Cherokee is on a mission to remodel the look of its business district, in the hope that an infusion of native-themed architecture can give new life to its outdated commercial appearance.

“We want it to be pleasing to the eye of the visitor,” said Jason Lambert, the tribe’s economic development director. “We want it to be an area that is a point of pride for the local community and reflects who we are.”

A plan to makeover its tourist appeal has been in the works for 10 years. While some businesses have embraced the idea and jumped on board with Cherokee’s new look, challenges remain. Cherokee is struggling to persuade some building owners and businesses to take on the expense of remodeling because of complex landownership issues and difficulties quantifying the changes’ effects. As a result, pockets of out-dated, run-down facades can still be found along the downtown strip.

The tribe hoped that business owners would see the appearance changes and think, “‘If I don’t improve, then I’m not keeping up,’” said Michell Hicks, principal chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

Hicks admitted to being “frustrated with some of the downtown.”

“We don’t keep updated enough when it comes to businesses,” he said.

 

Leaving a legacy

Nonetheless, steady progress has been made to improve the appeal of downtown since the tribe first adopted a master plan dating to 2001, which laid out a uniform appearance for buildings throughout the central business district. The guidelines focused on drawing attention to the town’s natural surroundings and Cherokee architecture by incorporating river walks, heavy timbers, native stone work, earth tones and green, metal roofing and Cherokee lettering.

The development of river walks and greenways particularly are aimed at getting visitors to linger in the area.

“We’re a fast moving society; we’re a fast food society. And so, if we can slow people down and get them out, then that’s accomplished our aim,” Lambert said. “The thought process there is of course that the longer people stay the more likely they are to engage in commerce and spend money.”

Although the recommendations were not mandatory, Cherokee tribal leaders hoped business owners would make the appearance changes on their own.

However, from 2001 to 2006, “Not much was done,” Lambert said. “So the tribe tried to put the first foot forward.”

As a model of Cherokee’s “new look,” the tribe decided to renovate a few buildings of its own in the downtown district that are leased to businesses. The tribe spent $4 million revamping the collection of storefronts known as the horseshoe, a price tag that included the river walk behind the buildings among other improvements.

Meanwhile, the tribe also set up a fund to offer loans with 1 percent interest rates to businesses interested in refurbishing their look.

“The tribe said we will do ours and make low-interest loans available to the other business owners,” Lambert said.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has also paid for other, less-apparent appearance alterations. The utility lines through the main thoroughfare in Cherokee were moved underground, new streetlights were added and more than 20 painted bear statues decorate the town.

“I think actually we’ve made a lot of progress,” Hicks said.

However, he would like to see more changes during the next three or four years.

“We definitely have a lot more work to do, especially with our signage,” said Hicks, who views the improvements as part of his legacy as chief.

After redoing the downtown area, Cherokee leaders decided to extend the new look beyond the central business district to other commercial areas.

The focus is now on the business strip just past the Cherokee Indian Fairgrounds on U.S. 441, which will soon see culturally themed streetlights, underground utilities, new and wider sidewalks, crosswalks stamped with cultural symbols, improved landscaping and signage, and the addition of benches, bike racks and recycling bins.

The tribe has received money from the Cherokee Preservation Foundation to fund its downtown improvements over the years.

Last fall, the tribe got a $1.8 million grant from the foundation to fund appearance improvements on the new stretch of U.S. 441.

Previously, the foundation gave $2.5 million for downtown improvements — about $1.3 million to remodel buildings in the horseshoe and the $1 million for the low-interest business loans.

The preservation foundation has been “a very integral part” of completing phases of the project, Hicks said. The foundation makes annual grants using a cut of casino proceeds.

 

Embracing cultural themes

Tribal Grounds coffee shop is one of about eight businesses that moved into the remodeled horseshoe in Cherokee’s downtown.

The coffee shop moved from its old location across from the Museum of the Cherokee Indian and began leasing one of the storefronts that were remodeled by the tribe.

“It also works perfect for our purpose,” said Emily Gisler, a manager at Tribal Grounds.

“People seem to like it,” added Jennifer Welch, also a manager at Tribal Grounds.

The push for a more uniform storefront appearance is part of the tribe’s effort to make the Cherokee reservation a destination rather than a one-day excursion.

However, some would rather keep their “unique fronts,” Gisler said. And although the newer look gels more with the Cherokee culture, “a lot of tourists like to see things they are familiar with,” she said.

Some businesses are already housed in buildings that fall in line with the tribe’s appearance recommendations, including the use of wood, earth tones and metal roofing.

“I take care of my own store just to keep my customers,” said Tim Marks, owner of Ravenhawk Gifts and Collectibles.

“It’s worth it to us to hear people come in and tell us the store looks nice,” chimed in his wife, Lorie Marks.

Other Cherokee business owners chose not to change or felt the help came too late.

