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Wednesday, 09 November 2016 02:49

Planning council membership, trailer park rules to change in Cullowhee

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Mere months after the much-debated Cullowhee Community Planning Standards became county ordinance, commissioners are set to consider a pair of changes to the rules following a public hearing at 5:55 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 17, in room A201 of the Jackson County Justice and Administration Building.

“There was an understanding (when the planning standards passed) that we would be reviewing those ordinances and look at those things after they were adopted and had the chance to be applied and see if there was anything we could tweak,” explained Planning Director Michael Poston. 

Commissioners passed the standards after two years of meetings and debate and stark differences of opinion, but when they did so they promised voters that the standards would be evaluated as they went into effect. The Cullowhee Community Planning Council wasted little time in rising to the challenge, offering a pair of amendments for the Jackson County Planning Board, and then the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, to consider.  

 

Trailer parks

Under the amended ordinance, any trailer park that is abandoned for a full year — meaning all units are either vacant or gone from the property — wouldn’t be able to resume operation unless it came into compliance with existing regulations. Currently, existing trailer parks don’t have to follow newer zoning regulations — they’re grandfathered in. The amendment would stipulate that parks lose their “grandfathered in” status if abandoned. 

The amended ordinance would alter another piece of the rules governing trailer parks. Currently, replacement manufactured home units must be placed in the same location as the existing home within 180 days in order to remain exempt from current standards. The amendment would require simply that the new unit be placed on an existing space, not necessarily in the same location and with no timeframe stipulated for that to happen. 

The amendments, Poston said, would serve to make the regulations more consistent with the manufactured home park ordinance that applies to the county in general — the changes aren’t aimed at making the ordinance more restrictive or less restrictive. 

“Removing the 180 days is a little less restrictive, but we’re also adding in some language that talks about having a time period for entire parks to become vacated,” Poston said. “I think there’s a tradeoff there.”

 

Planning council membership

A second amendment would allow Jackson County Commissioners to appoint ex-officio members to the Cullowhee Community Planning Council, which is the first stop for all proposed amendments to Cullowhee’s zoning rules, as well as for special-use permits, appeals of decisions made by Jackson County staff and other Cullowhee planning issues. 

Ex-officio members don’t vote on decisions, but they have a place at the table and are involved in the discussions that ultimately lead to decisions. The amendment specifically states that there be “a focus on representation from Western Carolina University” among ex-officio members. 

“We’ve received some very positive feedback from WCU about wanting to be involved and engaged with the community, so I think this allows for that to happen at the planning council level,” Poston said. “Whenever we’re discussing those policies we can have a very informative discussion including Western. How they grow and develop over time certainly has a direct connection to how the development pressure will feel in and around that area.”

Voting members of the Cullowhee Planning Council, of which there are seven, must live, own property, or operate a business in the Cullowhee planning areas. They are appointed to three-year terms by the Jackson County commissioners. 

 

No public comment voiced thus far

The changes are somewhat minor in the scheme of the ordinance as a whole, which involved two years of public meetings, drafts, revisions, and — sometimes — harsh words before a final, approved ordinance arrived. 

“I don’t know these are highly controversial issues,” Poston said of the amendments currently on the table. “A lot of it is well thought-out and discussed.”

Nobody attended public hearings on the amendments before the Cullowhee Planning Council or the Jackson County Planning Board, but community members have one more chance to sound off before the Jackson County Commissioners decide whether to enact the proposals.

The proposed amendments are online at www.jacksonnc.org/PDF/agenda/oct-20/20161020-item8.pdf.

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