Town Looking for Input on a "Town Center" - TribPapers

Town Looking for Input on a “Town Center”

Woodfin Town Hall. Photo by Clint Parker.

Woodfin – When you look up “town center” in the Merriam-Webster Online dictionary, you find that the word pair is not in their dictionary. However, if you look up the word pair “town centre,” you’ll find it’s a British term meaning “the main or central part of a town.” Most would equate the “town centre” with the downtown area.

Everyone knows where downtown Weaverville is. Same for downtown Asheville. Downtowns give a town its character. Some downtowns are historical and give people a sense of a past era, like Weaverville or Hendersonville. Other downtowns are reborn. They died and were brought back to life like Asheville’s.
But where is downtown, or the “town center” for Woodfin?

Woodfin Town Hall is located on Elk Mountain Road along with the elementary school, which is right beside the town hall. Most retail businesses are located on or just off Weaverville Highway and in Reynolds Village. Woodfin doesn’t really have a downtown or “town center” to speak of, and that might be causing an identity crisis as they are asking for help in answering the question, “should Woodfin have a town center.”

Woodfin hopes that the residents of the town will help answer that question at an upcoming, specially called public meeting. On Tuesday, June 7th, the Woodfin Town Clerk sent out a notice announcing a “special meeting of the Board of Commissioners will be held on Tuesday, June 28th at 5 p.m.” The notice is encouraging the public “…to attend and participate. Commissioners will listen, take notes, and ask questions, but no decisions or town business shall be conducted.” The meeting will be held at the Woodfin Community Center at 23 Community Road.

According to the release, the “purpose” of the meeting is “to get feedback from the community on various town priorities, including should Woodfin have a “town center” and if so, where should it be and what should it contain?”

In the article, “What Makes A Town Center A Town Center” by Kennedy Lawson Smith, Smith writes, “One of the forces that creates value is scarcity, or uniqueness. A baseball autographed by Babe Ruth is worth more than an unsigned baseball. A postage stamp with a misprint is more valuable than one printed correctly. And, unlike more predictable town centers, town centers with unique characteristics — historic buildings, mom-and-pop businesses, unusual traditions — are more valued by residents (and visitors).When it comes to downtowns, serendipity and individuality can translate into a strong sense of community.

“Scores of communities are building new town centers these days, from automobile suburbs that have never had them before, to new communities that want them as part of the whole new community plan. Many of these new town centers are handsome places, with inviting public spaces and an appealing mix of uses. And they typically have lots of well-planned details, like arcades that keep shoppers safe from the rain en route from the parking deck to the main street, and trash collection areas tidily fenced off and tucked away behind the storefronts.

“While they are far better than the alternative of strip shopping centers, regional malls, and lifestyle centers … many of these new town centers nonetheless lack a certain … something. The stores may look suspiciously like the ones at the shopping mall. The buildings may appear too uniformly clean, with not a single poorly-scaled sign or protruding air conditioner window unit disrupting the streetscape. The odds are good that the town center’s stores maintain common hours, opening and closing in unison (anyone familiar with independently owned businesses knows that it’s just not normal for mom-and-pops to agree with each “other on things like store hours).

“I’m certainly not suggesting that conforming to design standards or having predictable store hours are bad things to do, writes Smith. “But the centralized management and all-at-once development of a new town center (or, for that matter, a lifestyle center or shopping mall) can have a stifling effect. A town center should not simply be a gussied-up shopping mall. Instead, it should be part of the community’s DNA, shaped over time by the people who live there as much as by the developer (or developers) who initially designed and built it. A town center will best succeed if it’s an active and animated place, with its own distinct personality.”

The other item to be discussed at the meeting is, “Are short-term rentals (STRs) like Airbnb’s an issue in Woodfin? If so, would you support changes to limit what parts of town they could operate in?”
The town has budgeted $140,000 to study the need for a new town hall and where it could be located. Residents are encouraged to bring their ideas and suggestions on these two topics, as well as any others relating to how the town should grow, to the meeting.

Editor’s note: See related commentary above.