“We just chose not to,” said Maureen Denman, who has run Heavenly Fudge Shoppe in Cherokee with her husband for 35 years. “I don’t have extra money to do that.”

The couple already has a loan on its business and didn’t need another. They would have considered taking such a deal if it had come sooner.

The tribe is about “20 years too late,” Denman said.

Only 10 businesses accepted low-interest loans from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians for building and façade improvements.

The tribe set aside $1 million for the loan program — equaling out to about $100,000 per business. The $1 million pool of funds is now dried up, Lambert said.

“Difference of opinion or lack of interest” has caused some businesses or landowners to forego the redesign, he said. But, the biggest challenge is landownership.

“A lot of the struggle comes from the complicated landownership issues,” Lambert said.

Some building owners do not want to renovate and the business owners who rent their store space do not want to sink money into a place they do not own.

The tribe is currently looking into ways it could quantify the effects of the appearance improvements and show that business has increased at stores with the more culturally focused façades. One option is to look at the tribal levy, Cherokee’s version of a sales tax.

Cherokee has seen a “slight increase” in levy revenue during the past few years, Hicks said.

Although the tribe can’t show a direct correlation between the appearance changes and the number of visitors to Cherokee, the tribe can at least say whether it is seeing more or fewer visitors each year.

“It is difficult to quantify the impact,” Lambert said.

 

Tribe hopes to diversify attractions

Along with remaking Cherokee’s downtown image, the tribe has launched an aggressive campaign to bring new amenities and attractions in hopes of increasing tourism traffic.

The tribe has already built a new movie theater, skate park and greenway system, and is looking for more ways to sell the reservation as a family vacation destination, such as a water park.

“The water park idea is not off the table,” Chief Michell Hicks said. “It’s the price tag.”

Constructing such a park would be a multi-million dollar project. The casino is a big draw for the 21 and up crowd, but the reservation wants make Cherokee more appealing to families.

Another idea is to build a children’s discovery center where kids could learn about the Cherokee culture and Western North Carolina, Hicks said.

There is also a push to recruit new retail offerings.

“It’s time to start looking at boutique shops,” said Hicks, citing Mast General Store as a prime example of the type of shops he would like to see in Cherokee.

The changes have all been aimed at reminding visitors that there is more to the reservation than the casino.

“We know that the casino is our main attraction, but we want people to know that there is still Cherokee here,” said Jason Lambert, the tribe’s economic development director.

A few business owners said that the casino actually hurts their stores.

Harrah’s Casino pulls visitors’ money away from local businesses, said Maureen Denman, who runs Heavenly Fudge Shoppe in Cherokee. Some people gamble their funds away and have no money to spare at Cherokee’s other establishments.

Part of the future improvements will include drawing events to the downtown area, reconfiguring its parking and generating foot traffic. However, creating foot traffic is pretty much impossible without sidewalks.

Currently, the main business district considered “downtown Cherokee” doesn’t have cohesive sidewalks for strolling. The tribe must decide whether to sacrifice a single row of parking in front of stores to build a continuous sidewalk that runs through downtown Cherokee.

Lambert said the tribe has not decided yet, but will have to address the topic of downtown parking first. There is not enough parking in downtown Cherokee, he said, and the tribe will consider alternative parking solutions such as a park-and-ride depot or a parking garage.

Just because the tribe has shifted its focus does not mean that it will still pushing for renovations to store facades and may offer another round of financial incentives to help.

“We still want to revitalize the downtown,” he said.

Maybe it’s pie in the sky, but the right ingredients could transform South Main Street into a thriving commercial district. A consultant with LaQuatra Bonci has mapped out a new look for the corridor. The plan banks on new-found aesthetic appeal to create a sense of place, which in turn will make South Main a destination drawing both stores and shoppers.


Problem: Dilapidated buildings, shuttered storeffronts.

Challenge: The prospect of new commercial development is hindered by the ugly appearance and asphalt overload.

Solution: “Green the corridor” with street trees and a planted median.


Problem: How many lanes?

Challenge: The wider the road, the more land that gets lopped off the front of adjacent properties. The resulting lot could be too small to fit anything on. But too few lanes may not support future traffic should it increase substantially.

Solution: Two lanes, except the 0.4-mile stretch in front of Super Walmart between Allens Creek and Hyatt Creek.

 

Problem: Unfriendly for pedestrians

Challenge: Pedestrian activity can be a magnet for commercial revitalization.

Solution: Create a pedestrian boulevard by installing cross walks, sidewalks and bike lanes.

 

Problem: Traffic passes through without stopping on its way from point A to point B.

Challenge: South Main lacks a sense of place, giving motorists no reason to slow down or to see South Main as a destination.

Solution: An entrance feature, such as public art piece, to set the stage, along with pedestrian scale lighting and benches.

