Waynesville appoints new planning board members
After reviewing applications and conducting a thorough interview process, the Town of Waynesville’s Board of Aldermen have settled on four new members of the planning board.
“I am always amazed but never surprised by the level of interest of people in devoting their time and energy to making Waynesville a better place,” said Alderman Jon Feichter, a former planning board member. “The only thing that causes me some angst is that there were some really good people that got caught up in a numbers game.”
Back in June, the terms of three members of the planning board expired — Michael Blackburn, Don McGowan and Marty Prevost. Greg Wheeler resigned, leaving four vacancies.
The planning board has recently become a crucial player in town affairs, attempting to balance increasing development pressures with the desire of some residents who, despite an affordable housing crisis, don’t want anything to change.
The board has also struggled to maintain order at some meetings as emotions over development and other issues have spilled over into the section of meetings reserved for public comments.
Aldermen tag-teamed all nine applicants with formal interviews, an idea brought forth by Alderman Chuck Dickson.
“I feel extremely grateful for Chuck for coming up with the plans for interviewing individuals,” said Alderman Anthony Sutton, a former planning board member himself. “It was very helpful because sometimes looking at people's resumes on paper and actually just talking to them face-to-face you can get a sense of their commitment and their qualifications, and I'm very happy with the results.”
Feichter also credited the interview process with producing a slate of new members with “a diversity of viewpoints.”
“First of all, I really think that the process that we undertook to interview the candidates, even though we couldn't each interview all of them, gave us a much better perspective of the individuals than we could maybe have gotten by reading their resumes,” he said.
Blackburn and McGowan reapplied for their seats, but only Blackburn was reappointed.
Blackburn said in his application that he has hired many people in town over the years and understands the town’s housing situation. He’s worked at the First United Methodist Church in Waynesville since 2005 and is a 1990 graduate of Tuscola High School.
McGowan wasn’t reappointed despite helping to found the Smoky Mountain Housing Partnership as wel, as the Southwest North Carolina HOME Consortium and also serving as the director of the Canopy Foundation. McGowan also has decades of experience in banking and affordable housing financing solutions.
“He has other positions in the community, which I think he works with housing, and I think that will be able to afford more time to do better things for those organizations,” said Sutton. In addition to McGowan, applicants Ronnie Call, Matthew Johnson, Joshua Morgan, Travis Smith and Kara Sither were not selected, resulting in the appointments of John Baus, Jan Grossman and Peggy Hannah.
Baus is a former judge, prosecutor and civil trial attorney who said in his application that he wants “what is best for the residents and businesses of Waynesville.” He also said he had experience in real estate and commercial development, and is a current member of the zoning board.
Grossman’s application said that he wants to ensure that “Waynesville grows responsibly with the interest of residents in mind.” Grossman lives on South Main Street, has been active in the hiking and bicycling communities, served on the Haywood Greenway Commission and has been a polymer scientist for four decades.
Grossman, however, refused to elaborate on his credentials when contacted by The Smoky Mountain News, saying he wanted to be sworn in first.
Hannah, who retired as a production worker from Haywood Vocational Opportunities, said she wants to “be part of my community and learn how to be part of the solution.” She served as the vice president of Mountaineer Little League and Softball for seven years.
“I think everyone can bring something to the table, and I think more people need to be involved in county and city government,” Hannah told The Smoky Mountain News on Aug. 1. “You can’t be complaining unless you’re willing to come to the table and learn.”
Sutton, along with Alderman Julia Freeman, interviewed Hannah. Sutton said she didn’t present any actual experience in land development, zoning or real estate matters.
“She did not mention anything about experience with that, but she has been very active in the community and has her fingers on the pulse of certain areas and certain demographics of the community,” Sutton said.
Sutton also acknowledged that Hannah, a frequent speaker during the town’s public comment sessions, has presented inaccurate information to aldermen.
“I know that she's very passionate about what she speaks of and sometimes information that she's gotten has not been incorrect, but she's very open to any corrections and is willing to make changes to her thought processes based on new information,” he said.