Western Carolina University leaders hope to benefit from a philosophical switch in state funding for higher education — one that would clamp down on universities gaming the system, whether on purpose or unintentionally, when it comes to funding student growth.
Every year, colleges and universities in North Carolina send the state their predictions for the following year’s enrollment. The state then allocates funding for each school based on the number of students it expects to attend.
It’s been more than three months since voters in Jackson County approved a countywide alcohol initiative. Yet, except for a few telltale signs, a look around Cullowhee on the doorstep of Western Carolina University wouldn’t lead anyone to believe that much has changed at all.
Western Carolina University will unveil a state-of-the art $46 million Health and Human Sciences building when students return to campus in a few weeks.
The new Health and Human Sciences building is the first building to crown WCU’s Millennial Campus, and hopefully a stepping stone to help realize the initial vision for the 344-acre addition to campus.
Despite rumors to the contrary, Sylva’s bars are not abandoning the town for the student-laden pastures of Cullowhee.
Area residents have heard whispers that the Bone Shack and O’Malley’s Pub and Grill — two bars that count college students among their base of patrons — will close their doors in Sylva and move their operations to Cullowhee.
When Jason Cutler moved to Jackson County from Michigan eight months ago, he was shocked to discover he couldn’t buy beer or wine outside of Sylva’s town limits.
Chris Pressley, a third-generation owner of the 65-year-old Cullowhee Automotive Service, has been on edge since learning about plans for a new bridge in the Cullowhee community.
Western Carolina University’s Board of Trustees unanimously approved a new strategic plan — the 2020 Vision — at its meeting two weeks ago.
The plan is designed to give the university a clear set of goals for the next decade.
The university wanted to create “a plan that inspires (and) is doable,” said Chancellor David Belcher. “We wanted this to be the overarching guiding document for the university.”
Jackson County Sheriff Jimmy Ashe was stripped of his appointed role to render thumbs-up or thumbs-down assessments of businesses wanting to sell alcohol.
Jackson County commissioners, who had initially appointed Ashe to the role, voted this week to instead make County Manager Chuck Wooten the go-to local official in the permit process.
Ashe indicated in a written statement last week that he didn’t really want the responsibility anyway.
The vote Monday to relieve Ashe of the position was a 3-2, down party lines. The two Democratic commissioners voted to keep Ashe, also a Democrat, in the position.
The issue of revoking the job from Ashe was originally not scheduled for discussion at the meeting. However, complaints from the community prompted the board to add the topic at the last minute.
Commissioner Joe Cowan acted surprised when Chairman Jack Debnam asked for a motion to swap Ashe for Wooten as the county appointee regarding alcohol permit matters. Cowan asked to put the vote off for another couple of weeks.
“Could we possibly postpone this item until the next meeting to give us time to read these?” asked Cowan. “I just got these resolutions, and I have not had time to read them or study them.”
Cowan then made a motion to postpone the decision until the board’s next meeting. Commissioner Doug Cody retorted that the resolutions only take a moment to peruse.
“These resolutions are about one page in length. I mean, how long does it take to read them?” Cody said.
Cody, Debnam and Commissioner Charles Elders voted against delaying the matter, and the three then succeed in pushing through the resolutions. Both Cody and Debnam previously expressed a desire to oust Ashe as the county designee following complaints from business owners.
Commissioner Mark Jones sided with Cowan.
“On the quick read, I disagreed,” Jones said, adding that he felt there was no need for a change since all the applications were processed in a timely manner under Ashe.
Specifically, Ashe’s role was to render an opinion on whether the owner and location of an esablishment wanting to sell alcohol was appropriate. If Ashe approved, that business could get temporary permit to sell alcohol while it waits for the much longer process to get a permanent permit from the state ABC Commission.
In a statement written May 30, Ashe stated that processing the permit applications, which requires background checks, interviews with community members and a visit to each location, is time consuming, and a change in appointee would allow his office time to conduct other duties.
“It would be more beneficial to my office to allow the county commissioners to assume the responsibility as the designee for the local government opinion form,” Ashe wrote. The statement wasn’t specifically addressed to anyone but apparently had been sent to commissioners.
Wooten will now take on the responsibilities of the county designee, though he has the option of appointing his own designee. Wooten indicated that if the applications became overwhelming, he would consider naming Gerald Green, the county planner, to the position.
Almost a month ago, Jackson County voters approved the countywide sale of alcoholic beverages by nearly 60 percent. And soon after, business owners rushed to file their applications for alcohol permits.
One of the first stops in the paperwork trail is to secure the blessing of Sheriff Jimmy Ashe.
However, Ashe filed unfavorable opinions about six of the 12 businesses that have applied so far. Those businesses have since gone over Ashe’s head to temporary permits directly from the state.
Four of the six that got a thumbs down from Ashe were in Cullowhee. Ashe didn’t like their proximity to campus for fear it would encourage underage drinking. One in Cashiers was turned down because of the applicant’s criminal record.