 

Problem: Intersections

Challenge: Stoplights require extra turning lanes for cars to queue up in while waiting for the light to change, but the extra turn lanes mean more asphalt and run counter to the street’s new character.

Solution: Use roundabouts instead, which do double duty as a convenient U-turn spot, since the street would have medians preventing left turns in and out of businesses.

South Main Street is a mess.

That’s the message from a consultant hired by the town of Waynesville to develop a revitalization plan for the struggling artery.

The consultant spent six months studying South Main and developing a master street plan. The challenges are great, based on the less-than-flattering language that peppers his report: deteriorated condition; not economically healthy; dilapidated structures; no distinct image; scrubby patches of overgrown and unattractive weeds; seldom pedestrian traffic; high vacancy rate.

Sometimes it takes an outsider to deliver such blunt news, Waynesville Town Planner Paul Benson said. Locals come to accept the status quo, and may not realize how bad it actually looks. Besides, the slow decline of South Main happened over decades, making the changes less noticeable until it became a blight on the town.

SEE ALSO: A bold fix for South Main Street

Many South Main property owners salivated over the coming of Super Walmart and Best Buy, putting their lots and businesses on the market before the big-box development had even broken ground. Four years later, they are still waiting for the land rush, wondering why Applebee’s hasn’t come knocking yet.

The answer is because South Main Street simply doesn’t look good, according to Rodney Porter, the corridor consultant who works for LaQuatra Bonci in Asheville.

“One of the challenges to this corridor is how do we make the road itself more accessible and pedestrian friendly. The other is how do we address the economic downturn of this corridor,” Porter said.

Luckily, the solution happens to be one and the same, he said.

“If you can design a road that is pedestrian friendly you can generate a more successful corridor,” Porter said. “A simple change of image will provide a new address for economic investment.”

The same elements that would make the road attractive to pedestrians — sidewalks, curbs, street trees, crosswalks, benches, a landscape median — will make it attract to commercial development, Porter contends.

“Pedestrian traffic is a critical ingredient to revitalizing a corridor,” Porter said. “It is critical to have this corridor be inviting and provide a sense of safety and welcome.”

Failure to do so could forever sentence South Main to its destitute status, according to Porter’s assessment. Traffic on South Main Street has actually declined over the past three years, according to traffic counts taken by the DOT shortly after Super Walmart opened and new traffic counts taken by Porter’s team.

“More people are actually going around South Main Street to get to Walmart. They are just hopping off the exit,” Porter said.

They aren’t being drawn to South Main, and instead opt to hop on and off the adjacent highway to get to Walmart. Until South Main’s appearance improves and lures more traffic, new businesses won’t be motivated to follow suit, Porter said.

“Until you set the stage with a new road coming in, there is no incentives for redevelopment along that road,” Porter said.

Benson agrees with the premise: make the street attractive and inviting, people and businesses will follow.

“It needs to be a more attractive environment,” Benson said. “That will be a key to promote retail activity.”

It will take more than throwing in a row of trees along the road and putting in sidewalks, however.

The road itself is missing many of the bare essentials. It lacks curbs, with parking lot after parking lot morphing into the road. The net result: a giant plain of asphalt.

Porter said South Main’s character is defined by the “overwhelming presence of parking lots.”

In the quest to bring renewed life to South Main, the middle-class neighborhoods of Hazelwood will be critical, according to Porter.

“The lack of users on South Main Street has in part contributed to the dereliction of the corridor,” Porter said. “The adjacent residential population is no longer devoted to the commerce on South Main Street.”

Benson agreed on this point as well.

“The idea is to connect with the neighborhoods, to make it easy for those folks to walk or ride their bike or drive to the corridor. A lot of it is based on a complete street concept that all users should feel comfortable on the corridor, not just the cars and trucks,” Benson said.

 

What’s next?

Porter was hired by the town to develop a proposed plan for South Main Street as a community-driven alternative to another plan devised by the N.C. Department of Transportation.

The DOT plan was less nuanced and more utilitarian. It calls for a wider road with fewer pedestrian features — concrete rather than planted medians, no dedicated bike lanes, narrower sidewalks and more lanes.

The town felt it wasn’t in keeping with its vision for South Main, and that’s largely what prompted the town to undertake an independent master plan.

“This is definitely a more tailored approach than the DOT study,” Benson said.

The town’s independent feasibility study cost $55,000, with 80 percent of the cost paid for with a federal planning grant.

Two community workshops were held to engage the public in creating the plan. Property owners, businessmen, as well as average residents, turned out to voice their vision for the corridor.

The town is now hoping the public will voice its opinions again now that a draft plan is on the table. A meeting to solicit input will be at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 17, at the new Waynesville town hall building.

Porter said “community consensus” is important to the success of the plan.

Based on the feedback, the consultant will finalize the plan before its adopted by the town. The town will then present its plan to the DOT in hopes of seeing the features it wants incorporated.

