A proposal to loosen steep slope development rules in Jackson County is headed back to the drawing board.

A large and vocal crowd opposing the rollback of mountainside protections in Jackson County packed a public hearing earlier this month. Given the outcry, the Jackson County Planning Board decided to reconsider some of its initial recommendations.

A controversial bypass around Sylva that was supposedly tabled by the highway department last year suddenly and mysteriously seemed to be back on the drawing board last month.

The informal process for picking people to serve on the planning board in Jackson County has come under scrutiny, prompting county commissioners to double-down on the how, when and who of their appointments.

fr richpriceAfter a few months on the job, Jackson County’s economic development director laid out the landscape for community leaders. He painted a portrait of cautious optimism. 

Haywood County

Haywood Commissioners 

What’s up for election? Three out of five seats on the county board. 

About the race: The current Haywood commissioners have enjoyed a stable tenure, consistently winning their seats when they come up for reelection. They have largely avoided controversy and kept a steady hand at the helm. All three incumbents, with long histories of elected office.

Democrats: only three advance

•Kirk Kirkpatrick, a lawyer, has been on the board since 2002 and has been a supporter of recreation.

•Michael Sorrells has been a commissioner for four years and previously served six years on the school board. He is a service station, convenience store and café owner in Jonathan Creek.

•Bill Upton, the retired superintendent of Haywood County Schools, a principal and teacher, has been on the board eight years.

•Bob McClure has been a bailiff for 14 years for the Haywood County Sheriff’s Department. Prior to that, he worked at the now-closed Dayco manufacturing plant in Hazelwood for 33 years.

•Kyle Edwards owns the Stompin’ Ground in Maggie Valley, a campground, and is a general contractor. He considered bringing jobs to the area to be a priority. 

“We need to keep jobs for our younger generation here in Haywood,” Edwards said. “Our jobs and our people are leaving the county.”

Republicans:

• Denny King, a conservative voice in county politics and frequent critic of sitting commissioner’s decisions, previously ran for a commission seat in 2012. He came within 300 votes. 

• Phil Wight, owner of a motel in Maggie Valley and Maggie town alderman. Wight has long been involved in Maggie’s controversial breed of politics and a player in the tourism industry.

Libertarian

• Dr. Windy McKinney, is a historian and writer with a doctorate in Medieval Studies from the University of York, in the United Kingdom. She is the Libertarian Party of Haywood County’s first candidate for county commissioner and feels the area is ready for a candidate who will “change politics as usual.”

 

Haywood Sheriff 

About the race: And the winner is… Sheriff Greg Christopher. Christopher has proven immensely popular and effective in just a short time, after being named sheriff barely a year ago after the sitting sheriff at the time stepped down. Christopher has made several innovations at the department. He has improved moral, public outreach, cooperation with other law enforcement agencies and drug enforcement. He has also made a point of being more visible and accessible in the community.

Word on the street was no challengers would have had a chance.

 

 

art frThe loud pounding echoed from the end of the empty corridor.

Crossing the threshold of the last classroom on the left at Smokey Mountain Elementary School in Whittier, one could see — and hear — that the source of the sound came from the feverish hands of students during their afternoon art class. Like an army of woodpeckers, the pupils each hammered away at copper sheet metal in an effort to make their designs a physical reality.

op frBy Clark Lipkin • Guest Columnist

I am the vice chairman of the Jackson County Planning Board. I presided over the public meeting to discuss the proposed revisions to the Mountain and Hillside Development Ordinance (MHDO) at last week’s Jackson County Planning Board meeting. I have some thoughts that I think are important to share with the public about that meeting, and about the proposed revisions. These thoughts are my own, and I do not speak for the planning board as a whole, or any other member of the board.

I think the biggest lesson I take from my experience on the board is how difficult it is to understand another person’s viewpoint. I saw a lot of people struggling with it at the public meeting. Many people who spoke failed to understand that two rational, honest people can have entirely different opinions about what’s best for Jackson County. Mature people know this, and then do two things: explain their position, and listen and attempt to understand what the “other side” has to say. People who can’t do this hurl threats and accusations of greed, corruption and ignorance at people whose opinions differ from their own. I saw both kinds of people that night.

fr basketballThere is no “I” in team for Jimmy Cleaveland.

“Listen, I don’t know where you’re going with this story,” he modestly said. “But, I sure don’t want this about me. I want it to be about these kids, for sure.”

fr ordinanceA standing-room only crowd turned out for a public hearing on steep slope rules in Jackson County last week and implored county leaders to uphold existing protections against mountainside development.

Letter to the Editor:

While I currently serve as chairperson of the Jackson County Tourism Development Authority, I wish to make clear that I am speaking as a private citizen and my comments may not reflect the collective opinion of the TDA. 

First, I wish to thank news organizations for their coverage of the formation and deliberations of this TDA. Having served six years with Jackson County Travel and Tourism Authority, I can say that this is the most attention the media has paid to the tourism efforts of Jackson County that I have seen in many years. 

The statement made in a recent Sylva Herald editorial, “… a robust tourism industry is critical to everyone in Jackson County …to a great extent, we rely on visitation dollars,” is quite accurate. And no one knows that better than those the county has selected to direct the development of that segment of the economy just how critical it is. As the writer indicated, the impacts of tourism on the Jackson County economy are far-reaching. But it does all start with getting those “heads in beds.” That is the catalyst for all of the benefits that the paper listed in the editorial. 

You see, each one of those who sit on the Tourism Development Authority was selected because of their connection and understanding of the industry based on ownership or management. They have a vested interest in the success of efforts being put forth. Unlike some, their income is tied to the dollars the TDA invests in enhancing and promoting the Jackson County tourism brand, accommodations, amenities and attractions.

And what they are doing is working. So much so, in fact, that in the first six months of the fiscal year, occupancy tax collections increased by 8.2 percent. That number is adjusted so that the 1 percent occupancy tax increase does not inflate the percentage (so actual collected revenue is even higher than the 8.2). Using the vernacular of the editor, I would say that the Board not only “burned rubber,” but left the previous revenue figures in the dust. Growth in that collection is one of the metrics of success that lets the board and the public know that efforts (and dollars invested) are bearing fruit.  

Again, to use the analogy of the writer, youngsters often make fun of what they don’t understand. We, as citizens, need to be reminded occasionally that an opinion page is just that — opinion. Even if it is brought forward by those who normally bring us the “news” and even if it is peppered with facts, a person (journalists included) is not required to be accurate or correct when giving their opinion in print. 

Insinuating that the TDA paid for two words shows a gross misunderstanding of what it takes to produce a slogan or brand concept, brand creative and the associated research, which is also a product of the effort. And to declare that the TDA is spending money frivolously is an insult to each of those who are putting heart and soul into efforts to improve Jackson County’s tourism product, image and help the overall economy of Jackson County grow. The TDA’s actions are not frivolous, they are deliberate and they are not only working; they are showing increase. 

I invite you, as citizens and media, to attend our monthly meeting and see first-hand what is going on in the TDA. I can do that as a citizen; those meetings are public and open to everyone. Again, as the opinion writer stated, tourism is important to Jackson County. We should all be working to enhance it and not tear down those who are volunteering to lead it. 

Robert Jumper

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