Waynesville needs to get going on land use plan update

It’s time for Waynesville to get going on its land use plan review, especially since the economic downturn has slowed development and provided a window of time where big projects just aren’t coming along.

Waynesville’s land use plan is about five years old. It is based on smart growth principles and requires commercial developers to build sidewalks, plant trees along the street and in their parking lots, and adhere to architectural standards. Signs are kept short and parking lots are kept small, or at least not oversized. Parking is placed to the side or rear so that building facades and not parking lots define the streetscape.

While the plan has won many awards, it is also the bane of some developers. They say it was not designed with some uses in mind — particularly large commercial projects — and therefore needs to be tweaked. Although we support the plan and most of its components, taking a second look is a smart idea. When the plan was passed it was often referred to as a work in progress, able to be updated as Waynesville changed and grew.

A committee was established seven months ago to begin this process. This review needs to begin with the same energy and zeal that accompanied the creation of the original plan. Waynesville’s adoption of this land use plan helped cement its reputation as a progressive town with the backbone to preserve its best attributes while welcoming growth, and a place willing to do so in the face of many critics. It should take pride in continuing to build on that reputation.

Swain gambling on inmates

We hope it works out for Swain County, but we’re fearful that it just isn’t going to happen and that taxpayers are going to be in for a rude awakening.

Swain leaders are hoping that inmates from out of county will defray costs at the new jail. Overhead for the new 109-inmate facility has increased $20,000 per year, and that doesn’t include extra staffing. In addition, the loan payment on the mortgage is $452,000 per year.

“We desperately need it to pay for itself,” says County Commission Chairman Glenn Jones.

So here’s the math: If Swain lands federal prisoners, it gets $75 per day. To pay for the extra overhead — $20,000 — it will need to house at least one federal inmate 267 days a year. That sounds reasonable because if some inmates do come to the facility, it’s likely to be more than one or two.

The loan on the new jail is $454,000 annually, which comes out to $37,833 per month. Again, if federal inmates stay in Swain, it gets $75 per day. The jail would need to house 504 for at least one night per month for that to add up to $37,833. That’s about 17 per day, which would be in addition to the 30 to 50 the jail already deals with each day to meet its own criminal problems.

That sounds like an awful ambitious plan. Swain was able to get a low-interest loan to build a jail much larger than needed for its own inmate population. We wish them the best, but we fear taxpayers are going to end up footing the bill for this project.

Macon leaders do well by constituents

Macon County commissioners took a step last week their constituents will appreciate.

They switched to a twice a month meeting schedule. The Smoky Mountain News reported a couple of weeks ago that the Macon commissioners have recessed a lot more meetings than any other elected body in the region. In the last 10 months they’ve recessed at least 17 meetings. During the same time period Jackson recessed three and Haywood just one.

The problem with recessing meetings is that no public notice is required to reconvene. It keeps the public guessing about when their business is being discussed and decreases the opportunity for voters to attend and offer comment on what’s going on.

If a public body has to recess a few meetings in order to finish dealing with a long agenda, that’s expected. For it to become common practice — as it had in Macon — is a sure-fire way to erode credibility.

The new meetings schedule has the board meeting on the second Monday at 6 p.m. and the fourth Monday at 2 p.m. We think the public will appreciate this new schedule.

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