The DOT has cautioned that its feasibility study of South Main wasn’t intended as a detailed street design.

“It is not the Bible. It is not the final word on what is going to happen,” said Derrick Lewis, DOT road planner in Raleigh overseeing the DOT’s South Main feasibility study. “As a project moves thru the planning and design stages, the number of lanes, as well as the intersection configuration and design are always up for discussion based upon updated information and community input.”

The feasibility study took a broad look at how to best accommodate projected traffic 25 years from now. Details would not be hammered out in the final design stage.

Lewis said the DOT will listen to the town’s recommendations and decide whether to incorporate any of them. The DOT’s feasibility study is still considered in draft form.

“We put it in the holding pattern to see if there are any magic bullets come out of this study,” Lewis said.

Benson hopes the DOT will be receptive.

“I’m hoping he will look at this and won’t have any problem with what we came up with,” Benson said.

Based on a surface reading of the town’s plan, Lewis noticed several design features that may not jive with DOT street standards.

 

 

Want to weigh in?

Public input is sought on a plan to makeover South Main Street in Waynesville. A proposal to turn it into a vibrant, tree-line boulevard with pedestrian appeal will be presented at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 17, at the new Waynesville town hall building.

Ideas and critiques from the public will be solicited. To view the plan click here.

With the advent of new leadership for commissioners, Macon County’s planning board could undergo a metamorphosis into what’s being dubbed a truer “advisory” role.

In recent years, the planning board has been a magnet of negativity for factions on both sides of the land planning issue.

Kevin Corbin has been the new chairman of the Macon County Board of Commissioners for less than a month, but has already identified land-use planning as one of the county’s most pressing issues. A date has not yet been settled on for the board’s annual retreat where the topic will be discussed.

Corbin was appointed to the county board to replace Brian McClellan, who resigned following his second DWI arrest in two years. Corbin was elected to the leadership seat by his fellow four commissioners the same week shortly after McClellan stepped down.

The chairman has just one vote but does have real power to steer the board’s agenda and structure meetings. Corbin, a Republican from Franklin, isn’t new to the county’s political sphere. He served for two decades as a member of the Macon County Board of Education. And, like father like son: Corbin’s Dad, Harold, served as chairman of the commission board from 1998 to 2002.

Other issues Corbin wants reviewed during the retreat include economic development initiatives, school needs and the county’s budget for the next fiscal year.

Corbin on Monday said he believes that the planning board has become polarized by its members’ fundamentally different views. Commissioners, he said, must assume more prominent roles in the land-planning arena for meaningful progress on planning to take place.

“I think it’s a tough balance,” Corbin said. “But I really do believe there’s a way to have sensible regulations without stopping construction and real estate.”

The new chairman equated land planning to the delicate task of holding a wet bar of soap. Squeeze too hard, the soap squirts from your hand. Hold the bar too loosely and it falls from such a tepid grip.

Corbin wants commissioners simply to receive recommendations from the planning board, not written ordinances ready for adoption or rejection. Commissioners instead would hammer out tricky details; the county attorney would prepare the actual document.

This would remove some of the spotlight from planning board members, Corbin said, and place the pressures where they more rightfully belong — on commissioners. It’s commissioners who’ve been duly elected to make these decisions. Planning board members, in contrast, are community volunteers appointed to their positions by commissioners.

Besides, commissioners ultimately approve any ordinance drafted by the planning board, and in the process end up rewriting portions of it anyway — usually repeating the same debate that already played out at the planning board level.

Where would that leave the construction guidelines adopted by the planning board after great public strife? The guidelines are the result of a two-year effort by the planning board to write a steep slope ordinance. But following dissent on the planning board and perceived lukewarm support from county commissioners, the full ordinance was replaced with more basic construction “guidelines.” Commissioners have been holding the proposed guidelines from the planning board for some three months without any visible signs of action.

Corbin wants those suggested guidelines and the county’s subdivision and soil and erosion ordinances reviewed by Attorney Chester Jones. There is redundancy plus, possibly, needed changes such as what’s involved in the rules for subdivision road building, Corbin said.

In this brave new world, commissioners would clearly and publicly guide Attorney Jones, Corbin said. A prime example would be the actual slope percentages when it comes to cut and fill rules in road building: commissioners would decide on a percentage they find acceptable, not the attorney.

On other issues, Corbin said:

• Macon County is in “very good shape” financially. That said, this Republican-controlled board will look for areas in which to make additional cuts. This could be difficult to accomplish because the historically fiscally conservative board has reduced the county budgets by an overall 15 percent already as a result of the recession.

Also, because of ongoing national, state and local economic maladies, residents’ basic needs are increasing: real help, in the form of additional county dollars, might need funneling toward assisting with heating, food and so on, Corbin said.

“We may find ourselves in a place where we have to support these things aggressively,” he said.

