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LIGHTNING EDITORIAL: Charting a path for the city's growth

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City Manager John Connet delivered what amounted to a “State of the City” address before the Planning Board on Monday.

No, the usually cautious Connet did not ascend to a ceremonial platform to make lofty pronunciations about our fair berg. Instead, it was Connet as chief administrator challenging his city to recognize its weaknesses, accommodate responsible development and dare to take the next steps toward smart growth.
Among the items the city manager covered in a meeting with the Hendersonville Planning Board last week were affordable housing, a broad update of the city zoning code, redevelopment of Seventh Avenue and relinquishing city control in the extraterritorial zoning jurisdiction.
It was an ambitious agenda from a city manager who in his 3½-year tenure here has directed a restructuring of the city’s regulatory apparatus and instituted the “customer friendly” delivery of city services across the board.
Much of what Connet has achieved has been at the behest of the City Council, which became markedly more business-oriented with the 2013 election. Connet has been a good and faithful steward of orders from on high and some of what he told the Planning Board this week was a logical continuation of the trend. But hearing his remarks the obvious takeaway was that Connet recognizes both the urgency of our problems and the potential for more aggressive growth strategies. That’s what leaders do.
The council-manager form of government gives a city manager broad authority to hatch ideas, turn them into fact-based proposals, present them publicly then let the council decide. The best local government managers have a knack for leading their elected bosses to change then stepping back and letting those council members take credit when the idea succeeds.
Connet framed a handful of items that ought to be on the city’s agenda as we cruise toward 2020.
When a two-income household of a police officer and schoolteacher can’t afford to buy a home in the city they serve, that’s a problem the city could tackle. When a developer is whipsawed between confusing and sometimes contradictory rules of the zoning code, special-use permit or subdivision ordinance, that might be fertile ground for a review and cleanup. When the Historic Seventh Avenue District, a neglected stepsister to our thriving downtown, perches on the precipice of revival, the city might just have a role in greasing the wheels for private-sector involvement. Now that Henderson County has an adequate comp plan — and experience enforcing it — the need for the city’s guiding hand beyond its boundaries may be diminished.
All of these ideas, Connet emphasizes, are in the bud stages — and would require professional guidance, public discussion and council’s leadership if they were to develop and bloom. Given its crucial role as the provider of growth-driving water and sewer lines, the City Council in our view ought to think long and hard about surrendering its zoning authority in a one-mile perimeter outside its borders.
“It may be a nonstarter with City Council,” Connet acknowledges.
Another idea, making Seventh Avenue an Urban Redevelopment Area, might be the catalyst we’ve needed to resurrect the historic urban street with new shops, jobs and affordable housing.
Fortunately, there’s time to vet concepts, involve the public and develop consensus.
To his credit, Connet has put a potentially transformative agenda on the table. The Planning Board and the City Council and the people they serve should be enthusiastic about the opportunity to make Hendersonville an even better place to live as we approach what could be the new Roaring Twenties.