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Wednesday, 24 April 2013 00:19

Maggie aldermen bow out of business approval process

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The Maggie Valley town board will soon divest itself from the role of both judge and jury for new businesses moving into the town’s commercial district.

 

The town board assumed the role three years ago of OK’ing — or vetoing — every new business that wants to come to town, not to mention any minor change to existing ones, from fences to parking lots to new patios. But it’s too much, aldermen feel.

“I would get a little frustrated. We would have to have these special called meetings,” said Maggie Valley Alderman Mike Matthews. “There is no reason for us to deal with it.”

The town board also signs off on any new business coming to town, even if they simply plan to move into a existing building as is. In one egregious instance, a hotel shut down in the valley, and someone came along and wanted to reopen it. But they were delayed.

“We had to have meeting to figure out if they could put a hotel where another hotel was,” Matthews said.

It’s cumbersome for business people as well. The town board is actually the third stop in their approval chain. They must first run it past the town planning board and next the zoning board of adjustment.

Then comes a public hearing before the town board of aldermen finally votes on it. Once all is said and done, the process takes two months at best, for even the most innocuous business, and delays development.

People have to “go through three different hearings with three different boards before they can get anything done,” said Mike Seifert, a Maggie planning board member and owner of the Alamo Motel. “Time is of the essence. They can’t sit around for two and half months.”

Under the town’s commercial rules, Maggie Valley’s Board of Aldermen needs to rubberstamp every minute change by existing businesses, such as adding a few spaces to a parking lot.

If an entrepreneur has financing lined up, a crew to make renovations and a summer deadline, the three or more step process for approval is unnecessarily time-consuming. That could very likely change in the near future, however, as the board of aldermen is in favor of delegating more decisions to the town planner.

“We are trying to streamline the process,” said Maggie Valley Mayor Ron DeSimone. “The whole board kind of collectively wanted that.”

If approved, people planning to open businesses in Maggie Valley would just need an appearance certificate from Town Planner Nathan Clark to proceed. As long as the business meets the town’s design standards and permitted uses, Clark would award the owner the certificate — a process more in line with most other municipalities.

If a business owner is for some reason denied an appearance certificate, they can appeal to the town’s zoning board. But if the zoning board agrees with Clark, there is no other recourse.

“The buck stops there,” Clark said.

However, with some forethought and planning, business owners shouldn’t have much trouble meeting the town’s design guidelines, he said.

“These standards are for the most part very easily met — it just takes some pre-thought,” Clark said.

In addition to lightening the load for aldermen and speeding up potential development, the town’s design standards will become more black and white. Rather than using language such as “recommended” or “encouraged,” guidelines will be mandatory — including what building materials may be used and what paint colors are appropriate.

“This is less flexible,” Clark said.

Buildings in Maggie Valley incorporate a hodgepodge of looks and feels, so the design standards were changed three years ago to move the valley toward a single image — something it doesn’t have. The guidelines focus on a mountain theme and encourage business owners to incorporate earth tones and materials, such as native stone, wood siding and brick, on their buildings.

Terms like acceptable and encouraged leave wiggle room that could cause problems in the future, particularly if one town employee is responsible for giving projects a thumbs up or down.

“People could read our rules, and what does encouraged mean? It is either acceptable or unacceptable,” said Billy Case, a member of the planning board. “It was open to anybody’s given interpretation.”

But such terms can also restrict business owners. Overly strict standards could prevent some businesses from moving to town.

“You are balancing on a fine line here of property rights and the overall of the appearance of the town,” DeSimone said. “You need to make sure you aren’t shooting yourself in the foot.”

Seifert said the more stringent standards are more for the town planner’s benefit than a means to hinder someone from doing what they want with their business.

“It was done that way so that Nathan (Clark), or whoever is town planner, doesn’t have to sit there and argue every single point with somebody,” Seifert said. “It is just to simplify it.”

 

Learn more

The Maggie Valley Board of Aldermen will hold a public hearing at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 30, at the Maggie Valley Town Hall to talk about the proposed changes to the conditional use permit process and the town’s design standards.

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