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Wednesday, 17 April 2013 12:52

Lake Junaluska merger with Waynesville sails through Senate

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A state bill that would bring Lake Junaluska into Waynesville’s town limits has cleared the N.C. Senate and is now headed for passage in the N.C. House of Representatives.

The Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center and the 760-home residential community surrounding it would then be absorbed into Waynesville’s town limits by late summer.

 

With the cost of services and infrastructure rising precipitously, Lake Junaluska community leaders and the Methodist conference center asked to merge with the town following a nearly year-long comprehensive analysis of the community’s options. Waynesville agreed, but it had to be OK’d by the General Assembly.

It passed the N.C. Senate 44 to 0 on Monday.

But the bill first had to pass the Senate’s local government committee, where it faced minor opposition due to anti-annexation sentiments. Since not 100 percent of Lake Junaluska residents wanted their community to be absorbed by the town of Waynesville, it had the air of a forced annexation, which some legislators opposed on principle when the bill was initially discussed and voted on in committee.

“There were some ‘nays,’ but it was clear that the ‘ayes’ had it,” said Jack Ewing, CEO of Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center, recounting the committee hearing last week that he traveled to Raleigh to attend and speak at. “The limited resistance to the bill weren’t people opposed to Lake Junaluska and Waynesville coming together, it had more to do with political ideology.”

A couple of opponents to the bill from Lake Junaluska also went to Raleigh to speak at the committee hearing and portrayed the annexation as being hoisted on the community against its will. They expressed concern that a formal election was never held.

State lawmakers require a vote to be held among residents of the area slated for annexation. Lake Junaluska conducted a mail survey, and while two-thirds supported annexation, it wasn’t the same as an official ballot.

Ewing doesn’t technically consider the merger a “forced annexation,” however. Waynesville did not try to force a town limit expansion on the community.

“We sought them, this is good for everybody. It is beneficial for the residents, for the conference and retreat center and the town of Waynesville,” Ewing said.

Seeking safe harbor with the town means losing some semblance of autonomy but would spare the community from the prospect of financial insolvency. The town would pick up the cost of services, like police, trash and public works, plus water and sewer line repairs, in exchange for property taxes.

Ultimately, the bill had the support of Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin, however, and so most legislators took their cuefrom him as the hometown representative. In the House, Rep. Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville, will play a similar role.

The town would not assume ownership of any property, rather the Conference and Retreat Center would remain a private entity — just as a college campus located within a city might be.

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