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Waynesville Planning Board meeting falls into disarray

This development, off Preservation Way, was approved by the Waynesville Planning Board on March 21. Town of Waynesville photo This development, off Preservation Way, was approved by the Waynesville Planning Board on March 21. Town of Waynesville photo

Update March 24, 2022: Near the end of a chaotic March 21 meeting of the Town of Waynesville’s planning board, a vote was taken to consider recommending the Allison Acres project to the Board of Aldermen. That vote was 4 to 3 in favor of approval.

However, as two members of the board were absent, Planning Board attorney Ron Sneed said that the motion had failed to pass due to the lack of a majority from all nine board members – even those absent. 

The next morning, Sneed clarified to developers that this was not the case, and that the motion to recommend the Allison Acres project to aldermen had indeed passed due to a majority of board members present voting in the affirmative.

Thanks to a recent change in state law and an utter lack of board control over meeting proceedings, the efficacy of the Waynesville planning board as an instrument of growth management is in serious doubt after what should have been two fairly routine development hearings devolved into a four-and-a-half hour circus.

The first item of business was a major site plan review for a two-building, 60-unit apartment complex on 7.1 acres off Preservation Way. 

Developers Quartz Properties LLC exceeded standards by proposing a unit density only half of what they could have, citing a desire to leave more than 3 acres of the wooded site undisturbed. The site plan also provided more parking spaces than required and will include two pavilions, a dog park and bicycle racks. 

Still, more than 50 people packed the standing-room only meeting, most of them to voice – into broken microphones, no less – opposition to the project by citing sewer capacity and local drainage issues, as well as purported depreciation of adjoining single-family homes. 

Most who spoke during the public comment session were given the customary three minutes. However, Vice Chair Ginger Hain, who was filling in for Chair Susan Teas Smith, allowed those who claimed to speak for groups of three or more to take 10 minutes. 

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While some speakers claimed to have signed forms indicating that they represented small groups of neighbors, others offered no such authorizations. A few speakers formed ad-hoc coalitions during the meeting and attempted to “yield” their time to other speakers in order to qualify for the 10-minute time slots. 

Many of the complaints about the development made during the public hearing were duplicative, and some speakers engaged in a protracted back-and-forth question-and-answer session with board members and other parties to the hearing. 

Others shouted questions or assertions from the audience without being recognized by the chair at the podium.

The project was approved after more than three hours of comment and debate, despite the possibility of a clouded title and some valid concerns by neighbors. The reason? It’s called 160D.

Revisions to chapter 160D of North Carolina’s General Statutes, passed by a pro-development General Assembly in 2019 but effective July 1, 2021, effectively strip local planning boards of much of their power by making some proceedings administrative in nature – in essence, if a proposal meets a broad set of guidelines, it must be approved. 

A recent project known as the Queen’s Farm development was approved in such a manner but ran into similar opposition from neighbors, including Hain herself. 

“I’m a citizen of the town of Waynesville. I live in the [extra-territorial jurisdiction]. You know who my neighbor is going to be? Two doors down, 84 units of rental property. Do you think I’m happy?” Hain said. “But you have to understand what this board’s role is, and that’s looking at the book.”

The “book” is actually a short checklist of compliance items – is the plan consistent with adopted plans and policies of the town? Does it comply with land development standards? Does the town have infrastructure required to support the development?

The second item of business, a 59-unit townhome development on 7.7 acres in the Allison Acres area, was also well below maximum density standards but was not approved by the board for a variety of reasons, including a request for smaller lot sizes that would minimize impervious surfaces.

The chaotic nature of the meeting, however, continued unabated by the board and its presiding officer. 

Jason Rogers, a former planning board member who lives nearby the Allison Acres project, spoke in opposition to the development, saying he wanted the lot size stipulation to be enforced as written. 

After speaking, Rogers remained in the back of the room and later shouted something at the board. When Planning Board Attorney Ron Sneed interjected, Rogers fired back. 

“I didn’t ask you, Ron,” he said. 

Although the meeting eventually wound down, there was still one more act left. During deliberations, a member of the crowd began shouting at the board, offering unsolicited advice about imposing a development moratorium – except it wasn’t just a member of the crowd, it was Mountaineer Reporter Becky Johnson. 

As Johnson interjected, Hain said, “Don’t do this, Becky!” However, Hain did not intervene when Johnson walked over to the clerk’s desk, wrote her name on a form used to record public speakers, and took to the podium.

Johnson was not recognized by the chair but proceeded to advise board members that they had the power to impose a moratorium on multifamily development. 

Johnson said it was her job as a member of the media to ask the board about a moratorium. 

Board member Tommy Thomas issued Johnson a stern rebuke, telling Johnson that she should rather inform the public about the effects of 160D, and that she should try reading it sometime. 

“I bet you don’t know anything about it,” Thomas said. 

Finally, Hain managed to regain control of the meeting, which ended shortly after 10 p.m.

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