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County leaders to kick start discussions on Cullowhee planning district

The effort to introduce zoning laws in Cullowhee is being taken up by Jackson County Commissioners at an upcoming workshop at 2 p.m. June 17 at the county’s Administration and Justice Building near Sylva.


Community organizers — predominately through a grassroots organization called Cullowhee Revitalization Effort, or CuRvE — have prodded commissioners toward adopting a local planning district for Cullowhee which would allow them to adopt laws to regulate building and land development in the area. After the movement first gained traction more than a year ago, the issue has languished as it waited to be picked up by officials.

“There’s been a lot of discussion, but it kind of got down to the point where nothing was moving,” said County Manager Chuck Wooten. “This thing has been spinning its wheels.”

The upcoming meeting, Wooten hopes, will kick start the discussion again.

The creation of a localized planning district, much like what is present in Cashiers and along the U.S. 441 corridor leading up to Cherokee, must contain a minimum of 640 acres, as per state statute. Commissioner Vickie Green, who represents Cullowhee, and Commissioner Jack Debnam, who lives there, will present a map of a proposed district at the workshop. Their proposed map contains more than 400 property owners, with 100 or so of them owning more than one parcel.

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Wooten said officials at Western Carolina University, by far the largest property owner in Cullowhee, requested not to be included and were thus left out of the draft. Wooten also said, before taking any action, the county will most likely conduct a mailing to every landowner advising them of the possible changes afoot and invite them to a series of meetings. The county may even ask each property owner to vote on the idea.

“Based on that response, commissioners will make their decision,” Wooten said.

Introducing additional restrictions on building and land development in the community is a touchy issue because it is difficult to gauge whether the idea has support from all property owners who would be affected by added regulations.

In an attempt to prove that landowners aren’t against a proposed planning district, CuRvE and its supporter have held a series of community meetings and circulated a petition as formal evidence that there is support for the cause. Many fear, if left unregulated, unbridled development in one of the fastest-growing sectors of the county could become a long-term problem.

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