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Wednesday, 08 July 2009 18:18

441 corridor plan poised for passage

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The Jackson County Board of Commissioners held a final public hearing on the proposed U.S. 441 “Gateway” Corridor ordinance Monday (July 6).

Michael Egan, the county’s consulting attorney on land development matters, gave an overview of the ordinance before comments from the public were heard. It sets out a vision for the corridor, such as architectural standards, preservation of views and farmland and limits on signage and other aesthetic criteria for new development.

The five-lane corridor, which serves as an entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Cherokee, is still quite rural. But water and sewer lines being extended to the area could change that, and commissioners wanted a plan to guide that growth. If the ordinance is passed, Jackson will be the first county west of Buncombe to adopt land-use planning or zoning in a mostly rural unincorporated area.

The only criticism, however, was not over zoning but billboard rules. Billboards would be banned under the ordinance, but existing ones could remain — grandfathered as “legal non-conforming” signs. Two residents who rent land for billboards said the billboard owners have them over a barrel by threatening not to pay rent. If the landowners made the owners take their billboards down for failing to pay rent, another could never be put back up. So in effect the landowners are stuck with the current billboard owners or none at all.

Other than that issue, comments from the public as well as among commissioners consistently praised the ordinance and the inclusive process by which it was developed.

Bill Gibson, who owns a farm just outside the corridor boundary in Camp Creek, thanked the board for taking on the initiative.

“The need is self evident,” Gibson said said, citing “a number of billboards there that have square footage that exceeds the size of the home we were reared in.”

Gibson also cited the need to ensure better quality buildings and attractive construction.

Gibson praised the process for its “inclusiveness” — especially the invitation to a number of tribal members for their participation. While the corridor is in Jackson County, it is a major entry to Cherokee.

Commissioner William Shelton departed from his role as an elected official to speak during the public comment period.

“As someone born and raised on that corridor, I’ve lived half my life right on 441,” he said. “I’m really proud of this whole process — the steering committee, the planning department, the charrette process participants. We appreciated your input, your patience. At some point in future we’re going to realize great benefit from this.”

Shelton also addressed concerns about limits on temporary structures imposed by the ordinance.

“There is provision for temporary use — seasonal greenhouses, tents — as long as it’s used by that business. I would like to see it be an easy process for people to get those permits,” Shelton said, concluding by saying “I’m really proud of this product.”

A final vote on it is expected after commissioners receive any straggling comments from citizens who couldn’t attend the hearing.

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