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Jackson County Sheriff Jimmy Ashe was stripped of his appointed role to render thumbs-up or thumbs-down assessments of businesses wanting to sell alcohol.

Jackson County commissioners, who had initially appointed Ashe to the role, voted this week to instead make County Manager Chuck Wooten the go-to local official in the permit process.

Ashe indicated in a written statement last week that he didn’t really want the responsibility anyway.

The vote Monday to relieve Ashe of the position was a 3-2, down party lines. The two Democratic commissioners voted to keep Ashe, also a Democrat, in the position.

The issue of revoking the job from Ashe was originally not scheduled for discussion at the meeting. However, complaints from the community prompted the board to add the topic at the last minute.

Commissioner Joe Cowan acted surprised when Chairman Jack Debnam asked for a motion to swap Ashe for Wooten as the county appointee regarding alcohol permit matters. Cowan asked to put the vote off for another couple of weeks.

“Could we possibly postpone this item until the next meeting to give us time to read these?” asked Cowan. “I just got these resolutions, and I have not had time to read them or study them.”

Cowan then made a motion to postpone the decision until the board’s next meeting. Commissioner Doug Cody retorted that the resolutions only take a moment to peruse.

“These resolutions are about one page in length. I mean, how long does it take to read them?” Cody said.

Cody, Debnam and Commissioner Charles Elders voted against delaying the matter, and the three then succeed in pushing through the resolutions. Both Cody and Debnam previously expressed a desire to oust Ashe as the county designee following complaints from business owners.

Commissioner Mark Jones sided with Cowan.

“On the quick read, I disagreed,” Jones said, adding that he felt there was no need for a change since all the applications were processed in a timely manner under Ashe.

Specifically, Ashe’s role was to render an opinion on whether the owner and location of an esablishment wanting to sell alcohol was appropriate. If Ashe approved, that business could get temporary permit to sell alcohol while it waits for the much longer process to get a permanent permit from the state ABC Commission.

In a statement written May 30, Ashe stated that processing the permit applications, which requires background checks, interviews with community members and a visit to each location, is time consuming, and a change in appointee would allow his office time to conduct other duties.

“It would be more beneficial to my office to allow the county commissioners to assume the responsibility as the designee for the local government opinion form,” Ashe wrote. The statement wasn’t specifically addressed to anyone but apparently had been sent to commissioners.

Wooten will now take on the responsibilities of the county designee, though he has the option of appointing his own designee. Wooten indicated that if the applications became overwhelming, he would consider naming Gerald Green, the county planner, to the position.


Who’s got it, who doesn’t

Almost a month ago, Jackson County voters approved the countywide sale of alcoholic beverages by nearly 60 percent. And soon after, business owners rushed to file their applications for alcohol permits.

One of the first stops in the paperwork trail is to secure the blessing of Sheriff Jimmy Ashe.

However, Ashe filed unfavorable opinions about six of the 12 businesses that have applied so far. Those businesses have since gone over Ashe’s head to temporary permits directly from the state.

Four of the six that got a thumbs down from Ashe were in Cullowhee. Ashe didn’t like their proximity to campus for fear it would encourage underage drinking. One in Cashiers was turned down because of the applicant’s criminal record.

The sheriff also turned down Catamount Travel Center convenience store on U.S. 441 just outside Cherokee, citing its proximity to Cherokee, which is dry. Ashe did not deem it fitting for a gas station just over the line in Jackson County to start hawking beer and wine on Cherokee’s doorstep, particularly when Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians voted a resounding “no” to the sale of alcoholic beverages in a ballot measure of  their own in April.

Despite Ashe’s opinion, the state ABC Commission rather promptly issued the gas station a permit to start selling.

“Sales have done real well,” said Jamie Winchester, whose family owns the travel center. “It’s been really good.”

Who has it so far:

In Cashiers, Cornucopia Gourmet, Cornucopia Cellars, Cashiers Farmers Market, Ingles grocery, Orchard Restaurant, and Cork and Barrel. In Cullowhee, The Package Store and Sazon Mexican Restaurant. In Tuckasegee, Caney Fork General Store. In Whittier, Catamount Travel Center.

Who’s still waiting:

Bob’s Mini Mart, Mad Batter, Rolling Stone Burrito and the Catamount Travel Center, all in Cullowhee.

The Jackson County Board of Commissioners once again declined to support a movement aimed at restraining corporate power, causing local activists to raise a joint sigh of frustration.

Move to Amend activists, a local offshoot of the Occupy movement, called on commissioners to pass a resolution of support for their cause — namely to reduce corporate money and influence in the political process and instead make government beholden to the common man.

At its last May meeting, commissioners voted 3-2 not to champion the resolution. Commissioner Doug Cody said that he wouldn’t vote for a resolution that singled out corporations unless it also included such groups as political action committees, labor unions and lobbyists and limited their campaign funding as well.

