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Wednesday, 10 October 2007 00:00

In local elections, support those who embrace planning

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How’s this for a political endorsement: cast your votes in the upcoming municipal elections for those candidates who support land-use planning.

That goes for all the towns in our region, and in particular we encourage Waynesville residents to support the candidates who say they believe in the town’s comprehensive, far-reaching land-use regulations.

Towns throughout Western North Carolina will elect new leaders on Nov. 6, and the last day to register to vote is Oct. 12. As growth and development pressures continue to change the face of our region and our small towns, we need leaders who will embrace new ideas and new concepts. As this newspaper has said many times, just sitting back on one’s haunches and letting growth wash over us is a recipe that will lead to the eventual loss of what is special about our towns and our mountains.

There are plenty of examples of bad growth. It seems obvious that many in Sylva wish there had been a set of guiding principles in place during the last two decades as the commercial corridor along N.C. 107 grew into the mess it is now. A good plan would have helped each business along the road succeed while providing the residents who travel each day along the road the best scenario for traffic control and shopping access.

The same is true of Waynesville’s Russ Avenue. In the early 1990s, about 9,000 cars a day traveled the road. Today the thoroughfare handles more than 40,000 vehicles per day. It grew unchecked for years, and the result is the worst traffic problem in Waynesville and, perhaps, the town’s ugliest stretch of commercial development.

But Waynesville’s land-use plan is prompting changes, and the town’s current leadership has shown a willingness to address problems. New buildings must meet strict requirements, and a study is now under way to help alleviate traffic problems. The road looks better than it has in years as several new businesses have successfully adhered to the town’s building requirements.

As the Nov. 6 election nears, however, some candidates for the Waynesville town board are criticizing the land-use plan. They argue it is costing jobs and shackling business development.

Don’t believe them. When you hear a politician say that, ask for concrete examples. We did (visit our Web site at http://www.smokymountainnews.com/issues/10_07/10_03_07/fr_face_waynesville.htm, and in this issue), and the best they could come up with were rumor or deals gone bad they couldn’t discuss. That’s not nearly strong enough of a complaint on which to base a desire to re-write the ordinance.

Even though we haven’t found concrete examples, perhaps it is true that a few potential businesses never got past their first discussion with a Realtor due to the town’s land-use plan. It seems evident to us — and several aldermen candidates — that there’s a good chance those would not have been a good fit in Waynesville. If new businesses don’t value the small-town character we’re trying to preserve in Waynesville and in every other town in the region, then let them go elsewhere. There are plenty of others who will come along.

In Sylva, Franklin, Bryson City, Maggie Valley and Canton similar battles are being fought. The debate takes a slightly different turn in each town, but in every case there are candidates who recognize the need to help downtowns flourish and outlying business and residential district grow in ways that protect the characteristics that people here value. These are the people we need in office, not those who can’t clearly state a vision for what they want their town to become.

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