Maggie Valley is in the midst of a makeover. The town is taking steps to spruce itself up, modernize and, just maybe, attract a few new visitors and investors.
Last month, the town’s aldermen voted unanimously to accept a set of aesthetic standards that proponents hope will change the face of the town, giving it a look dubbed ‘mountain vernacular’ that will nestle a little more naturally into its mountain home.
The standards will go into effect Jan. 16 for new buildings and property renovations. The changes have been over two years in the making.
Maggie Valley Planning Director Nathan Clark said the reaction in the community has been mostly positive. They were already moving towards the look the town finally decided on, anyway.
“A lot of the vision for this type of mountain vernacular style of design is kind of present all throughout the valley already,” Clark said. “A lot of people already have it in some way.”
While the town created committees to define what, exactly, entails “mountain vernacular,” it’s hard to craft a quick description that captures the look. It’s part rustic, part bungalow-esque, part down-home polish, and even the town’s own literature on the matter classes it as beyond definition.
“Mountain vernacular is not a style of architecture,” Clark told aldermen in a presentation at the meeting. “It cannot be defined in simple terms or achieved by following a certain set of strict design requirements. Mountain vernacular is as much of a process as it is an end product.”
He gave the Maggie Valley Police Department as a prime example of the style.
Clark maintains, though, that not having a set list of criteria to go by is actually a better way to approach design standards because it allows for consideration of every case on its own merits. He told the board that the idea was “ballparks, not bull’s-eyes.” They’ve got a design primer that will answer basic questions, but the larger questions will be settled by a review with the town’s planning department, a session with the newly-created appearance commission and a final look from the board of aldermen.
Overall, response to the new standards was positive. There was some vocal objection to such an intrusion by government into private-sector affairs, but Mayor Roger McElroy defended the measures as necessary for a town that desperately wants to see growth and renewal.
“If we’re going to have people come in here and spend substantial money building a place when they know that someone can come in and build something very inappropriate right next door, they’re not going to do it,” said McElroy.
And that’s what Maggie Valley has been searching for in earnest in its post-Ghost Town era: a way to get people interested and keep them that way.
The new aesthetic standards are only one front in Maggie’s battle against its own decay. Earlier this fall, the town and local business owners dropped thousands of daffodil and tulip bulbs into the frozen ground, hoping that when they spring up next spring, the waves of color undulating down Soco Road will entrance the droves of tourists that haven’t yet been snared by the town’s other charms.
Clayton Davis, long-time horticulture agent for Haywood County and 50-year valley resident, pitched the idea of year-round color to the aldermen a few months ago.
Here’s the idea: plant a variety of foolproof flowers that blossom in separate seasons throughout the town, the result being that, with a little money and a little effort, you get a town full of color all year long. And a built-in tourist attraction.
“The idea is to start in the spring with the daffodils blooming and the tulips to have a constant flow of color of either flowers or foliage,” explained Davis, who got the idea from a visit to Summerville, S.C., decades ago.
“Everybody planted azaleas, and in the month of April it was just gorgeous,” Davis said. “And i thought we could do something like that with color.”
The three- to five-year plan involves knockout roses, which bloom from early summer to the first frost, followed by nandina and holly to brighten up the winter months.
Davis said he’s been “pleasantly surprised” by the keen interest from business owners who are happy to bury anything in their yards that will bring flocks of tourists their way.
Davis said he went for plants that are more or less one-time care species, sort-of a plant-and-forget campaign.
“We want plants that are what we call bulletproof,” Davis said, explaining that daffodils and tulips are some of the best species for the job.
“They grow wild in Europe,” David said, “ and I’ve seen them back at my old home place in Swain County where I lived as a boy where they were planted over 70 years ago. And even though the houses are gone and the trees are overgrown, they’re still growing there.
“Annuals have a definite place in the landscaping, but you have to plant them every year. But perennials, both bulbs and shrubs, if you plant them now, they’ll come back.”
And that’s the goal with both the plants and the planning standards: make Maggie Valley a place people want to visit and return to.
Planning Director Clark concedes that these tactics are quite the departure from the traditional way of doing things in the valley, but he believes it’s worth it to revitalize the flagging town.
“This is a very drastic change in the way things have been done in Maggie valley throughout history,” Clark said. “It’s time to re-assert ourselves and our place as a destination regionally.”