So, the group of activists returned Monday, June 4, with a slightly reworded resolution.

“This resolution is revised to take into account concerns mentioned having to do with labor unions, limited liabilities and PACs,” said Commissioner Joe Cowan, who had been in support of the resolution the first time around but was outvoted.

Cowan added that he would dispense with “my same old worn-out speech” about the importance of passing the document.

Despite the change, the outcome remained the same. Commissioners voted the resolution down once more 3-2 along party lines — Republicans against it, Democrats for it. Commissioner Jack Debnam, who is unaffiliated, swung the vote by siding with Republicans.

Cody asked the activists why the Move to Amend website has a few iterations of the resolution, including one approved by labor unions at universities. Why would labor unions support a resolution that limits their influence, he queried.

“If labor unions are included in on this proposed amendment, why are they signing on to support it? It seems counter-intuitive,” Cody said.

He also claimed that the Move to Amend’s platform would limit the amount of money candidates can contribute to their own campaign.

“This resolution would inhibit an individual from spending his own money. Is that the American way?” said Cody, adding that he funded much of his own campaign for commissioner.

Cody’s comments elicited groans from the vexed crowd of activists.

Cowan said he could not influence what was on the website, but the board should pass the resolution simply because of its call to place restraints on corporations’ campaign spending.

The goal of local Move to Amend activists, along with other chapters across the nation, is to spark a groundswell of support that could ultimately prompt Congress to pass a constitutional amendment limiting corporate spending in the electoral process. The Supreme Court ruled that corporations could spend unlimited amounts in campaigns, prompting fear that politicians will become even more indebted to corporate money.

More than 250 cities, towns and counties in the U.S. have passed similar resolutions. Locally, town boards in Franklin, Highlands and Bryson City approved Move to Amend’s resolutions.

The state General Assembly recently introduced legislation espousing views similar to those reflected in the resolution.

Two decrepit trailers hauled in and dumped down on an empty lot in the middle of Cullowhee’s old business district are creating a furor in that community.

“It’s the slums of Cullowhee,” Cindy Jarman said between serving customers at the Cullowhee Café, 64-year-old mainstay run by Jarman’s family. “Those are 80-foot eyesores.”

It’s also as provided a case in point for Cullowhee advocates who say the area needs land-use regulations.

The trailers are parked along old Cullowhee Road not far from Western Carolina University and directly across from the venerable Cullowhee Café.

The owner of the trailers, Bill Kabord, operates a trailer park nearby. He did not return messages seeking comment.

Jarman’s sister, Kathy Millsaps, said the trailers are particularly disheartening because so many efforts have been undertaken recently to revitalize and improve Cullowhee. There’s even a group now, the Cullowhee Revitalization Endeavor (CuRvE), dedicated to that very mission.

“Cullowhee is trying to clean up,” Millsaps said. “And I think there does need to be rules so that something like this doesn’t take place, particularly in an area like Cullowhee that is trying to grow and improve.”

CuRvE meets at Cullowhee Café though it has no direct affiliation with the family. The group has planted flowers, done various landscaping projects and collected roadside trash in an effort to beautify the area.

In addition to two dilapidated trailers parked in a lot across the road, Kabord hauled another newer-looking mobile home in and set it up three feet from the Cullowhee Café property line. That one is there to stay — it was recently underpinned — but Millsaps said she understands the worst looking ones are pulled in for repairs, and then they might be removed.

Millsaps’ father, Arnold Ashe, plans to plant fast-growing Leyland Cypress trees to try and block the restaurant’s view of the trailer that is there for keeps.

The fact that the two worst looking trailers might eventually be removed still doesn’t appease many people in the community. They have been loud, vocal and pointed regarding their discontent with the situation.

“I’m pretty furious about those junky old trailers being brought into Old Cullowhee,” Cullowhee resident Claire Eye said. “I have no issues with quality mobile homes, but these are real eyesores, and to put them right there in the heart of Old Cullowhee Road is distressing. At the same time that the community and WCU is working to revitalize Old Cullowhee, this sort of move feels like a slap in the face.”

Eye said she believes the trailers absolutely do make a case for zoning, though she has doubts that land-use planning in the community actually will ever take place.

“I believe zoning is a Herculean task that we’re not likely to win, but it’s worth fighting for,” Eye said.

A group of Cullowhee residents and business owners are at work now on that very issue. Since Cullowhee is not incorporated, any land-use regulations would need the OK of county commissioners. They met for the first time earlier this month with Jackson County Planner Gerald Green to discuss the possibility of community-based planning.

Preston Jacobsen of Cullowhee said he’s very unhappy about the trailers being parked in almost the dead center of old Cullowhee.

