Downtown Master Plan Passes City Council “In Concept”


The Downtown Master Plan passed City Council “in concept” tonight on a 5-2 vote with Mumpower and Russell in the minority.  “In Concept” essentially means that the broad strategic goals were approved and that the detailed implementation process will come piece by piece before Council.

Council reached the agenda item earlier than folks expected judging by the number of public commenters who came in during the public hearing.  DTMP Project Manager, Sasha Vrtunski, spoke in favor of the plan, and she was followed by the current chair of the Downtown Commission.  Public comment opened with Albert Sneed, who advocated for shadows downtown and expressed a sense that the plan was repressive.

I spoke next, and my comments are at the end of this post.

Jenny Bowen, newly appointed to sit on the Public Art Board, spoke passionately about the need for a Citizens’ Appeal Process regarding development protocol.  She was echoed by Steve Rasmussen.

Leslee Kulba then rose to agree with Albert Sneed, saying that developers don’t owe the community anything.

Pat Whalen, former Chair of the Downtown Commission spoke in favor of the plan.

Lou Bissette complained that the plan amounted to overregulation and would have unintended consequences.

Peter Alvarez argued that the plan is clear and fair.

Kitty Love expounded on the fact that the Cultural Arts segment of the plan requires no new taxes.

Chris Lyman of MacGuire, Wood, and Bisette Law Firm complained that the plan would limit future development on a M,W,B parcel to 15 stories.

Larry Holt said it was the most successful community effort he’s ever seen and that the plan provides a unique opportunity to revise the UDO.

Rebecca Hecht supported the plan, calling it an acceptable compromise between those who would build anything, anywhere and those who don’t support building anything, ever.

Ruth Summers supported the plan and asked for more parking.

Joe Minnicozzi said the plan was “common ground not compromise”.

Stephanie T. spoke in support.

Jeffrey Owen of MacGuire, Wood, and Bissette said the height restrictions were applied arbitrarily and that those in lower height zones would lose property value.

Councilman Miller said that it’s not a perfect plan and that there may be too many restriction for groups like MacGuire, Wood, and Bisette.  He said that it created vital predictability, that it was transparent, and that it would, in tourism terms, protect the “Brand of Asheville”.

Mayor Bellamy offered possible ways forward including breaking the plan into manageable chunks to come before Council or passing the entire plan in toto.

Councilman Davis agreed that breaking the plan into an “implementation matrix” would be helpful and that ironing out problems for MacGuire, Wood, and Bissette was necessary.

Councilwoman Cape supported the plan, accenting the idea that the community makes good decisions.  She felt that the form-based plan would bring forth better designs.

Councilman Newman laughingly advocated calling the plan the “Downtown Treaty”.  He said everyone was willing to ‘give’ a little.  He asked Judy Daniels about methods of passage and implementation.

Judy Daniels replied that city staff can work immediately on UDO changes and that staff can bring UDO changes to Council in pieces.

Councilman Newman said that the plan gives clarity regarding “the rules of the road” for developing downtown.

Councilman Mumpower said that he loves his wife and that his wife loves American Idol.  Mumpower likes Simon Cowell.  He then said that the plan is an “ill-advised expensive indulgence”, that it costs too much, and that the city has been very successful resolving development issues.  He said that the plan would make affordable housing more difficult to achieve.  He is against having appointed bodies approve developments because they lack accountability to voters.  He said the plan would “kill the creative goose that laid the Golden Egg”.

Councilwoman Cape responded by saying that as a musician she can attest to the fact that “creativity is enhanced by form” and that “freedom is not destroyed by form”.

Councilman Newman added that there is such a thing as overregulation, but this is not it.  He said it is a pro-growth plan that will increase investment in downtown.

Councilwoman Cape moved to adopt the plan.

Councilman Miller moved to adopt the plan “in concept”.  She was seconded.

Council voted 5-2 to pass the DTMP “in concept”.

My remarks to Council:

“Good evening,

My name is Gordon Smith.

I echo the applause given to the DTMP process.  Thanks to everyone who helped to craft it. This kind of inclusive decision-making creates an integrity that resonates with all of us.  The plan itself is comprehensive and has a lot of exciting elements, but only having three minutes, I’ll focus on a couple of important points.

This plan marks a turning point for Asheville.  It acknowledges that our growth requires a new way forward.  The current system for approving new developments is fraught with uncertainty and unpredictability for citizens and developers.  This plan offers an alternative to business as usual, but the devil will be in the implementation details.

My own view is that new development downtown must be created with green and affordable priorities in mind.  Unless we address our affordable housing crisis head on, then it will not lessen.  Unless we address our energy future with a sober eye towards results, then we will later be stuck building more dirty power plants as the world moves on without us.  Our emerging green industries will develop much more rapidly if the city prioritizes this sector.  Recruiting tech industry will be more likely if workforce housing is readily available downtown.  Our environmental and community aspirations will be reached only if we put a brave foot forward and begin the work of achieving them.  Every new downtown development ought to include substantive green and/or affordable elements.  Otherwise, we’re turning our backs on the needs of our citizens.

Meeting our own needs and following our own vision, the people of Asheville have garnered world-class attention. This has been the key to our success, and it’s part of what makes us unique.  We need not tailor our future to the needs of tourists but to the needs of the citizens of Asheville.

Utilizing form-based codes with an emphasis on affordable housing and sustainable development offers health, vision, and predictability to our citizens and our development community.  If we are able to enshrine affordability and sustainability in the building codes, then we can be confident that Asheville will thrive.  Easy to understand form-based codes coupled with a citizens’ appeal process will make development much more accessible and predictable.

On the whole, I find the DTMP to be a thoughtful consensus on the future of downtown.  There is some tweaking to be done, especially insofar as the composition and accountability of a Downtown Authority, but if the building codes are revised to promote affordable housing and sustainable development, then this plan can serve our city well for decades to come.

Thanks to everyone who participated.”


  1. Gordon Smith says:

    Asheville Citizen Times story here.

    Money quote: “The master plan doesn’t carry the weight of law.”

    The real impact will come as staff prepares new ordinances. That’s where the bacon is.

  2. Doug Gibson says:

    What did Mumpower and Russell say their objections were? And was there any criticism coming from the left at the meeting?