• The Macon County Schools will need financial help, too. Federal funding, up to $2 million worth, has dried up. “You increase what you spend or reduce what you do,” Corbin said, adding he opposes any budget reductions that would hit teachers and teacher assistants. Macon County might look at some one-time spending options for the schools, such as helping replace aging computers, Corbin said.

• Economic development efforts must press forward regardless of whether such efforts bear immediate fruit or, more likely in this woeful economic climate, don’t.

Corbin said that new county economic development leader Tommy Jenkins would discuss planned efforts and economic hopes

Jackson County’s subdivision ordinance is destined for more tweaking by the planning board.

The planning board spent several months revising the county’s four-year-old subdivision ordinance before sending the recommended changes along to county commissioners for approval this week. Commissioners promptly sent the revised ordinance back to the planning board for more review, but not before some speakers expressed their vehement displeasure with the proposed changes. Others said during a public hearing that they, however, believed commissioners were on the right track to “streamline” the rules.

Not all the commissioners are convinced the ordinance needs changing.

“This puts the developer first, and the potential homeowner and environment second,” Commissioner Joe Cowan said, adding that he hated “to see this watered down with one fell swoop.”

While some of the proposed changes are more favorable to developers, others are more strict. Other changes are aimed at simplifying the language, such as stipulating that road building follows state standards instead of dictating those standards verbatim, as done in the current ordinance. Cullowhee resident Roy Osborn said some of the changes make sense but cautioned that he believes Planner Gerald Green’s expressed desire to “balance the needs of developers, future subdivision property owners, the environment and the citizens of Jackson County” is mistaken in its emphasis: leave out the developers, Osborn said, and the planner’s got it about right.

“This structure better prioritizes ‘needs’ from the global to the individual perspective,” he said.

Additionally, Osborn suggested adding language requiring engineers and land surveyors to provide “rigorous cost estimates” of surety bond amounts. This, he said, would help ensure that planned roads are completed if the developer defaults. He also said that if initially approved design thresholds are exceeded, such as increased slope or lessened roadway width, then a “certified roadway design professional” should be involved in a variance review.

But, Roger Clapp of the Watershed Association of the Tuckasegee River said with just a few adjustments, he could support the proposed ordinance changes.

“It is rural mountain roads that supply mud to the streams, first and foremost,” Clapp told commissioners.

And, in fact, he said, the ordinance changes proposed by Green and the planning board would largely help the environment. They would do that by reducing the footprints of roads — which would only have to be 14-feet wide instead of 18 feet.

“A smaller footprint means less construction work, thus it’s cheaper. And also less impact, which is good for the environment,” Clapp said.

On the other hand, Clapp said his conservation group would like to see the maximum slope for roads stay at 18 instead of 20 percent and an added stipulation for road maintenance agreements for small subdivisions.

“With that said, the Watershed Authority supports the bill because it does provide a step forward in environmental protection,” Clapp said.

Commissioners offered little input on the changes, but Commissioner Chairman Jack Debnam questioned why the county planner is the only one with authority to enforce the regulations and suggested giving additional county staff that authority as well.

Gil Crouch was working in his Bryson City business one day this summer when a regular visitor to town told Crouch that he would not be returning ever again because he was repulsed by its deteriorating look.

“Quite frankly, this is one of the dirtiest communities that I’ve been in (in) Western North Carolina,” said Crouch, recalling the man’s words.

Crouch was one of about 50 area residents and business owners who attended a public forum Monday to discuss a proposed land use ordinance. The ordinance would stipulate aesthetic standards such as architecture, building materials and landscaping for new development.

“I think the plan … is going to take a lot of thought,” Crouch said. “There are some things we can do now.”

Crouch listed signage and beautification as improvements that could be implemented immediately.

In Bryson City, there are currently no regulations for new commercial or residential buildings — anything goes. But, the town began looking at adopting some standards after a building that clashed with the town’s quaint appearance served as a wake-up call.

People began lobbying for some official appearance or building standards, in part, because of a tan metal-sided structure erected on Main Street in 2006. At the time, residents and business owners expressed their dislike for the building, saying it clashed with the character of Bryson City’s historic downtown.

Ed Ciociola, who owns a few businesses on the outskirts of town, said the town needs something to prevent metal buildings from being erected downtown. Bryson City is known as the “quiet side of the Smokies,” he said, and we need to maintain its quaint look and feel.

Its brick façades and small local shops characterize the town’s Main Street. Because of a lack of regulations, people have cluttered U.S. 19, the entrance into town, with homemade and unattractive signs.

Forum attendees were pretty much split down the middle — about half agreeing with the current plan and half disagreeing with at least some portion of it. Most residents who approved of the ordinance in its current form stood, stated their agreement and resumed their seats without further comment. The show of force was intended to send a message to the town board that there is support for the standards as town leaders weigh whether to implement them.

