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Slow to start, Waynesville moves on land use plan review

The town of Waynesville has done little to jumpstart a promised review of its land use plan, and critics say the lack of movement is causing the town to lose prospective businesses that don’t want to abide by the plan’s strict regulations.

The idea to revisit the five-year-old plan was suggested by town aldermen in March in response to mounting complaints by developers. A steering committee was appointed by the town board in May. By June, Town Planner Paul Benson was supposed to select a consulting firm to assist the process.

But six months later, Benson has yet to choose a consulting firm.

All told, the entire review process was supposed to take just six months, according to Benson’s marching orders from the town board.

“As originally planned, it was six months for the whole process,” Benson said. “But we’ve had a lot going on, and haven’t been able to focus all the time on it we wanted because we have a couple other big projects.”

Steering committee member Joe Taylor says the town needs to make a review of the land use plan a priority, regardless of what other projects are on line.

“I’ve asked that they go ahead and do something, and evidently it’s not much of a priority for the town,” said Taylor, owner of Taylor Ford Automotive and chairman of the board of Old Town Bank. “Some of us have gone to Paul Benson and asked to speed it up.”

Benson said a slowdown in development caused by the economic downturn made the review process less pressing, a partial reason the town put the project on the back burner.

“We’ve had no major development proposals in the last several months,” he said.

However, a slowdown in development could also present the perfect time to review the land use plan since there aren’t any developers pressuring the town for quick decisions, Benson conceded.

Varied concerns

The town is currently negotiating with one of the five consulting firms that applied to work on the land use plan review.

“We’re hopeful to have a firm picked this month and start the process after the holidays with a consultant coming in and reviewing the ordinance,” said Benson.

An appointed committee of eight members is already on board to help with the project. Members will help guide the process and have varying areas of focus.

Steve Kaufman, president of Reece, Noland and McElrath engineering firm and a downtown resident, is interested in protecting Waynesville’s historic neighborhoods.

“I’m a little concerned that we’re losing some of the neat old historic residential areas right downtown, since a lot of residential is going commercial,” Kaufman said. For committee member and appraiser Mike Erwin, it’s all about striking a balance.

“There has to be a balance between regulation and affordability,” he said.

Russ Avenue, the town’s main corridor, was once the main focus of the land use plan, but now, it’s likely the newly developed South Main Street area near the Super Wal-Mart will take center stage.

Give and take

The town has already veered from the land use plan by making some concessions to developers, including allowing three new stores in Waynesville Commons — Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Best Buy — to place parking in front of the stores. But there’s been a lot of give and take, and the town hasn’t had a problem denying projects that don’t meet the spirit of the land use plan, including a proposed gas station that Ingles wanted to build.

“It’s been sort of a struggle to reconcile what developers want to do with what the vision for the land use plan was,” said Benson. “We don’t want to shut down development, but we don’t want to throw in the towel on the ordinance either.”

Though some have criticized the town making concessions to developers, Benson said doing so is necessary to promote continued growth of Waynesville.

“We’d still be looking at Dayco if we stuck with the ordinance as originally written,” Benson said. The site of the old Dayco rubber factory sat empty for several years before developers chose it as the location for the new Super Wal-Mart.

Even if the land use plan isn’t perfectly followed, Benson said just having it in place encourages smarter development.

“We’re not getting everything the ordinance envisioned, but we’re seeing better development than we would otherwise,” he said.

What is the Waynesville land use plan?

Waynesville’s land use plan is based on smart growth principles. It requires commercial developers to build sidewalks, plant trees along the street and in their parking lots, and adhere to architectural standards. Signs are kept short and parking lots are kept small, or at least not oversized. Parking is placed to the side or rear so that building facades and not parking lots define the streetscape.

Members of the land use plan review committee

Each town board member appointed one person to the land use plan review committee. Those five are: Steve Kaufman, David Blevins, Patrick Bradshaw, Joe Taylor and Ken Wilson. Three other members will serve due to their role on existing town committees or boards: Planning Board Chairman Rex Feichter, Board of Adjustment Chairman Mike Erwin, and Community Appearance Commission Chairman Daniel Hyatt.

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