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Wednesday, 13 June 2007 00:00

Maggie Valley unveils new land-use plan

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By Julia Merchant • Staff Writer

After months of rigorous planning sessions, Maggie Valley town officials are finally ready to reveal to the public a new land-use plan they hope will help the town deal with anticipated growth.

The plan divides Maggie into different areas where specific types of development can occur, providing separation between residential and commercial entities and grouping similar types of development together. This signals a drastic change from the current land-use practices in Maggie Valley, which in large part lacks an organized town structure. The land-use plan aims to do everything from creating a downtown area to forming more distinct community clusters.

Planning Board Chairman and town resident Billy Brede cites the rapid development that Maggie has been subjected to in recent yeas as evidence of the need for new land-use ordinances.

“Maggie Valley is an evolution of growth, and the growth has been substantial in the last five to six years. As any small town grows, you become more aware of putting protection in place to carefully promote growth so it is done in a very well-planned way as to enhance the town for many years to come,” Brede said.

“I feel there’s a definite need for a land-use plan to protect the vacant land that will be developed in the next few years from the infusion of developers coming into Maggie Valley,” said Brede.

And come they have. Brede could think of just six vacant lots still available along the five-mile stretch of Soco Road that makes up Maggie Valley.

The closing and re-opening of Ghost Town also proved to be a significant catalyst for change in Maggie Valley. When Ghost Town closed its doors in 2003, Brede said, town officials realized there was a need for more family-oriented activities — i.e. bowling, ice skating, and miniature golf — “to keep people here for more than just a day at Ghost Town ... to allow them to enjoy the mountains, scenery and activities and to keep them busy,” during their time in Maggie Valley.

The anticipated re-opening of Ghost Town subsequently led to a major increase in land being purchased for development. Town officials realized that “it was the right time to protect our town,” Brede said.

 

Been there, done that

The idea for a land-use plan might sound vaguely familiar to Maggie Valley residents, and possibly even a bit repetitive. That’s because in 2004, a team led by Appalachian State University Geography and Planning Professor Dr. Gary Cooper was hired by the town to draft a land-use plan. That plan was never actually put into effect, even though it has been used to help develop the current plan. Titled “Driving Miss Maggie,” the Cooper plan received an award for its innovation.

The method through which “Driving Miss Maggie” was created stands in contrast to the method used to create the current land-use plan. In 2004, Cooper’s team conducted a series of interviews with townspeople to determine what they liked most and least about Maggie Valley.

“The difference between what’s going on now and what went on then is that ‘Driving Miss Maggie’ was bottom up, meaning that it was done with resident participation,” said former Planning Board Chairwoman Pat Tilley.

The plan was created based on the interviews with local residents, then offered to the public again for further debate and critique. In contrast, the newly unveiled land-use plan was not created with resident input. Instead, town officials and planning board members worked together to draft a plan that will be open for residents to review.

 

Zoning specifics

Under the new land-use plan, when one enters Maggie Valley on U.S. 19, they would encounter an Open Air District on the outskirts of town. This district could include industrial-oriented development — such as lumberyards — as well as open air businesses like car dealerships.

“We want to have a place in town where everyone can come and seek out their business model,” Maggie Valley Town Planner Nathan Clarke explained. “We don’t want to exclude anyone.”

Continuing along Soco Road, the area at the intersection of Jonathan Creek Road near the Maggie Valley Inn would be designated as a Gateway District, with the idea that this would be a sort of entrance to the town; a place where one would feel as if they are officially entering into Maggie Valley. The idea of a Gateway District is “more of a suburban concept drawing on a much larger area,” according to Clark. Because the district would be located at a major intersection, the hope is that it would serve “high-intensity regional interests,” and attract things such as restaurants and grocery stores that would keep the residents of Maggie Valley from traveling to the next town in order to obtain these services.

Further along Soco Road, the creation of three different Mixed-Use Districts is being proposed. The first would be located along Moody Farm Road.

“We wanted people to take advantage of the residential appeal along the creek, as well as access to a five-lane road,” Clark said. The idea would be to have residences in back and businesses, restaurants and shops in the front, so that one might not have to leave their neighborhood in order to get the amenities they need, according to Clark.

The second Mixed-Use District is proposed to be located further down on the opposite side of Soco Road to serve various neighborhoods that currently lack access to vital amenities.

“A person would be able to come down and get their basic necessities met here — currently, we don’t have a dry cleaner, or a video store, or a pharmacy,” Clark said.

The third Mixed-Use District would be located in the area of Ghost Town at the end of Soco Road and would become the town center of Maggie Valley, which as of present has no specified downtown. Clark envisions an area “where people can linger, dine and shop.”

Brede is convinced that the new land-use plan will prevent the haphazard appearance that currently exists in Maggie Valley from getting out of control.

“It’s predominately in small towns where all this stuff needs to be implemented as soon as possible. Once development takes place without guidelines, there’s nothing you can do about it. Family places, downtowns, and residential areas should be grouped together — then you can mix residential with retail, but again it has to be well-planned out,” Brede said.

Maggie Valley officials admit they still have a long way to go — issues such as pedestrian accessibility, affordable housing and use of the area’s several parks need to be brought to the table. But despite the many difficulties involved with creating this land-use plan — Clark called it one of the harder plans he has had to do because of the linear nature and commercial dependency of the town — officials truly believe in their project.

“We care about the town. We want to see the town promoted in a good way, and we care about the growth being well planned. It’s not so much dictating, but guidance — giving (the people) some sort of rules to follow so things come out OK in the end — and in the end it becomes a shared benefit package that everyone enjoys,” Brede said.

Tilley cautioned, though, that “it’s not just the planning, but the enforcement of the plan. It’s a little bit sad to go through town and see all the things that we know are against the ordinances,” with no one enforcing them, she said.

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