Skip to main content

Local Planning Garners National Attention: Buncombe County Comp Plan Wins American Planning Association Award

staff from Planning holds an award

Promoting growth while protecting the environment and preserving small-town characteristics might seem like competing interests, but the Buncombe County Planning Department proved that a skilled touch can combine all of those goals together. Earlier this year, the American Planning Association’s (APA) Small Towns and Rural Division awarded the 2043 Comprehensive Plan the prestigious Vernon Dienes Special Project Plan Award. The APA states that this honor is presented to, “An outstanding comprehensive plan that addressed the development of a neighborhood, community, county, or region,” and the County took home the highest possible award in the large jurisdiction category.

A major component of the 2043 Comprehensive Plan centered around intentional community involvement, with the help of the County’s Communications and Public Engagement Team. “Throughout the extensive public engagement process, staff heard one of the primary desires of Buncombe residents is to protect the beauty of the place where they live, especially the mountains and environmentally sensitive areas. This sentiment was not just from those who live in the County’s more rural areas, but from the community as a whole,” explains County Planner Haylee Madfis.

With Buncombe County experiencing significant growth and limited space from steep mountains, flood areas, and other environmental features, it’s no easy task to find common ground and create a long-range plan that strikes a balance between the community’s needs. “We are a rapidly growing area in a fast-growing state. And while there certainly are urban and suburban areas of the County, it is important to recognize that much of the County is still considered rural,” notes Haylee.

“The County contains small farms, farming communities, a rugged mountain landscape made up by the Blue Ridge Mountains and protected federal land. Folks from across the country come here for the bucolic landscapes, easy access to nature, and rich agricultural heritage. These are also reasons why so many long-term residents have continued to call Buncombe home.”

So how do you weave conservation and development into the same tapestry? The County’s Planning team spent significant time developing a Growth, Equity, and Conservation (GEC) Framework, using the County’s Equity Analysis Tool for decision-making, and identifying areas for future Small Area planning. Data from the GEC frameworks helps guide the process of identifying both growth and conservation areas based on distance to infrastructure and areas that are environmentally sensitive or agriculturally important.

“This stratification aims to conserve vibrant rural communities, particularly in the areas designated as Conservation Working Lands, Rural Community, and Rural Center. The GEC framework tools highlight equity opportunity areas in the County, many of which are in rural communities. The data is also used as part of the equity analysis for legislative decisions in the County and helps ensure that proposed map and text amendment changes align with the plan’s vision of equity,” says Haylee. Additionally, the Comprehensive Plan prioritizes Small Area Planning for Rural Centers to explore opportunities for place-based economic development that creates rural-scale businesses and supports land uses that fit within the context of the rural community. 

In short, all that work reflects the effort of a deep dive into countywide public engagement and a sophisticated understanding of proven techniques and leading practices in the planning industry. “This award is the result of all the hard work that staff, particularly the Long-Range Planning Division along with the Community Engagement team, put into the Comprehensive Plan. Staff went out to Sandy Mush, Leicester, Barnardsville, Fairview, Enka-Candler, and Swannanoa to ensure that rural communities had a chance to participate,” says Haylee. “We are very proud to be recognized for the hard work that went into the 2043 Comprehensive Plan.” And Buncombe County is excited and honored to recognize our Planning Department’s hard work over this years-long process. You are very deserving of this national award, and we thank you for your dedication to making our community an amazing place to live, work, visit, and play.

Please congratulate the Long Range Planning staff; Clarion Associates and the local subcontractors; CAPE and all the other County staff that worked on the 2043 Comprehensive Plan.



Filter News:

Translate Options

Article Information

Updated May 30, 2024 02:28 PM
Published May 24, 2024 12:00 PM

Previous Article: Buncombe County Board of Elections Certifies Results of Republican Second Primary Election
Next Article: Answer the Call: Community Health Assessment Shapes the Future of Public Health