to jumpstart the process is welcome news.

“It’s back on track,” said Mayor Gavin Brown of the review process.

It was last March when Town Planner Paul Benson was told to get the ball rolling on this important project. But since that time, next to no progress has been made, other than establishing a committee and beginning to look at a possible consulting firms.

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

This update is important for several reasons, the primary two being the most obvious: one, things change; two, no one is perfect.

One of the big criticisms of the original land use plan was that it did not address big box developments like the Super Wal-Mart now open and going strong on the west end of Waynesville. Though there is a lull in development throughout the country right now, there is every reason to believe similar projects are in Waynesville’s future. The plan needs teeth to meet this challenge, so that every step of the way is not marked by requests for variances and special use requests that pit developers and the town against one another.

These big box developments have their opponents — we have fought against some aspects of them for years — and some people refuse to use them. But local government is not supposed to be a bully, whether it’s dealing with local businesses or outside interests. A good land use plan will take into account the needs of big developers and the overall good — and desires — of taxpayers. It’s difficult to imagine a plan that would address most these scenarios, but it is impossible.

This is the kind of kind of change that the plan needs to address. Waynesville and all of Western North Carolina will always — we hope — be a place dominated by smaller, family-owned businesses. But the chain stores will come as they see the opportunity to make money. Waynesville needs to be ready.

The second reason to review the plan is that the people who developed it five years ago — though they worked long and hard — surely made some mistakes or overlooked what have become important land use challenges. Some scenarios they imagined have likely turned out differently. Growth may be heading to where it wasn’t expected. Some requirements that seemed important then may now seem trivial, and others that weren’t even discussed now loom large.

The land use plan as adopted was described as a living document. Now’s the time to breathe some new life into it so that it will continue to meet the town’s needs.

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