“I think it could hurt the image of Cullowhee,” Jacobsen said, then added that “this is indeed a perfect case and point for a planning board. As a landowner I’m hesitant, but as a citizen of Cullowhee and Jackson County I think it is needed.”

Rick Bennett, owner of Cullowhee Real Estate, said that like Jacobsen, a part of him balks at being told what he can and cannot do with the property that he owns.

“On the other hand I try not to devalue anyone else’s property. (The trailers) do show me that for other property owners, there does need to be some restrictions,” Bennett said. “Other property owners have worked to make their properties attractive.”

Bennett also worried about the impact of the trailers on potential Cullowhee-area investors.

“Those trailers would not give them a good warm and fuzzy feeling,” the real estate agent said, adding that what’s in essence the community’s commercial district needs guidelines and a certain measure of uniformity.

Bennett noted that the old trailers have been hauled in and plopped down in what is essentially Cullowhee’s downtown.

“Would the town of Sylva allow this to happen to their merchants on Main Street? It’s to everyone’s common good to keep up the value,” he said.

Jackson County Sheriff Jimmy Ashe is refusing to grant permits for businesses wanting to sell alcoholic beverages despite voters overwhelmingly approving countywide alcohol sales when the issue appeared on the ballot earlier this month.

With Jackson County no longer dry, more than a dozen businesses have jumped on the booze bandwagon, from grocery stores to gas stations to restaurants, hoping to add alcohol to their coolers and menus. But so far, Ashe has balked at signing off on the needed permits.

In response, county commissioners are considering whether to strip Ashe of the authority and appoint someone else to oversee the permits instead.

“This caught all of us by surprise,” Commission Chairman Jack Debnam said of the board of commissioners. “I guess Sheriff Ashe has his opinion about whether Jackson County ought to sell alcoholic beverages, and it didn’t really matter what the wishes of the people were.”

Voters approved the countywide sale of alcoholic beverages May 8 by nearly 60 percent. Since then 13 businesses in Jackson County have started the application process. County commissioners must appoint someone to oversee and approve those applications.

Last week commissioners voted to have Ashe handle what’s known as the local government opinion part of the process — essentially a formality in which a local official says whether they approve of the applicant and of their particular location.

Ashe, however, has taken his authority to a new and unexpected level. The sheriff turned down Catamount Travel Center convenience store in Whittier, for example, citing its proximity to Cherokee, which is dry. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians voted a resounding “no” to the sale of alcoholic beverages in a ballot measure of its own in April. Ashe apparently did not see fit for a gas station just over the line in Jackson County to start hawking beer and wine on Cherokee’s doorstep.

“Cherokee Indian Reservation as a sovereign nation recently voted down alcohol sales on the Qualla Boundary, which was a strong message from that community that it was not wanted or needed,” Ashe wrote in a letter last week to Catamount Travel Center regarding the reasons for disapproval.

Additionally, the sheriff wrote that 1.7 million people annually travel by this location going to the reservation, and that letting the Catamount Travel Center sell alcohol would create “traffic problems and an overwhelming amount of motor vehicle accidents.”

Ashe asked the county commissioners for a budget increase to hire eight new deputies following the passage of countywide alcohol sales, claiming that establishments selling alcohol would place additional demands on his patrol units. Commissioners are taking a wait-and-see approach, however, to determine whether the need is in fact there.

Ashe also rejected Catamount Travel Center’s request to sell alcohol at its Cullowhee location near Western Carolina University. In that case, he said the business was “located within 50 feet of educational institution properties in which 80 percent of the student population being potential customers are underage thus bringing on the problems of underage consumption and alcohol-related crimes involving persons underage.”

The sheriff said that “with a 10,000 student population this agency has already experienced a significant increase in underage drinking, alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents, alcohol poisoning, alcohol-related sex offenses at fraternities and even alcohol-related deaths … with my experience of 30 years in law enforcement, this would not be a suitable location for alcohol sales.”

Ashe also turned down Bob’s Mini Mart, located in a strip mall on campus known as the “catwalk,” for essentially the same reasons. Owner Bob Hooper said that the sheriff claimed the business was within 50 feet of the university. Hooper said that it is not.

Most other college campuses in the state, if not the country, have stores and bars selling alcohol all around them, yet drinking is not substantially different among students at WCU where it is less accessible, according to a study by the Healthy Campus initiative on alcohol and drug use among students in 2007.

Whether Ashe would apply his reasoning to blacklist any and all gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants wanting to serve alcohol in the greater Cullowhee area is unknown. Ashe did not return a phone message seeking comment for this article.

Nor is he returning messages left by Debnam either. Debnam called looking for some answers about what’s going on.

Debnam said that while the full board of county commissioners must make the decision, he for one is leaning toward picking someone else to handle the local application procedure. Commissioner Doug Cody said the same thing.

