Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center has unveiled a $40 million, 10-year campus master plan in hopes of bolstering convention business and attracting a new breed of resort tourist.
Six months after meeting with Haywood County residents to discuss ways to improve the community, a group called GroWNC is returning to the county to present various scenarios for the region’s future growth.
Plans made in the coming months could set the tone for the following decade or two of construction, renovation and development on Western Carolina University’s campus.
Faculty, staff, administrators and students at the school have been working since September to craft the institution’s next campus master plan — a process that is expected to last about 16 months and create a final product that is a general guideline for all aspects of the university’s infrastructure development.
Despite pleas for leniency, the owner of a Sylva auto dealership faces a $500 fine for failing to build a sidewalk in front of his car lot.
Russ Cagle, owner of Concept Automotive, initially agreed to build the sidewalk last spring but since has attempted to persuade town leaders to allow him to skirt the requirement.
Whether a grassroots movement to spark planning in Cullowhee dies or moves forward will rests with the next Jackson County board of commissioners.
A group of Cullowhee residents have called for development guidelines. Without standards, Cullowhee is vulnerable to unattractive development according to proponents. But, they need the county’s blessing to put them in place.
During the past two years, several keystone issues regarding abortion and women’s reproductive health have been debated at the state level.
The Republican-led General Assembly has attempted to cut funding for Planned Parenthood and passed the Women’s Right to Know Act, which dictates new regulations for receiving an abortion.
State lawmakers during the past two years have passed several pieces of legislation centered around the abortion issue — including the attempt to cut funding for Planned Parenthood and a new set of protocols, dubbed the Women’s Right to Know Act, that set ground rules for performing abortions.
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.
The Macon County Planning Board has been given one simple task: review the subdivision ordinance with the intention of making it more user friendly.
The directive came in a relatively brief get together and make-pretty joint meeting with the Macon County Board of Commissioners, held over barbecue dinners at Fat Buddies restaurant in Franklin. The pleasantries exchanged were a far cry from the controversies that have embroiled the planning board for the past year or so.
Macon County’s subdivision ordinance already has been reviewed four times previously. The planning board will start the review process of the subdivision ordinance May 17, and at that same meeting will elect a chairman and vice chairman. Lewis Penland has served as chairman for four years.
“I’m debating back and forth about it. I’m still undecided,” Penland said Monday about whether he will seek the chairman’s post again. “But there’s part of me that’s stubborn and stupid and that wants to do it again.”
Penland also said that several of his fellow planning board members have asked him to remain on as chairman.
Penland, a professional golf-course developer, has been a lightening rod for criticism as the pro-planning and anti-planning factions in Macon County have warred over the past couple of years. Penland is an unabashed supporter of some form of steep-slope regulations and a proponent of construction guidelines for developers. Neither of those Penland-led initiatives have passed muster with the conservative-dominated Macon County Board of Commissioners, however.
The steep slope ordinance seems now to be dead in the water, and not a peep about construction guidelines were heard during the joint meeting. The construction guidelines would have set very basic requirements for developers on such things as hillside excavation and compaction of fill dirt. The guidelines went to commissioners for consideration some nine months ago and haven’t been heard from since.
Instead, commissioners are opting to go back and review its existing ordinance.
None of that tension and backroom drama was in evidence at last week’s meeting. Instead, everyone seemed eager for now to put a happy, smiley face on planning in Macon County.
“We’ve had some controversies in the past,” said Kevin Corbin, Republican chairman of the commission board. “If I have a task as chair of this board it is to move things forward. Planning isn’t just rules and regulations — planning is about planning.”
Democrat Ronnie Beale agreed, saying “we need to move ahead.”
Beale did emphasize that while he supports the review of the subdivision ordinance he wants it fixed and not destroyed.
“The key, the challenge, is to have effective regulations but not gut it,” said Beale, who is a builder by trade.
Republican Jimmy Tate, the new liaison for commissioners to the planning board, said he hopes “everyone will set the needs of Macon County above personal feelings.”
Tate was on the planning board until being appointed about three months ago to the board of commissioners.
Larry Stenger, a nine-year member of the planning board and the current vice chairman, told commissioners it is up to them to set the tone and the course for the planning board.
“If the county commissioners don’t have the vision then the planning board doesn’t have any direction,” Stenger said.
To that end, the planning board was instructed by commissioners to provide recommendations on changes to the subdivision ordinance for interim County Attorney Chester Jones to review. Jones said that he is willing to meet with the planning board as necessary to facilitate the review process.
After the planning board completes tweaking the subdivision ordinance, commissioners said that they’d assign a new task. No deadline was set for the completion of the review.
The planning board will review a list of issues that include:
• Clarifying the language and amounts on surety bonding. If developers want to sell lots before completing subdivisions they are required to put up a monetary bond, intended as a safeguard in case developers walk away and leave unstable, partially graded slopes behind that need fixing.