“I am for the plan,” said resident Peggy Duncan. “This may not be the perfect plan for everyone, but it’s a plan.”

“The consensus is that we are in favor of a plan,” said Mayor-elect Tom Sutton, who spoke up as an average resident as he doesn’t take office for another two weeks. Sutton adding that the town will likely pass “something really close to this.”

Bryson City residents agreed that town needs regulations, particularly regarding signage and pedestrian safety. However, reviews of the ordinance under consideration were mixed.

“I am very excited that you are looking at some kind of regulations,” said Gail Findlay, a 16-year resident of Bryson City who works for the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad.

“I just see a real inconsistency” in the look of the town, Findlay said. “I want us to put on a good face.”

Several speakers, including Findlay, reminded people that Bryson City’s economy is dependant on tourism and complained about decaying downtown buildings and vacant overgrown lots, which could deter tourists.

“We can clean up,” said Natalie Warwick. “It does not take much to clean up.”

Pick up any litter you see; sweep the sidewalk in front of your business, Warwick implored.

Charlene Hogue, a resident and self-proclaimed private property rights activist, said that land use ordinances like this one take away people’s property rights, and the town should proceed with “great caution.”

“In my opinion, that is way too big for this small town,” Hogue said of the 91-page ordinance.

Mark Hanna, a resident for six years who has worked in commercial real estate, said he had “significant” concerns, calling the plan “very restrictive and possibly very expensive” for developers.

Property owners could pass additional costs on to their renters, stunting local growth.

“I think some of the things in here are too strong,” said Mark Fortner. “People won’t build and or they won’t remodel because they don’t want to get into that expense.”

Property owner Mitchell Jenkins agreed that the plan is too strict.

“I think small people like me would have a hard time building,” Jenkins said.

Town leaders said none of the comments about the proposed regulations surprised them.

The Board of Aldermen will “digest what we heard” and will hold a series of meeting to talk about the future of the ordinance, said Alderman Tom Reidmiller.

“It was a very good meeting with a lot of good comments,” said Alderman Kate Welch.

The planning board spent three years drafting proposed regulations and received a rather lukewarm response from the Board of Aldermen earlier this year when the plan was unveiled. Last week, Aldermen Jim Gribble said he thought the regulations were restrictive, while Mayor Brad Walker said other people liked the ordinance as it was.

Walker called the meeting “very instructive” and said that the criticism would be taken under advisement.

Sutton, who will take over as mayor next month, plans to talk to several residents about their specific concerns since most who spoke did not specify exactly what they did or did not like.

Bryson City leaders will turn to residents to help solve their own disagreements over the severity of proposed appearance standards for new development downtown.

Town leaders will host a public hearing on the ordinance, which would stipulate aesthetic standards such as architecture, building materials and landscaping, for the town. A majority of the regulations, however, apply only to the downtown area.

Bryson City does not have any guidelines for new commercial or residential buildings downtown — it’s anything goes right now. But the town began looking at adopting some standards after a building that clashed with the town’s quaint appearance served as a wake-up call.

The planning board spent three years drafting proposed regulations, but when they were presented to the town aldermen, they didn’t get a particularly warm welcome. Mayor Brad Walker believes the public does want them, however.

“There are a lot of people fighting for this,” Walker said. “I haven’t heard any negativity (about the standards) except from the board.”

The board of alderman, which have final say over whether the ordinance is passed, decided to hold a hearing to gauge public sentiment.

Alderman Jim Gribble said that the town does need some standards but described the proposed guidelines as “pretty restrictive” and “over and above what I would desire.”

Aldermen Kate Welch and Tom Reidmiller declined to comment on the standards until after the public hearing. Alderman Stephanie Treadway did not return calls for comment.

People began lobbying for some official appearance or building standards, in part, because of a tan metal structure erected on Main Street in 2006.

“We don’t have that much land anymore, and we have to take care of our land,” said Walker.

At the time, residents and business owners expressed their dislike for the building, saying it clashed with the character of Bryson City’s historic downtown.

But, landowner Tom Hurley was well within his right to build it, Walker said.

“We didn’t have any ordinances to stop that,” he said. “We decided that we didn’t want that to happen anymore.”

For a while, local shopkeepers and the Chamber of Commerce have worried that new businesses would not fall in line with the unofficial standards of the town, said Karen Proctor Wilmot, executive director of the Swain County Chamber of Commerce.

“We do feel that it is important” to have standards in place, she said. “The code was kind of designed around what the town already looks like.”

The town’s Main Street is characterized by its brick façades and small local shops. Without any regulations, property owners could install large, obtrusive signs or paint their buildings neon green.

“It’s probably a good thing to have some sort of codes to regulate,” said Town Manager Larry Callicutt. The standards are “not real restrictive,” he said.

The planning board has worked on the land use regulations for about three years.