“We don’t have to have him do it,” Cody said. “There’s other options out there if this is going to be a problem for him.”

Ashe’s refusal to approve the applications is delaying the process but not stopping it. That’s because local business owners have the right to appeal the decision directly to the N.C. ABC Commission, which many of them are doing.

Hooper wasted no time bypassing Ashe and going straight to Raleigh. After getting his letter of denial from Ashe on Thursday, he was on the road to Raleigh the next morning to appeal to the N.C. ABC Commission. ABC agents plan to hear the appeal within a mandated 21-day period, he said.

“We’re going to get it, but it’s going to be a little slower,” Hooper said of his permit to sell.

Dwight Winchester, owner of the two Catamount Travel Centers, also drove to Raleigh on Friday, challenging Ashe’s denial of permits for both his Cherokee and Cullowhee locations. He received permission to start selling beer in his establishment outside Cherokee. He’s still blocked for now on the Cullowhee one, but he’s optimistic the ABC Commission will reverse that decision, too.

“He’s doing this to everyone in Cullowhee,” Winchester said of Ashe’s decision to deny him the permits.

Winchester said the state plans to investigate for itself whether his convenience store in Cullowhee is an appropriate location to sell beer and wine despite Ashe’s claims.

“What he wrote is factually incorrect. That’s what pissed me off with the sheriff,” Winchester said.

Ashe also claimed that allowing Catamount Travel Center in Cullowhee to sell alcohol would impede emergency responders at the Cullowhee Fire Department, that the fire department itself has protested against this location selling alcoholic beverages and that this would increase the probability of more alcohol-related accidents at the main intersection of the university.

Agnes Stevens, spokeswoman for the state ABC Commission, said it’s standard procedure for the state to do its own research if an applicant objects to having their permit denied at the local level.

“While local governments have a voice, the commission has the final say,” Stevens said.

Other business owners are gearing up to sell alcohol but aren’t yet ready equipment-wise, so the delay hasn’t impacted their bottom lines.

Jim Nichols, who owns an Exxon service station and a BP service station in Cashiers, said space is tight at the Exxon and that readying the store for beer coolers is going to require some expansion. He believes being able to offer beer to customers will help his businesses.

“If I had a nickel or dime for every customer who walked through that door looking for beer, wine or wine coolers, I’d have a lot of dough now,” Nichols said. “When we say we don’t have it, their faces show bewilderment — because this is a resort town.”

Jeannette Evans, owner of Mad Batter Bakery & Café, believes the availability of alcoholic beverages will help all of Cullowhee, not just her restaurant.

“I think of it as a chance to expand the vitality of the area and to expand the energy at night,” she said. “People like to sit down and have a glass of wine or a beer. I do think it’s part of dining out in the evening.”


Who wants to sell booze?

Here’s who has applied in Jackson County to begin selling alcoholic beverages.

• Catamount Travel Center, Cullowhee

• Bob’s Mini Mart, Cullowhee

• Sazon, Cullowhee

• The Package Store, Cullowhee

• Mad Batter, Cullowhee

• Rolling Stone Burrito, Cullowhee

• Caney Fork General Store, Tuckasegee

• Tamburini’s Restaurant, Cashiers

• Cornucopia Cellars, Cashiers

• Cashiers’ Farmers Market, Cashiers

• The Orchard, Cashiers

• Ingles grocery, Cashiers

• Catamount Travel Center, Cherokee

Exactly how many businesses have had their permits denied isn’t known. Sheriff Jimmy Ashe has not responded to requests that public records on this matter be released.

Jackson County commissioners butted heads with local activists at a meeting this week, refusing to lend their philosophical support to a movement over whether corporate power should be reined in.

A local offshoot of the Occupy movement called on commissioners to pass a resolution of support for their cause — namely to reduce corporate influence and power and instead make government beholden to the common man. But, commissioners voted 3-2 along party lines not to sign on.

The group has been taking their message on the road, visiting town and county boards, as part of the nationwide Move to Amend movement. Their goal, along with other chapters across the nation, is to spark a groundswell of support that could ultimately prompt Congress to pass a constitutional amendment limiting corporate spending in the electoral process. The Supreme Court ruled that corporations could spend unlimited amounts in campaigns, prompting fear that politicians will become even more indebted to corporate money.

Locally, town boards in Franklin, Highlands and Bryson City approved Move to Amend’s resolution. The group has asked to come before the boards in Dillsboro, Sylva and in Macon and Swain counties and hopes to do so soon.

While Move to Amend has seen unanimous support from leaders of other boards they appeared before, they weren’t so lucky in Jackson County this week, the home county for many of the activists.

Commissioner Joe Cowan made a motion that Jackson County approve the amendment submitted by the group. Rising to his feet, Cowan rendered a somewhat impassioned speech against the original Supreme Court decision.

