By Benjamin Cohn
Weaverville – During a specially called meeting of Weaverville’s Planning and Zoning Board this month, the board met to discuss any comments, concerns and questions about the proposed Comprehensive Land Use Plan and there were plenty of questions.
Catherine Cordell oversaw the meeting as acting chair of the board of the town’s planning and zoning committee. Other board members present that night were Steve Warren, Doug Theroux, John Chase, Peter Stanz and Thomas Balestrieri. Planning Director James Eller explained to the board his and Town Attorney Jennifer Jackson’s plan for the evening.
“Some combination of [what] Jennifer and I envisioned [for this meeting] … is largely an open conversation between ourselves and this board regarding the document you received [Comprehensive Land Use Plan]. When I met with Ms. Cordell last week, she suggested … a round-robin style [discussion], three questions each.”
Cordell selected Balestrieri as the first board member to speak.
“Regarding the new recreation center,” Balestrieri began, “which is addressed in the document, is the town looking to have someone who will then be hired as a director with some kind of a recreation background?”
Eller replied by deferring the question to Town Manager Selena Coffey.
According to Coffey, the concept of hiring a director for the new community center “has been discussed. I will say that we don’t know [if] we will look at a director-type position. We’re looking at it [possibly happening] at least a couple years out.
“As you know, the plan is for the museum to … be located… within the community center. I do foresee, at some point in time, at least two fiscal years [from now], we’ll discuss having someone who will coordinate use of the [center].”
Next to speak was Chase, who declined politely and passed his turn to Stanz, who voiced the most specific concerns about the new land use bill of anyone that night.
Stanz told the board that his “concern is about the goals [laid out in the land use plan]. There’s a pretty well-accepted way of dealing with goals. It’s called SMART. It’s an acronym for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.”
He referenced the famous goal issued by JFK in 1961 that America would, by the close of the decade, land a person on the moon and return them to Earth safely. Stanz said that JFK’s goal met all of the criteria for a SMART goal and that having weak goals would make it difficult to maintain accountability.
Eller and Jackson each responded to Stanz’s comments.
Said Eller, “My response to that would be that this is an advisory document. Our friends on the governing board [town council] certainly would have the capacity to consider x, y and z or not consider x, y and z. I don’t think there’s any way for us to write this thing to get around that fact.”
Jackson also addressed Stanz’s concerns. “As far as the accountability piece [of Stanz’s concerns], our staff is very aware that sometimes we put a plan in place and spend a lot of time doing it, sometimes a lot of money doing it, and we [end up] putting it on a shelf somewhere,” she said.
“This, I don’t believe, is that plan. You’ve got several things in here that require annual reviews, including accomplishment of goals, so that we can begin trying to hold ourselves accountable on some of those issues.”
Stanz responded, saying, “I’ll respectfully disagree with that because I just don’t feel we have any [SMART] goals. If they don’t fit that [acronym] or some other criteria for actionable, time-bound, they’re kinda squishy.”
Cordell spoke up, saying she agreed with Eller’s earlier comments. “We can’t dictate to town council what they’re going to do. I was looking at it from the point of view of, ‘they [council] would consider it and then prioritize it, then turn around and assign it back to us anyway.’
“If there’s 20 things to consider, they may consider the top five or the top three to hand back down to us,” Cordell said.
Jackson again attempted to clarify the goal of the updated land use plan. “This document, this is trying to lay out some priorities and land use goals,” she said. “If you feel like there should be a stated goal in there – I don’t know how that would be worded – but related to the environmental impact kind of goal, we could think about that.
“I think that this is the big plan, where the goals are filtered down and you’re evaluating these specific things, whether it be a zoning text amendment, whether it be a conditional zoning district … you’re going to evaluate based on what town council has said their priorities are, as reflected in this document,” she said.
Theroux told the board that he didn’t find anything that he “totally disagreed with,” but that he “had some things…[he]…had some concerns [about].” I don’t know how technical you want to get on some things.
“When I was reading this, I got to ‘protection of downtown area.’ I’m a little bit concerned with the word ‘protection,’ because this is a document that’s put out by a governing body. I think it could be softened some. ‘Protection,’ I could just hear somebody saying, ‘[If] you’re protecting them, you [also] need to be protecting us.’ I think that could create some real problems.”