The sheriff also turned down Catamount Travel Center convenience store on U.S. 441 just outside Cherokee, citing its proximity to Cherokee, which is dry. Ashe did not deem it fitting for a gas station just over the line in Jackson County to start hawking beer and wine on Cherokee’s doorstep, particularly when Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians voted a resounding “no” to the sale of alcoholic beverages in a ballot measure of their own in April.
Despite Ashe’s opinion, the state ABC Commission rather promptly issued the gas station a permit to start selling.
“Sales have done real well,” said Jamie Winchester, whose family owns the travel center. “It’s been really good.”
Who has it so far:
In Cashiers, Cornucopia Gourmet, Cornucopia Cellars, Cashiers Farmers Market, Ingles grocery, Orchard Restaurant, and Cork and Barrel. In Cullowhee, The Package Store and Sazon Mexican Restaurant. In Tuckasegee, Caney Fork General Store. In Whittier, Catamount Travel Center.
Who’s still waiting:
Bob’s Mini Mart, Mad Batter, Rolling Stone Burrito and the Catamount Travel Center, all in Cullowhee.
Two decrepit trailers hauled in and dumped down on an empty lot in the middle of Cullowhee’s old business district are creating a furor in that community.
“It’s the slums of Cullowhee,” Cindy Jarman said between serving customers at the Cullowhee Café, 64-year-old mainstay run by Jarman’s family. “Those are 80-foot eyesores.”
It’s also as provided a case in point for Cullowhee advocates who say the area needs land-use regulations.
The trailers are parked along old Cullowhee Road not far from Western Carolina University and directly across from the venerable Cullowhee Café.
The owner of the trailers, Bill Kabord, operates a trailer park nearby. He did not return messages seeking comment.
Jarman’s sister, Kathy Millsaps, said the trailers are particularly disheartening because so many efforts have been undertaken recently to revitalize and improve Cullowhee. There’s even a group now, the Cullowhee Revitalization Endeavor (CuRvE), dedicated to that very mission.
“Cullowhee is trying to clean up,” Millsaps said. “And I think there does need to be rules so that something like this doesn’t take place, particularly in an area like Cullowhee that is trying to grow and improve.”
CuRvE meets at Cullowhee Café though it has no direct affiliation with the family. The group has planted flowers, done various landscaping projects and collected roadside trash in an effort to beautify the area.
In addition to two dilapidated trailers parked in a lot across the road, Kabord hauled another newer-looking mobile home in and set it up three feet from the Cullowhee Café property line. That one is there to stay — it was recently underpinned — but Millsaps said she understands the worst looking ones are pulled in for repairs, and then they might be removed.
Millsaps’ father, Arnold Ashe, plans to plant fast-growing Leyland Cypress trees to try and block the restaurant’s view of the trailer that is there for keeps.
The fact that the two worst looking trailers might eventually be removed still doesn’t appease many people in the community. They have been loud, vocal and pointed regarding their discontent with the situation.
“I’m pretty furious about those junky old trailers being brought into Old Cullowhee,” Cullowhee resident Claire Eye said. “I have no issues with quality mobile homes, but these are real eyesores, and to put them right there in the heart of Old Cullowhee Road is distressing. At the same time that the community and WCU is working to revitalize Old Cullowhee, this sort of move feels like a slap in the face.”
Eye said she believes the trailers absolutely do make a case for zoning, though she has doubts that land-use planning in the community actually will ever take place.
“I believe zoning is a Herculean task that we’re not likely to win, but it’s worth fighting for,” Eye said.
A group of Cullowhee residents and business owners are at work now on that very issue. Since Cullowhee is not incorporated, any land-use regulations would need the OK of county commissioners. They met for the first time earlier this month with Jackson County Planner Gerald Green to discuss the possibility of community-based planning.
Preston Jacobsen of Cullowhee said he’s very unhappy about the trailers being parked in almost the dead center of old Cullowhee.
“I think it could hurt the image of Cullowhee,” Jacobsen said, then added that “this is indeed a perfect case and point for a planning board. As a landowner I’m hesitant, but as a citizen of Cullowhee and Jackson County I think it is needed.”
Rick Bennett, owner of Cullowhee Real Estate, said that like Jacobsen, a part of him balks at being told what he can and cannot do with the property that he owns.
“On the other hand I try not to devalue anyone else’s property. (The trailers) do show me that for other property owners, there does need to be some restrictions,” Bennett said. “Other property owners have worked to make their properties attractive.”
Bennett also worried about the impact of the trailers on potential Cullowhee-area investors.
“Those trailers would not give them a good warm and fuzzy feeling,” the real estate agent said, adding that what’s in essence the community’s commercial district needs guidelines and a certain measure of uniformity.
Bennett noted that the old trailers have been hauled in and plopped down in what is essentially Cullowhee’s downtown.
“Would the town of Sylva allow this to happen to their merchants on Main Street? It’s to everyone’s common good to keep up the value,” he said.