“It basically said money can have a voice,” Cowan said. “And that corporations are people. And I don’t agree with either of those propositions … somebody is buying influence and we don’t know who that is.”

Cowan, a Democrat, said that he did not believe this was a Democrat versus Republican issue, though that’s exactly how the debate promptly framed itself. The resolution failed by a 3-2 vote.

Commissioner Doug Cody said that he wouldn’t vote for a resolution that singled out corporations unless it also included such groups as political action committees, labor unions, lobbyists — and even the Canary Coalition for that matter, the group headed by Avram Friedman, a member of Move to Amend.

“I will not be a party to something or of legislation that calls for the discrimination of any people or group,” Cody said, adding that he found such an idea “despicable.”

“If someone will come back with a resolution that asks for barring all lobbyist and PACs, I’ll sign it,” he said.

Commissioner Charles Elders said that he agreed with Cody. Chairman Jack Debnam simply described himself as “tired of being browbeat” by the Move to Amend folks over the issue. The group has been vocal in their quest to get face time with the commissioners, raising a ruckus when the county initially would not put them on.

Friedman thanked commissioners for placing the issue on the agenda though he described himself as disappointed by the resulting vote.

“This is truly a nonpartisan issue,” Friedman said, adding that the resolution would cover other groups such as the ones described by Cody. Friedman also made the point that as a 501(c)3 nonprofit the Canary Coalition can’t make political donations anyway.

Another Move to Amend group member, Lucy Christopher, also described herself as disappointed and said that she hoped discussion over the issue would continue.

“I hope that we can sit down around a table and talk,” said Christopher, who lives in Jackson County.

That, frankly, seems unlikely to happen, however.

A request by Jackson County Sheriff Jimmy Ashe for eight additional deputies now that the sale of alcoholic beverages has been approve countywide isn’t gaining much traction among the men who hold the purse strings.

“I’m going to have to be shown a reason why he needs eight more people,” County Commissioner Chairman Jack Debnam said. “I don’t understand his reasoning.”

The other four commissioners, while not necessarily flatly disallowing the request, expressed similar sentiments about the proof being in the pudding.

Jackson County voters approved the countywide sale of alcoholic beverages during the May 8 primary. Before, the county was dry, with alcohol sold only in the towns of Sylva and Dillsboro.

In a letter to commissioners, Ashe said that countywide alcohol sales would “greatly increase the numbers of calls that my deputies respond to. With only five deputies per shift now they are already spread thin with the number of calls that we respond to.”

Ashe noted that without additional deputies “it will be extremely difficult to provide the best safety possible to our citizens of Jackson County.”

Eight additional deputies, he said, would allow him to add two deputies per shift. The sheriff said that he could then put two officers rather than only one, as is the case now, in the Cashiers, Glenville and Sapphire area.

“This is a large area for only one deputy to cover,” Ashe said. “If an extreme situation occurs and requires backup, the amount of time for another officer to respond could be detrimental to the safety of the officer as well as others involved.”

Ashe did not return a phone message requesting comment.

Commissioner Mark Jones, who represents the southern portion of Jackson County, agreed with Ashe that there is likely to be more need for deputies over time. Jones said he believes there will be development pressures because of the countywide sale of alcohol in three communities of Jackson County: Cashiers, Cullowhee and the U.S. 441 Gateway area leading to Cherokee.

“At some point, there’s going to have to be an increase of law enforcement,” Jones said.

Commissioner Joe Cowan agreed that the time might come when Ashe needs additional deputies, but he emphasized that he’s reluctant to press forward with staff additions until the need is obvious and apparent.

“We need to find out what kind of impact, if any, it will have on his deputies,” Cowan said. “But I’ll certainly keep an open mind — because if you need ‘em, you need ‘em.”

It’s going to take quite some convincing, however, to get commissioners Doug Cody and Charles Elders to agree to spring for eight additional deputies in these fiscally tough times.

“I think Sheriff Ashe has staked out his position on it, but we haven’t staked out our position yet,” Cody said. “Eight deputies is a little farfetched in my opinion.”

Elders said that he wants to watch and see how the sale of alcoholic beverages plays out, in terms of whether crime actually increases or not and whether the burden on the sheriff’s department also increases accordingly.

“At the present time, the answer is ‘no,’” Elders said about the eight-deputy request by the sheriff. “But if it is really proven, that he needs them as this progresses, then OK.”

Chairman Debnam said he doesn’t believe the countywide sale of alcoholic beverages will change much in Jackson County when it comes to crime and law enforcement.

“I think people drink anyway,” he said. “I don’t think there will be any issues that haven’t already been there. If anything, there will probably be less people actually driving and drinking.”

