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Wednesday, 01 May 2013 01:11

Waynesville, Lake Junaluska hammer out details of merger

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The town of Waynesville has a large checklist to tackle in the coming months before Lake Junaluska is officially added to the town limits.

 

The number of homes served by the town will jump by 15 percent in one fell swoop. Along with the additional 765 homes, there’s the sprawling Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center that draws upwards of 100,000 guests a year — so it’s not as easy as drawing a new line on a map.

The town must hire new police officers and map new patrol routes. It must craft an itinerary for picking up trash, recycling and yard trimmings. It has to wrangle all the addresses into its billing system for property taxes and utilities.

As town department heads hammer out their respective pieces of the municipal puzzle, Town Planner Paul Benson has been laying the groundwork for a zoning plan for the community that will stipulate things like residential housing density and architectural standards for commercial development.

“We would like to move Lake Junaluska as smoothly as we can into the Waynesville zoning scheme,” Benson said. “I like to think everyone would be in accord on this.”

Benson doesn’t foresee any hiccups, or even much debate. Lake Junaluska has fairly strict community covenants and deed restrictions already, so a zoning plan doesn’t need to be created from whole cloth.

“Codify what’s there,” Benson said of the strategy.

Benson said the town doesn’t have an agenda or motive in getting the community to ascribe to a particular vision, other than what the community itself wants.

“I think it will be a very smooth process,” agreed Pat Koontz, an elected member of the Junaluska Community Council.

For example, Lake Junaluska’s covenants already prevent condos or apartments from being plunked down in neighborhoods.

The town does, however, have architectural rules for commercial development. The town doesn’t allow windowless cinderblock or sheet metal buildings, for example. Businesses must have sidewalks, attractive landscaping and awnings over the front door. Signs must be tidy and not obnoxiously large. And no blinking neon lights.

“All of our design standards would apply,” Benson said.

But those rules aren’t expected to be an issue either, since the only commercial property in the Lake Junaluska community is owned by the conference and retreat center itself.

The retreat center has a 10-year master plan that calls for major renovations and additions to campus, but building designs would be stylish enough to sail through the town’s commercial guidelines, according to Buddy Young, the Lake Junaluska Public Works director. The whole point of the plan, after all, is to give the campus an aesthetic makeover.

Still, “That will be something new,” Benson said. “There will be somebody regulating the conference center now. I am sure the town’s stance would be whatever the conference center wants to do.”

For now, any further work on the zoning plan for Lake Junaluska is on hold until the merger is finalized by the state.

“We have a small but vocal opposition to annexation, and we are trying to be respectful in not getting out in front of the legislature,” said Young.

A bill officially bringing Lake Junaluska into Waynesville’s town limits has passed the N.C. Senate and will likely move through the N.C. House of Representatives in May. The launch date for the merger to become official is Aug. 31.

A zoning plan for Lake Junaluska likely won’t be ready by then. A public forum would be held so Lake Junaluska residents can weigh in on a community zoning plan, Benson said. It would then need to be approved by the town planning board and board of aldermen, including holding an official public hearing.

So there could be a couple of months lag time between the merger taking effect and a zoning plan being ready to implement. But Benson said that’s not a big deal.

“It hasn’t been zoned for 100 years,” Benson said. “The only issue would be the bizarre scenario that somebody did something really objectionable and people looked at the town as said ‘Why didn’t you zone it faster?’”

Lake Junaluska’s covenants and deed restrictions already do the heavy lifting when it comes to keeping out unsavory and incompatible development, however. Those would continue to apply even after the town’s official zoning plan takes effect.

“Property covenants supersede the town’s ordinances,” said Koontz.

In many cases, Lake Junaluska’s covenants are tougher than the town’s standards would be, such as rules stipulating how close to the property line someone can build a storage shed.

“The stricter requirement would prevail,” Benson said.

One question that’s emerged from residents: will they still be able to offer their homes as vacation rentals? About a quarter of the homes at the lake are rented out at some point in the year, although most of those are rented for just a week here and there when the owner isn’t using the house themselves.

The town zoning wouldn’t change that. There are rental homes all over Waynesville, Benson said.

Some residents hope being in the town’s zoning jurisdiction will fix the issue of absentee homeowners who are remiss in keeping up with yard work. The town regulations require regular mowing. If grass becomes too long, the town mows it and bills the homeowner for it under its zoning rules, which would be a welcome recourse for some neighbors of unkempt properties.

Since many of Lake Junaluska’s homeowners are seasonal residents — more than half in fact — the increase to Waynesville’s actual population isn’t as substantial as the number of homes being added. But the addition of Lake Junaluska will push Waynesville over the population milestone of more than 10,000 residents, bringing the town from around 9,900 fulltime, year-round residents to about 10,500.

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