The biggest of the three is a concept from Chris Green, who owns 72.7 acres in the small Jackson County municipality, where a golf course used to be.
“His ideas that he has been discussing with the village include patio homes, which would be quarter-acre lots on one end and keep open space on the other end, and potentially have what he refers to as a small town center in the middle of the valley,” said Kolleen Begley, Forest Hills’ mayor.
The concept would be a reflection of where the market trend is headed, said Rep. Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville.
“Twenty years ago, everyone wanted a lot and a house,” Queen said. “Now folks want a patio apartment or a little townhouse or something like that, and open space rather than big lots.”
Begley said the idea could be good news for the village.
“There’s a need in Jackson County for affordable housing, so we’re pretty excited about meeting that need,” she said. “These patio homes could be something that faculty from Western Carolina (University) might be interested in, being right across the street from the university. It’s an increase in tax base for us. It lets the property owner make some money on his property. It’s a win-win.”
It’s also far from being a done deal. Green’s land is zoned as R1, meaning that the board can’t approve any housing there at a higher density than one house per 2 acres.
Forest Hills is currently in the process of overhauling its planning rules, something that began in 2014 with a schedule of community workshops to get input from village residents on their vision for the community. That process culminated with the board’s April 5 adoption of a future land use map. But they’re still working out rules for dealing with requests for exemptions, like Green’s.
Under the rules in place now, Begley said, the board would not legally be allowed to approve Green’s request, and once denied he wouldn’t be able to submit another application for 12 months.
“He could have developed it under our current regulations, but not to the extent he would like to,” she said.
On May 25, Forest Hills’ planning and village council boards will hold a joint workshop with Christy Carter, who the village hired to help with planning after Jackson County’s former planner Gerald Green resigned. The county went months without a planner, and Forest Hills didn’t want to pause its process indefinitely. At the May 25 meeting, Carter will recommend a method for the village to consider to deal with exemptions. They’ll then have to hold a public hearing for any proposed changes, write the ordinance and vote on it.
For Green, the municipal process has dragged out longer than he’d have liked it to, Begley said.
“He’s even gone to the extent of looking at de-annexation of the property, but it appears that we’re just going to work with him, and the most recent ideas that he had looked to be in line with the Forest Hills vision,” Begley said. While the village’s legally binding zoning map designates it residential property, its plan for future land use foresees mixed use.
De-annexation from the village would require a vote from the General Assembly, which is partly why Queen and Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin, began discussing the potential development with Begley.
Both legislators said that de-annexation is purely a rumor — it doesn’t appear to be under any kind of serious consideration, and neither sees a need for it to happen.
“I don’t anticipate that happening,” Davis said. “I just don’t think it’s necessary. I think Forest Hills seems to be responding appropriately.”
“We met with the mayor and were impressed with how they were moving forward with their planning process and maturing as a little village,” Queen said, speaking for himself and Davis. “They’re eager to have some development, and quite frankly I think some of the property owners are eager to consider it.”
Green’s property isn’t the only one that could potentially see some development, Begley said. James Hooper, who owns a piece of land in Forest Hills’ extra-territorial jurisdiction behind the village’s entrance sign on N.C. 107, has the land on the market and has been discussing turning it into a senior housing facility and coffee shop, Begley said.
In addition, the owners of the University Inn have been talking with a Charlotte-based development company that does motels, hotels and apartments. If the building were to be remade as an apartment building, that would require a land use exemption from the village.
However, the Hooper and University Inn properties are purely in the discussion stage.
“It’s just an idea at this point,” Begley said. “There’s no plan been submitted.”
Green did not immediately return calls requesting comment.