State law mandates that the commissioners must set aside at least five percent of the gross receipts from the sale of alcohol at an ABC store for law enforcement. It does allow the county the option of contracting with the state Alcohol Law Enforcement agency instead of handling those duties locally.

The advent of alcohol in Cullowhee is fueling efforts to implement some kind of land-use plan to guide growth in the community around Western Carolina University.

Some speculate that development could be fast and furious in Cullowhee in the wake of last week’s vote that paved the way for bars and convenience stores to peddle booze in the once dry reaches of Jackson County.

“There’s going to be tremendous growth, and Cullowhee is already the fastest-growing township in Jackson County,” said Vincent Gendusa, a recent graduate of Western Carolina University. “That growth needs to be thought out. But, it’s going to be very hard to keep up.”

Cullowhee grew 47 percent between the 2000 U.S. Census and the 2010 U.S. Census. Those numbers, coupled with the results of the alcohol referendum, led Gendusa and other concerned Cullowhee residents to gather this week to discuss the possibility of community-based planning.

“We must be pragmatic and incremental,” County Planner Gerald Green cautioned the group. “I want our effort to be the right way and the correct way and to have the support of the community.”

Cullowhee is not its own town, and in the absence of a county ordinance regulating commercial development, Cullowhee has no way of ensuring commercial growth is in keeping with its character.

Jackson County has precedent, however, for enacting spot land-use plans for specific areas of the county, namely in Cashiers and the U.S. 441 Gateway area.

Green cited the Cashiers plan, created in 2003, as a possible model for Cullowhee.

Community-based planning was accepted in Cashiers, Green said, because there was a “well-formed commercial area with people who were interested in protecting property values.”

Doing the same in Cullowhee will mean gathering the signatures of one-third of the property owners who would be in the planning district. The designated zoning area would have to be at least 640 acres and be made up of at least 10 separate tracts of land. Most of the meeting held this week centered on deciding in a rough fashion which parts of the Cullowhee community ought to be considered.

Jim Calderbank, a Cullowhee property owner who lives in Waynesville, suggested the group consider for inclusion old Cullowhee, Forest Hills and some residential areas that might want to be included.

The group ultimately agreed that any plan would start with WCU, with its 540-acre land mass.

“Use the university as the core and go out in tentacles,” said Roy Osborn, another Cullowhee resident and member of a homegrown Cullowhee revitalization group.

Ultimately, it was decided that Green, with help from Osborn, would rough out a potential designated area.

After the meeting, farmer and Cullowhee resident Curt Collins said that he believes the sell of alcoholic beverages will mean more good for the community than bad.

“I think that it will increase the economic vitality and increase the need for greater community participation in Cullowhee — and I think those are both good things,” Collins said, adding that it will be hard to stay ahead of the growth now that alcohol has been voted in.

“It is going to be slow,” Collins said of the prospect of instituting community-based zoning. “We may have businesses who take advantage of that and outpace us.”

On one hand, the new ability to sell alcohol could fuel local, independent-type restaurants — on the other, it could bring the proliferation of chain restaurants, said Mary Jean Herzog. The chair of the Cullowhee Revitalization Endeavor (CuRvE), a community group dedicated to revitalizing and beautifying Cullowhee, said the potential for businesses to sell. She hopes zoning can be implemented ahead of the curve.

“This could be the most beautiful college town in the country,” Herzog said, citing the great natural beauty of the area.


Taking the political pulse

Jack Debnam, chairman of the county commissioners and a Cullowhee resident, doesn’t believe growth in Cullowhee will explode as a result of the referendum vote, at least not immediately.

“I think we’ll have some places selling beer,” he said in an interview. “But as far as bars, there’s no one there — who would support them in the off-season? I don’t see a big spurt happening.”

That said, Debnam also believes that the county and community does need to get a handle on growth in Cullowhee in the form of community-based planning or something similar.

“I think that’s something we are going to have to look at, whether it’s a business district or if Cullowhee decides to incorporate,” Debnam said.

Vicki Greene, an incoming county commissioner, said she believes this is a critical time for the Cullowhee community. While she believes there may be “a short timeframe for folks to get ready,” movement on the issue is promising.

“The community is taking the lead,” she said. “And in the long term, that is the most effective way of instituting planning efforts.”

Greene, who attended last week’s meeting, won the Democratic primary for commissioner and given the lack of opposition for the seat in the general November election is poised to become a commissioner in December. None of the current commissioners attended the meeting.

But, it appears county commissioners would be willing to consider a land-use plan for Cullowhee if that’s what people there want.

Commissioner Doug Cody said he think there will be “a natural evolution of this thing as it goes on.”

Cody said the important thing is that the Cullowhee community is in the driver’s seat during the process.

“At some point and time, people will want planning. And we’re all for letting people decide — we’re not for ramming anything down anyone’s throat,” Cody said.

