Montreat Steering Committee holds first meeting to update town comprehensive plan

Ezra Maille
Black Mountain News
The Montreat Steering Committee met at Montreat Town Hall on Jan. 26 to begin the process of updating the town's comprehensive plan.

MONTREAT - The town Steering Committee met Jan. 26 for the first in a series of meetings to begin the process of updating the town's comprehensive plan. 

The committee, made up of nine members, includes Mayor Tim Helms and Mountain Retreat Association President Richard DuBose. The comprehensive plan was adopted in April 2008. 

"The last two or three years we've not been able to do much of anything with the comprehensive plan simply because of COVID," said Helms, chair of the Steering Committee. 

Recent debate has surrounded the town's comprehensive plan after the Board of Adjustment hearing that allowed the Mountain Retreat Association to obtain a special use permit to build a new lodge. It was revealed during the hearings by members of the Board of Adjustment that the comprehensive plan, adopted 14 years ago, was intended to be updated within five to 10 years. 

Ultimately, the new plan would be a combination of revisions to the current comprehensive plan with the inclusion of new and updated ideas. 

Helms said the town intended to update the comprehensive plan sooner but due to various funding issues, budgeting was shifted elsewhere. He said the plan update was finally included in the 2022 budget. 

"The financial burden is on Montreat," Helms said. "It's always a problem in Montreat of where we're going to find enough money to take care of everything that we need to do."

Due to COVID-19, severe storms and necessities such as sanitation and maintenance, Montreat hasn't had the revenue to address other projects like the plan update unless they are specifically budgeted for, according to Helms. 

The town outsourced help from MS Consultants for the plan update. Three representatives attended the January meeting, eliciting goals for the new plan from the committee and presenting branding concepts and a rough timeline for completion. 

Shannon Fergus, the director of urban planning for MS Consultants, outlined the process of updating the plan for the committee. She said community engagement, goals for the plan from committee members and a discussion of funding responsibilities contribute to the firm's five-stage planning process for the update. 

The stages include preparation, strategic analysis, public engagement, idea generation and finalization. 

Each committee member weighed in on identifying goals and challenges for the update of the plan, covering topics such as traffic, maintaining the town's natural beauty and history, maintaining communication with the community throughout the process and producing enough revenue to complete town projects. 

"Really, we are a unique community," DuBose said. "We are in my view an interconnected, an interdependent community. It all works, but it's fragile."

The original timeline proposed by MS Consultants showed the new comprehensive plan would be finalized in December. However, Scott Adams, the zoning administrator for the town, pointed out the new plan would need to be ready by July 1 for the town to comply with state zoning laws. 

"Given the general flux of a lot of other things in society and whatnot, I would assume that would be perhaps flexible or changing," Adams said. 

Multiple committee members voiced concerns that getting a new plan finalized by the end of June would be a tall order. Fergus said her firm would work with Adams to finalize a new timeline. 

The Steering Committee plans to reconvene to discuss the plan update on March 3 at 10 a.m. in the Montreat Town Hall.