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Wednesday, 30 January 2008 00:00

Public weighs in on future of U.S. 441

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By Jennifer Garlesky • Staff Writer

Progress on Jackson County’s corridor study for U.S. 441 is taking shape after three public meetings last week.

Community members, business owners and representatives of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians gave a variety of differing opinions on the future of the corridor, a four-lane highway that leads into Cherokee from Jackson and Swain counties.

A Raleigh-based consulting firm, Kimley-Horn and Associates, hosted the public meetings at the Qualla Community Building. More than 50 residents attended each night.

Since being hired in October, Kimley-Horn has been mapping the study area, which ranges from the U.S. 74 junction to Cherokee’s business district. County commissioners decided to conduct a study of this rural area in order to prevent the landscape from being poorly developed. Commissioners hope that the study will set forth some design plans that will guide growth in what is expected to turn into a hot spot for development once sewer lines are installed this summer.

The information gathered from the three public meetings will help determine outcomes like if sidewalks or bike lanes will be placed next to the highway, what kinds of setbacks should there be, what rules should govern signs, parking and a host of other development concerns.

Jackson County officials said they are pleased with the turnout at the meetings.

“We had an good audience every night,” Jackson County Manager Ken Westmoreland. County officials participating in the public meetings included County Planner Linda Cable and Commissioner Will Shelton.

Each night residents showed up to listen and speak out about the study area’s land-use design and transportation plans. Participants were encouraged to draw on large topographic maps which lined the community building walls to illustrate areas where they would like to see commercial and residential development occur and areas that need to be preserved.

The idea of a development plan for the corridor was opposed by some residents at the first public meeting on Jan. 21. Some complained about not being informed about the study and expressed concerns about property rights and possible increases in property taxes. Others responded positively to the study and wanted to know how to protect their homes or business from encroaching development. Some advocated for more development like shopping centers along the corridor.

Here are some of the comments from the meetings:

• Qualla resident Kent Moore, an insurance agent is opposed to the study. He is concerned about how the study will affect his home’s property value. He owns 10 acres near U.S. 441. “The fact that they spent our tax dollars to do the study,” he said. “I hate to see the change as much as anybody but I hate to see government regulate what I can do to my property. The growth is free enterprise, and to have a strong economy you got to have a free enterprise. I am not against growth if it’s done in the right way.”

Moore advocates putting the study on the primary ballot as a referendum. “That’s a fair way to do it,” he said.

• Farmer Dan Allison was one of the residents who came to meetings to learn more about the study.

“I only heard about this through a flyer,” he said. Allison is also curious about how the study is going to affect the 40-acre farm that he inherited.

• Property owner Martin DeHart supports the county’s effort to regulate growth. He especially liked the fact that county officials hosted a forum to allow residents to express their opinions.

“It’s (growth) is going to affect the whole area. I hope for it not to be too commercialized,” he said. DeHart also attended the meetings to explain the county’s actions to some relatives who are planning on moving back the Qualla community and possibily start a business.

• Bertha Buff came to the meeting to get information because she is planning to sell land she owns in the area. Buff, 79, has a tract of land that boarder U.S. 441 and is situated between two motels. She believes that her property is ideal for commercial development.

“I plan to sell it and go to a retirement home,” Buff said.

What’s next?

The information gathered at the public meetings will be used to develop land-preservation strategies and economic development opportunities. An ordinance will be developed from report. The report is expected to be completed by early April, county official say.

Once completed it will be presented to members of the advisory committee who will can either make changes or approve it. Residents will be able to continue to make recommendations to the advisory committee.

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