The sale of alcoholic beverages, he said, “will help the Cullowhee revitalization effort. I think five years down the road we’ll look back and see this as a very good thing for the county.”

For his part, Commissioner Charles Elders said that he hasn’t yet given thought to whether some form of growth controls are needed in Cullowhee, though he does believe it will become a topic of discussion for commissioners.

Joe Cowan, who did not run for re-election, said that the zoning plan for Cashiers has worked well, and that it is possible something similar could be done for Cullowhee.

Commissioner Mark Jones did not return phone messages requesting comment.


Cashiers: a precedent for community land-use planning

A spot land-use plan was passed in 2003 to govern commercial development in Cashiers, making Jackson one of the first, and still to this day one of the only, counties in WNC to have land-use planning outside town limits.

Cashiers has two districts: a “village central” and a general commercial zone. The Jackson County Board of Commissioners created the five-member Cashiers Area Community Planning Council, which is tasked with reviewing and overseeing development guidelines in concert with the county planning board. The council also votes on requests for conditional uses and variances in Cashiers.

The plan set growth regulations, such as building set backs, lighting and sign standards. The only type of development that was banned outright was cell phone towers in the Village Center district.

The idea of a restaurant and a commons area where students could meet and eat sounds like a good one to Angie Stanley, a student in Southwestern Community College’s medical respiratory program.

“That really would be nice,” the Sylva resident said. “A lot of people have to leave campus to eat lunch.”

When Stanley packs her lunch, which she often does when there won’t be time to leave campus between classes, she’s forced to eat in a classroom somewhere. That’s because there’s few gathering places for students to congregate.

SCC leaders want to change that by building a central quad, typical of most university campuses, but less so for community colleges. A quad is in the works as part of the new $8 million Burrell Building under construction. It will house a new bookstore plus additional academic and administrative space. It is scheduled to open in August.

But to fully flush out the concept of the quad, SCC hopes to add a commons area to the plan that could serve as a gathering point.

Campus leaders have asked Jackson County commissioners for $580,000 to build a commons area, along with an on-campus restaurant, said SCC President Donald Tomas.

“This would be an extension of the Burrell building, right in the center of campus,” Tomas said.

That sounded good to electrical engineering major Kenny Pleskach.

“I bring my own lunch probably 95 percent of the time, but yeah it would be a cool thing to have a place to eat your lunch,” Pleskatch said, adding that he currently hangs out in one of several gazebos sprinkled about campus.

Money for a quad, but not a commons area and restaurant, is included in the $8 million cost of the Burrell building.

Janet Burnette, a vice president at the college, said the college would lease out the restaurant space to a restaurant entity such as Subway or something similar.

Student questionnaires and surveys have consistently shown food service — or lack thereof — is their top concern on campus, said Delos Monteith, SCC’s institutional research and planning officer.

“We did 10 focus groups and asked students if they could change one thing about SCC what would that be. Overwhelmingly they said food service,” Monteith said.

A commons area combined with the quad would also give the university a central gathering space it currently lacks, Tomas said.

Burnette said if the school does not get the money requested from commissioners it would do “a very scaled back version” of the plan. Drawings and schematics for a full version are being compiled now.

The $580,000 from commissioners would be paired with $580,000 from the state to build the enclosed commons area and restaurant, as well as a few other building items around campus, Tomas said.

County Commission Chairman Jack Debnam said that he wished commissioners had known about the capital building needs a bit earlier in the county budget process.

Tomas said that hadn’t occurred because the school had not known until recently that it would have access to state dollars for such a project.

“This spring the state gave us some flexibility on this one-time deal,” Tomas said. “The timing seems right if the monies are there — this project would enhance the campus tremendously.”

The total $1.16 million project would include other construction items as well.

• Renovate another building located in the quad area, the Founders Building, which is the oldest building on campus.

• Add 10 hair stations to the cosmetology department located in the Founders Building.

“It needs some upgrading,” Tomas said of the early 1960s-era building.

SCC received $304,500 in capital funds this year from Jackson County and is asking for a total of $677,000 for the next fiscal year — with the $580,000 earmarked for the special projects.

Jackson voters approved alcohol sales in Tuesday’s election by a comfortable margin, making it only the third county in Western North Carolina to permit the sale of booze county wide. Most counties are dry, with alcohol sales only allowed inside town limits.

Voter turnout was higher in Jackson than many surrounding counties — likely inspired by the issue of alcohol being on the ballot.

There were four separate questions on the ballot: the sale of beer, wine and liquor drinks, plus whether to open an ABC store somewhere in the county.

Cullowhee has perhaps the biggest vested interest in alcohol sales. It is home to Western Carolina University, but since it is not technically a town, you can’t buy a case of beer at the gas station nor pony up to the bar. The stark lack of nightlife, bars and restaurants typically associated with the college scene have potentially hampered its ability to recruit students.

