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Wednesday, 17 September 2014 15:18

What does Webster hope to achieve with planning initiative?

Written by 

op jamisonTo the Editor:

I read the news that Webster had obtained a planning grant with mixed emotions. Local planning is a good thing. Having served a number of terms on the Jackson County Planning Board I’ve developed a strong appreciation of the value of an ongoing planning process.

On the other hand, local planning initiatives come with some caveats. Small local jurisdictions often suffer from an echo chamber effect born of insularity. In many cases a small cadre of people are the ones most interested in the administration of a small town and project their attitudes and desires on the greater population. Webster, in particular, has suffered from this sort of defect.

 

I served the community as postmaster for 14 years, and though I wouldn’t presume to speak for anyone but myself I did find that the folks involved in town government tended to have a view and vision of Webster that was much less universal than they presumed. There are a number of stories and narratives in Webster and they aren’t as consistent as one might gather from listening to board members.

 I’ve come to love the Webster community, but it’s my belief that town government has often engaged in broad overreach bordering on delusions of grandeur. The town lacks an identifiable town center and this leads to a certain lack of cohesion in the community. It seems to me that a good many folks within the town’s borders are not interested in an active town government. Many folks don’t seem to want much beyond competent administration of the town’s zoning ordinance. 

Given the irregularity of the town’s borders, a significant number of properties accessed from the town’s main road feature, Buchanan Loop, are actually outside the corporate limits and don’t pay town taxes, I’ve often thought that the residents of the area would be better served and better represented by a community based zoning district.

Town boards in Webster have often lacked basic competence. Often this was less a result of personal failure than a matter of the local government being too small to be truly effective. The town bought a town hall with no parking using a form of finance that wasn’t statutorily correct. It engaged in a sidewalk project that took three years and left several fire hydrants standing in the middle of the sidewalk. Before executing a local agreement that has Jackson County acting as zoning administrator, zoning was administered haphazardly and inconsistently.

There are new faces in town government, although I’m not so sure that much has changed. The town’s action or rather inaction is likely to result in the closure of the post office at its current location. I recently wrote the town government asking them to help me explore ways to keep the post office in its current location (I own the building that houses the post office). Not one of Webster’s town officials thought the matter was important enough to contact me, although I did get a letter from the town’s attorney that largely failed to address my concerns. As a result the current lease will expire without a renewal.

The planning issues that face Webster are mostly related to the area on the town’s border where N.C. 116 and N.C. 107 intersect. This is an area that desperately needs attention and that can only be accomplished by cooperation of the several jurisdictions that border the area — Jackson County, Sylva and Webster. Several years ago, Webster annexed Southwestern Community College and adjoining industrial property in an attempt to unilaterally address some of the issues in this area. Unfortunately the annexation left the town more not less vulnerable by bringing problems and responsibilities within the town’s borders without any accompanying tax base.

Webster defines itself as a residential community. The town’s actions over the years have contradicted that vision. This new planning initiative may turn out to be a good thing but the simple fact of the matter is that the main residential areas in the town are pretty much fine the way they are. The problems lie on the town’s eastern boundaries and that doesn’t sound like where the focus will be.

(Jamison can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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