Montreat Steering Committee talks town comprehensive plan over Mad Libs and stickers

Ezra Maille
Black Mountain News
Katie Sieb, a representative from MS Consultants, facilitates a discussion of goals for Montreat's updated comprehensive plan on March 21.

Using Mad Libs, stickers and post-it notes, the Montreat Steering Committee, in charge of updating the town comprehensive plan, discussed goals and interests of the community at a March 21 meeting.

The recent Board of Adjustment hearing approving a special use permit for the Mountain Retreat Association sparked discussion over the comprehensive plan's application. According to board members during the hearing, the plan, adopted 14 years ago, was intended to be updated within 5-10 years. 

The March 21 meeting continued discussion which began in January on updating the town's comprehensive plan, adopted in 2008. Though no final decisions were made, the committee gathered ideas for the update with help from MS Consultants. 

Committee members say they hope the new plan can be more concise and focus on issues important to Montreat residents. The town plans to offer a survey in May.

"It's been a long time and some of it is not relevant today," said Mayor Tim Helms in reference to the current plan. "There's a lot to be included that I don't think the old plan included."

A tentative date of Dec. 8 was proposed for a draft of the updated plan to be presented to the Town Council. The project will be presented in its initial stages to the Town Council on June 9. 

Chaired by Helms, the nine-member committee includes prominent figures in the community, such as Mountain Retreat Association President Richard DuBose and Paul Maurer, president of Montreat College. 

Three representatives from MS Consultants led the committee through exercises using posters and stickers to identify focal points for the update. Drew Draper, the project manager, introduced the team, made up of Shannon Fergus and Katie Sieb, in charge of public engagement and planning, who facilitated discussion.

Draper said the consultants also plan on utilizing the help of Jessica Trotman, the planning director for the Town of Black Mountain, in creating the updated plan.

For reference, Sieb suggested committee members review Black Mountain's comprehensive plan as she said it includes many of the topics discussed at the meeting.

Out of hundreds of plans Sieb has read, written and reviewed, she said Montreat's is by far the longest. 

Fergus and Sieb surveyed the committee on who all had read the comprehensive plan from 2008 in its entirety. Nearly every member raised their hands with the exception of Maurer. 

DuBose emphasized the need for an overview plan rather than something specific to the adopted time. Although fires may have been the largest safety concern in 2015, DuBose said now, residents worry about bears and hunters. 

"A document that helps people put into context what our real challenges are, what our real strengths are, might really help in a way we can all digest," DuBose said. 

Committee members say they worry about short-term rentals, expressing a need to regulate visitation to the town. Environmental issues also were marked as some of the most important during the activities led by the consultants. 

Though some committee members brought up traffic regulation, Helms said such regulations prove difficult when put into practice. 

"We're going to focus on topic-based recommendations," Sieb said, summarizing the goals of the committee. "An executive summary and an emphasis on prioritizing what's really important in the now but also in a more visionary way."

The activity posters from the meeting will continue to be displayed at Town Hall, allowing community members to drop by and offer input, in addition to the public survey set to be available in May. 

"We need to prioritize what the people want," Helms said.

Ezra Maille covers the town of Black Mountain, Montreat and the Swannanoa Valley. Reach him at 828-230-3324 or Please support local journalism with access to more breaking news by subscribing.