Unanimous votes for routine Beacon appointments, except one

When the Beacon Planning Board holds its next meeting on Tuesday (Jan. 10), it will do so with John Gunn again at the helm. Gunn was reappointed to the board by the City Council last month and tapped by Mayor Lee Kyriacou to serve as chair, a position he has held since 2017.

The council also reappointed Kevin Byrne and added David Jensen to the Planning Board. Jensen had been the chair of the Zoning Board of Appeals; he will move to the Planning Board to succeed J.C. Calderon, who resigned in the fall.

Jordan Haug, who had been the ZBA’s deputy chair, was appointed by Kyriacou to lead that board. Stowe Boyd, one of the co-chairs of the city’s Main Street Access Committee, was also added to the Zoning Board.

All of the votes were unanimous except for Gunn.

“I’ve heard from a lot of different people very upset at interactions that they’ve had with the Planning Board,” said Council Member Justice McCray, who abstained. “I want to make sure the people that are coming feel like they’re heard.”

Council Member Dan Aymar-Blair was the lone vote against Gunn. Aymar-Blair said he was unhappy with how the Planning Board has interacted with members of the public, particularly neighbors protesting a plan to subdivide a 1-acre lot on Highland Place and build four new homes on the tract.

During those meetings, Highland Place neighbors presented a petition with more than 200 signatures asking the Planning Board to reject the developer’s plans, which would double the number of houses on the street. While pleading with the developer to listen to the feedback, Gunn also pushed back, saying the board would enforce the zoning code but could not deny a project because it’s unpopular.

In October, City Attorney Nick Ward-Willis spoke to the council about the Planning Board’s charge, noting that its members are “allowed to use lay person opinions, but when it comes down to certain areas of expertise, courts have established that a board member can’t rely on general opposition from the community” for approving or rejecting a project.

“Any time that there’s a controversial project, people will come out and want a specific answer,” Kyriacou said during the City Council’s Dec. 12 workshop.

George Mansfield, who served on the Planning Board before his election to the council, said he endorsed Gunn, an architect who worked for the Gensler agency in New York City for 16 years. Gunn is now with NBBJ, an international design firm.

“The Planning Board takes a great amount of effort and we are lucky to have this kind of institutional knowledge on there,” Mansfield said.

Gunn said this week that he is “grateful for the opportunity to have served on the board through the many phases of Beacon’s transformation.”

The Planning Board will continue its review next week of a proposal to expand The Lofts at Beacon apartment complex. It will also continue a public hearing for 12 Highland Place.

As for the board’s interaction with the public, that should be handled with “some grace and as much kindness as possible,” McCray said during the December workshop.

Behind The Story

Type: News

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Simms has covered Beacon for The Current since 2015. He studied journalism at Appalachian State University and has reported for newspapers in North Carolina and Maryland. Location: Beacon. Languages: English. Area of expertise: Beacon politics

One reply on “Two Council Members Unhappy with Planning Chair”

  1. John Gunn, the chair of the Beacon Planning Board, is not wrong, nor is the city attorney. I understand that people are upset, but we should have changed the zoning code. If this project meets code, the board cannot say no without facing legal challenges that the city would likely lose. The City Council should look at revising the code rather than going after those who have to abide by it.

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