Bryson City is the only town out of Haywood, Jackson, Macon and Swain counties that does not have some kind of zoning. The recent increase in growth means the town can no longer rely on developers to build appropriately and in keeping with the town’s character, according to Brad Walker, a member of the town planning board and local businessman.
“Without zoning anyone can build anything, anytime, anywhere,” Walker said.
Bryson City is a tiny town in a county largely consumed by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Nantahala National Forest, leaving little territory for development. That makes good land-use planning even more important, said Dennis White, a planning board member.
“We have to be careful with what we do with what’s left,” White said. “It is very fragile.”
Several shops and building owners downtown have recently improved their property. The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad renovated a dilapidated three-story historic building downtown into an attractive downtown anchor. A streetscaping project has bestowed Everett Street with lampposts, street trees and brick in-lays on the sidewalks, with plans to expand the look throughout downtown.
The upshot of the renewed investment in downtown is a new-found desire to keep it that way. Business owners who have made investments want to ensure a developer doesn’t come along and do something to spoil the town’s character, Walker said.
“No one I have talked to has been against it. Everyone wants to protect their investment,” Walker said. “It is the right time.”
In the recent Swain County commissioners primary, several county commissioner candidates cited the influx of growth and development in their platform and the need to protect what is special about Swain County. Some candidates advocated for countywide land-use planning or a subdivision ordinance that would regulate development on steep slopes.
“I don’t think we will have as much resistance to this idea as we would have 10 years ago,” said White.
The plan would also address the creation of a historic district downtown and a master parking plan. Bryson City is plagued by a lack of parking, more so than other downtowns in the region.
The land-use plan would apply to more than downtown, however. It would address development within the entire town limits, including the commercial corridors leading into town and residential areas.
The town board of aldermen has the final say on whether to adopt the land-use plan. The town board gave the planning board its blessing to work on the ordinance, indicating its members would be amenable to adopting a land-use plan. There will be at least two public hearings on the zoning ordinance.
“We don’t want to stymie growth. We want to control growth and make sure it is done in a proper manner,” Walker said.