The standards are similar to those of other town’s, Walker said.

“We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel,” he said.

Town leaders are waiting to hear feedback from residents and business owners before making any possible changes.

“They should be the ones having most of the input,” Callicutt said, adding that there is nothing in the ordinance that would prevent the town from passing some version of it.

 

Want to weigh in?

What: Public hearing about proposed Bryson City land use standards

When: Nov. 21 at 6 p.m.

Where: Swain County administration building.

 

What the proposed standards say

Although most town leaders agree Bryson City needs guidelines to regulate the appearance of new commercial development, they cannot agree on whether the proposed standards are too strict.

Here are some highlights of the 27-page draft under consideration:

• Builders are prohibited from using synthetic stucco, preformed metal siding, vinyl siding, artificial brick and exposed or painted concrete blocks.

• At least 75 percent of a storefront’s façade should be glass windows and/or door. The windows must be at least 10 feet tall and no more than three feet above the sidewalk.

• A building’s main entrance should face the adjacent street.

• Sidewalks shall have an at least five foot “clear zone.” Light poles, bicycle parking, trash cans, plants and benches are permitted between the clear zone and the curb.

• Mobile homes or trailer parks are not permitted in the central business district, but public institutions and commercial or industrial businesses may be allowed in the area pending review by the board of alderman.

• Buildings in the central business district may have a front porch, stoop or awning with a minimum depth of eight feet, a balcony with a minimum depth of six feet or a bay window with a minimum depth of four feet.

Macon County commissioners decided last week that they needed more time to study whether to implement construction guidelines recommended by the county’s planning board.

During a workshop on the issue, commissioners heard a stern warning from a licensed engineer and PhD that if they planned on weakening the regulations beyond their current form, then they pretty much shouldn’t bother to implement them at all.

“These standards right here are about as close to nothing as you can get,” Dan Marks of Asheville told commissioners. “If you water it down, you’re not going to have anything. … If you are going to pass this thing, please don’t take it down another notch  — and I think you need to go back up a notch.”

The planning board was originally tasked two years ago with developing rules for steep-slope development but got bogged down and instead settled on so-called “construction guidelines” as a means of salvaging a few of the more salient building rules. The guidelines include stipulations that limit how high and steep cut-and-fill slopes can be and require compaction of fill dirt.

Planning Board Chairman Lewis Penland told commissioners they have a “responsibility to protect property owners from substandard development.”

“People who might otherwise invest in Macon County don’t feel like they’re investing in land that’s secure, and they don’t feel like they have all the best available information to make wise decisions,” Penland said.

Penland said residents and move-ins to Macon County need some assurances there are “basic public safeguards” on the books.

Commissioners indicated they would hold another meeting to again review the planning board’s construction guidelines.

Did Waynesville run off a Cracker Barrel? What about Chick-fil-A? Challengers running in next week’s town election say Waynesville’s appearance standards for new commercial business are deterring development.

A political action committee calling itself the Waynesville-Haywood Concerned Citizens are publicizing the claims, dedicating a web site to the cause and taking out newspaper ads.

The Smoky Mountain News attempted to chase down the facts behind the group’s claims and determine if Waynesville residents are being unjustly deprived of waffle fries and home-style biscuits.

 

Cracker Barrel

The rumor: Cracker Barrel was going to come to Hazelwood near exit 100 but backed out because it couldn’t erect a super tall sign on a pole visible from the highway.

Critics say: “There was a big squabble over the height of the sign between the Cracker Barrel executives and the town of Waynesville,” according to Kaye Talman, organizer behind Waynesville-Haywood Concerned Citizens.

Talman said she got her information from the property owner trying to sell to Cracker Barrel, Terry Ramey. Ramey said he never talked to Cracker Barrel himself.

“I am just going by what the Realtor told me, which is they couldn’t buy it because they couldn’t put their sign up. Somehow or other they talked to the town because that’s the reason. They won’t go nowhere where you can’t see their sign,” Ramey said.

Realtor weighs in: The Realtor for the property, Dan Womack, tried to market the site to Cracker Barrel, but Cracker Barrel said the town’s population wasn’t big enough to come here.

“They said the demographics at this point in time weren’t here, population and what all. Of course, Cracker Barrel likes their sign. They never came out and said that was an issue, but I’m sure that would have come up. But, we didn’t get that far. The conversation was that the demographics did not fit their business plan,” Womack said.

Town says: Cracker Barrel has never contacted the town.

“I have not received any specific proposal or nonspecific proposal from anyone affiliated with Cracker Barrel,” said Town Planner Paul Benson.

While the town’s sign restrictions would not allow the giant sign typically erected by Cracker Barrel, if it actually wanted to come to Waynesville, it would have approached the town to ask for an exemption.