• Road design standards. A general cleanup of definitions plus consider meat and potatoes issues such as road-turning radius when switchbacks are involved, required road widths, pullouts and general compaction standards.
• Whether to allow the technical review of subdivisions to be handled by county staff instead of the planning board, in large part to expedite the process.
• Clarifying the language about access roads into subdivisions when they cross other people’s property.
The Waynesville Board of Aldermen approved a revitalization plan for South Main Street last week despite a dispute over one aspect of the proposed design scheme.
The town hired Rodney Porter, a consultant with LaQuatra Bonci in Asheville, last year to study South Main Street. The area has grown increasingly run-down and unattractive. Town leaders hoped new street scheme would promote more economic development along that stretch of road, prompting a year-long public process to develop a new vision for the corridor.
Porter’s report assessing South Main peppered with less-than-flattering language describing South Main: deteriorated condition; not economically healthy; dilapidated structures; no distinct image; scrubby patches of overgrown and unattractive weeds; seldom pedestrian traffic.
Porter addressed the board again last week to show-off his plan to make South Main Street more attractive to developers. His plan includes bike lanes, a continuous sidewalk, a roundabout where Main and Riverbend streets and Ninevah Road intersect, and a four-lane road from Allens Creek Road to Hyatt Creek Road.
The plan received overall positive feedback from the public, but two aldermen and the mayor expressed apprehension about one aspect that seemed to open an old can of worms. Rearing its head again was the ongoing debate over parking lots — namely should parking lots go in front of buildings or be scooted to the side and rear?
Porter felt strongly that parking lots should be to the side and rear, allowing building facades to define the street’s character rather than asphalt and parked cars.
The town of Waynesville had once been in Porter’s camp. Its development standards once required parking lots to sit to the side or rear of buildings, and for facades to flank the street front.
But in response to complaints from developers, the town board recanted and began allowing small, limited parking areas in front of buildings in certain commercial districts, including South Main Street.
In contrast, the consultant wanted the town to go back to its old requirement of storefronts and not parking lots abutting the street — creating a quandary for some of the aldermen.
“Is there a way of modifying this report?” said Mayor Gavin Brown. “I don’t want to have my name on a document that is contrary to another document that I signed less than a year ago.”
Porter stood his ground and fought for the plan to stay as is.
Placing parking lots to the side or back of buildings gives South Main a distinct identity and makes it pedestrian friendly, Porter said. What is the point of creating a plan otherwise, he asked.
“If we pull those buildings back (farther off the street), I really don’t know what we are doing more than putting trees in the sidewalk,” Porter said. “That really sort of strays away from the ‘complete streets’ movement that we have.”
The so-called “complete streets” concept focuses on making a street user friendly for everyone — motorists, cyclists and pedestrians — rather than purely auto-centric.
“It’s not in keeping with complete streets, and you are separating the pedestrian atmosphere with another row of parking,” Porter said. “You would not have the opportunity for any significant street frontage, and depending on how the traffic is laid out, you would quite possibly end up with more curb cuts.”
Curb cuts increase the likelihood of an accident.
Aldermen Gary Caldwell and Julia Freeman sided with Brown, saying they felt uncomfortable approving a plan that runs counter to current land development standards.
“To contradict what we currently have as a land development standard, it’s troublesome to me,” Freeman said.
Paul Black, director of French Broad Metropolitan Planning Organization, voiced his approval of the plan and its commitment to complete streets concept. A parking lot would split the sidewalk and storefronts making it more hazardous for pedestrians, Black said.
“It would be very difficult to have a sidewalk café if the waiter’s got to walk across the parking lot,” Black said. “I don’t know if there is a way to reconcile your development code with the plan.”
Alderman Wells Greeley did not openly express an opinion about the plan, while Alderman LeRoy Roberson endorsed the plan as laid out by the consultant.
After more than an hour of comments and discussion, new Town Manager Marcy Onieal found the plan’s golden ticket to passage — a sentence on page 19 of the report that says all proposed development must meet the town’s land development standards. That means that the town’s ordinances would override any contradictory language proposed in the plan.
The board ultimately passed the South Main Street master plan as is.
“I can live with it,” Brown said.
None of the disagreements will matter, however, once the N.C. Department of Transportation gets its hands on the project. The plan is merely a guideline for DOT, detailing what Waynesville would like to see happen to South Main. But, it is by no means set in stone. DOT could decide to scrap the town’s plan altogether or only incorporate parts of the layout when it revamps the street.“We’re going to have a big comedown with reality when DOT gets ahold of this and starts designing the road,” said Town Planner Paul Benson. “We are going to get a definite reality check as the program proceeds forward. But, I think at this point I don’t see any problem personally with having sort of an idealized plan out there.”
Check out the South Main Street revitalization plan for yourself at www.townofwaynesville.org.