“This is potentially good for the university,” said Mary Jean Herzog, a WCU professor who is also involved with efforts to revitalize Cullowhee. “Having nice places to go could help in attracting students.”

Herzog worries that the lack of planning in Cullowhee could lead to not-so-attractive establishments opening. She hopes the vote to approve alcohol can jumpstart efforts to get community-based planning going in Cullowhee that would be similar to what is in place in Cashiers.

“It could be very good for the economy, and I hope that is what happens,” said Herzog.

In Cashiers, alcohol sales are also a welcome addition, saving a long and twisty drive down the mountain into Sylva to get a simple bottle of wine. Cashiers will be the likely location for a county-run ABC store, hurting the bottom line of Sylva’s ABC store, which previously had a corner on the market. It will also open the door for restaurants to sell alcohol, enabling them to compete on more of a level playing field with establishments in nearby Highlands, which has alcohol.

And on the opposite end of the county in the Whittier area, the election results will likely touch off a growth boom of convenience stores and restaurants selling alcohol on the doorstep of Cherokee. The reservation is dry — an alcohol vote there was soundly defeated last month.

Now that it has passed in Jackson County, businesses can park themselves just beyond the reservation’s boundary to capture the business of both Cherokee residents and the robust tourist trade there.

Many voters interviewed at the polls today said they believe alcohol will help Jackson’s economy and attract restaurants that would otherwise shy away from the mostly dry county.

“I want more restaurants and better things in the area,” Kathy Didonato, 45, said on her way out of the polls Tuesday. “It is going to make Jackson County grow.”

Since there is already alcohol sold in Sylva and Dillsboro, some residents did not see why it would be a problem to expand that to the remainder of the county.

“I personally don’t see what the big issue is,” said Christopher Rosbor, 20.

Taylor Bennett, a resident of Cullowhee, said that people have to balance the good and the bad side of having alcohol.

“You want the convenience of alcohol sales in your local store, but at the same time, you don’t want a raging local bar,” he said.

For Bennett, the good outweighed bad. Countywide alcohol would allow Cullowhee to capitalize on money that would otherwise go to Sylva.

Buncombe and Clay counties are the other two in WNC that allow countywide alcohol sales. Voters in Henderson County also had a ballot measure on countywide alcohol sales Tuesday. It passed there as well.

Historically, alcohol has been a point of contention whenever it has appeared on the ballot, with pro and con forces battling it out publicly via billboards, church pulpits and through newspaper and radio advertising.

There was a marked lack of opposition to countywide alcohol sales in Jackson County, however, with the exception of a public stance taken by the Tuckaseigee Baptist Association.

A poll conducted two years ago by Western Carolina University Public Policy Institute in cooperation with The Smoky Mountain News was a harbinger of public sentiment: it predicted that 56 percent of registered voters would support countywide alcohol sales compared to 39 percent who would be opposed. The poll surveyed nearly 600 registered Jackson County voters.

Jackson County has a new county commissioner.

Vicki Greene, a longtime community planner and retired assistant director of the Southwestern Development Commission, clinched the Democratic nomination, which makes her a shoe-in for the Board of Commissioners as there is no Republican opposition running for the seat in November’s general election.

Greene will take the seat on the board currently held by Commissioner Joe Cowan, who decided not to seek re-election.

Stacy Buchanan, a former Jackson County commissioner, ran against Greene in the primary, but Greene walked away from the race with 60 percent of the vote.

“I look forward to working with all the folks of Jackson County to make this the best possible Jackson,” Greene said.

For three decades, Greene has worked as a resource for local governments and community leaders in the seven western counties. She is skilled in the art of consensus building and translating brainstorming sessions into tangible results

“Good communication is more about listening than talking,” Greene said. “For somebody to win, somebody else doesn’t have to lose.”

Another “Greene-ism” she tries to live by — “Do I want to be right or do I want to do right?” — is one she didn’t learn until she was about 50.

Greene’s top priority as a commissioner and biggest challenge facing the county is economic development. To say that Jackson County has not been proactive on the economic development stage is an understatement.

“When the unemployment rate was only 4 or 5 percent seven years ago, it was not as obvious that Jackson County needed a strong economic development strategy,” Greene said.

But, unemployment is now at 11 percent.

Greene said she wants to ensure that Jackson County continues progressive approach to managing growth and development, which includes strong subdivision and steep slope ordinances to protect the quality of life in Jackson County. She does not believe development regulations hamper growth and development.

“It is about seeking balance between the two,” Greene said.

There is a chance an unaffiliated candidate will try to get on the ballot for the November election, but to do so, a candidate would have to gather approximately 1,400 signatures.

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