“Waynesville would not be a company the size of Cracker Barrel’s first rodeo. They would call us up and say, ‘Hey look, we want to come to town and is there anything we can do about the sign height,’” said Byron Hickox, town zoning administrator.

 

Annie’s Bakery

The rumor: Annie’s Bakery, an organic and natural bakery based in Sylva, was looking for somewhere to relocate its burgeoning wholesale product line. A site in Waynesville was in the running, but development regulations killed the deal and Annie’s went to Asheville instead.

Critics say: Kaye Talman said she heard about Annie’s from the property owner who was trying to sell his vacant building to the company. But, it was going to cost $175,000 to bring the building into compliance with the town’s development standards, and it was cost-prohibitive.

Annie’s says: Joe Ritota, the owner of Annie’s Bakery, said he chose Asheville to locate his growing wholesale line because it is closer to the distributors that carry his products, like Ingles. Also, all the property he looked at in Waynesville was too expensive.

“Regardless of the land use plan, the building owners we had spoken to were asking way too much money for their cost per square foot. It was so much more competitive in Asheville,” Ritota said.

Plus, the condition of the buildings was poor and would have required a substantial investment to make the space useable.

Town says: “We just had very preliminary conversations with them. The way we left it with them was we would work with them to make it happen,” Town Planner Paul Benson said.

“It wasn’t like they said, ‘We have to do it like this’ and we said, ‘No, you can’t do it that way,’ so they left. We discussed alternatives with how they might comply with the ordinance.”

 

Chick-fil-A

The rumor: Chick-fil-A wanted to come to an unspecified location in Waynesville, but some aspect of the town’s ordinance was prohibitive.

Critics say: “Chick-fil-A has attempted several times. I wouldn’t speculate on the circumstances, but I do know the town of Waynesville blocked it,” said Kaye Talman.

Town says: Chick-fil-A has never approached the town. It’s unlikely they wrote off Waynesville based on the ordinance without first broaching the town.

“I would say in general if a business was serious about being here and wanted to make a positive contribution to the community they would take the trouble to talk to the town about their project. We always work with businesses to make their development happen,” Town Planner Paul Benson said.

 

Walgreens drug store

The rumor: Walgreens wanted to build on South Main near the new Super Walmart, but the town’s required parking lot configuration was a deal killer.

Critics say: The town required new businesses to put their parking lots to the side or rear of the building instead of in front. Walgreens wanted its parking lot in front and wouldn’t come because of that.

Town says: This is true. Walgreens tried to get an exemption for its parking lot, but the town denied the request.

“They just felt like they had to have that,” Benson said. But, that wasn’t all.

“It is hard to say if that is the biggest issue because they also had an issue with some of the design standards,” Benson said.

This is the only business Benson knows of in eight years that didn’t come here because of the town’s ordinance.

 

Page count of the land-use plan

The rumor: Waynesville’s land-use plan was 1,600 pages long. After a year-long review, it was modified and is now 800 pages.

Critics say: “They went from 1,600 pages, which is over three reams of paper, to 800,” said Kaye Talman.

Town says: “The former ordinance was 576 pages. The revised one is 258. I have no idea where the 1,600 number came from,” said Paul Benson, town planner.

Waynesville has spent $7 million over the past four years building a new fire station, police station and town offices — projects that have come under fire by some challengers for the town board.

Opponents point to the architecture — the brick towers on the fire house, the wood timber frames over the police department entrance — and question how much they added to the price tag.

“I think it is a little extravagant,” said Hugh Phillips, who is running for mayor.

“They may be just a bit more than we really needed,” said candidate Sam Edwards, calling the buildings too fancy. “It certainly helped prettify things, but I don’t know if that was what we should be doing right now.”

But the incumbents say the attractive building design added little to the cost and was worth it.

“I am proud of those things, and if they want to rag on me for that, guilty as charged,” said Waynesville Mayor Gavin Brown.

Mary Ann Enloe, a challenger in the race, lauded the buildings and doesn’t consider them extravagant.

“I think the designs are beautiful,” Enloe said. “Why didn’t we make the justice center look like that?”

Alderman Gary Caldwell said the town actually scaled back some elements of the building design.

“It could have been far more fancy than what it is now,” Caldwell said.

The new police department on Main Street also houses the town planning office where developers and entrepreneurs come for their building permits and business licenses. It was important for it to look nice, Brown said.

“You are trying to create atmosphere when they come in to town they are impressed, that they are in a progressive arena, a place where people are doing things,” Brown said.

Criticism of the town building projects has originated from a political action committee called the Waynesville-Haywood Concerned Citizens. A web site by the group cites the “ostentatious” police department and “extravagant” fire station.

The web site questions a few others town spending priorities as well, but one of the chief examples is inaccurate. It blasts the town for spending money on fancy downtown art. However, no town tax dollars went for the public art pieces. They were funded entirely with private donations.

Page 9 of 15
Go to top