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Green Energy Park plan in development

The Green Energy Park’s glass blowing workshop is just one of the opportunities it offers artisans. File photo The Green Energy Park’s glass blowing workshop is just one of the opportunities it offers artisans. File photo

A plan to re-imagine the Jackson County Green Energy Park in Dillsboro as a campus for creativity, learning and animal adoption met a favorable reception when Western Carolina University pitched it to Jackson County and Dillsboro leaders March 5, and behind the scenes work is ongoing to pave the way for that idea to become reality. 

On March 19, the Jackson County Commissioners voted unanimously to have county staff work toward rezoning the property in question so that the planned campus could be built once funding and designs became available. Current zoning would not allow the proposed use to take place on that site. 

“It will most likely be a text amendment (to the zoning ordinance), so we would ask the Town of Dillsboro to consider amending the language of their zoning ordinance that would make it allowable to try to accomplish everything that we’re looking at accomplishing on the property,” said County Planner Michael Poston. 

Poston said the planning office is still working on its recommendation for what that text amendment should entail. Once developed, the recommendation would go to the Dillsboro Planning Board, and finally before the Dillsboro Board of Aldermen for a public hearing and a vote. 

Dillsboro Mayor Mike Fitzgerald says his board is behind the plan.

“The fellas were all in agreement it was a great idea,” he said of his fellow board members. “They thought it would bring more people to Dillsboro.”

The Green Energy Park sits adjacent to Jackson County’s old landfill, using methane gas from the decomposing trash to power blacksmithing forges, a foundry and a glassblowing workshop, with a pottery kiln powered by waste vegetable oil and trash wood also available onsite. 

WCU proposed that Jackson County create a true campus out of the 19-acre property, featuring improved facilities at the Green Energy Park as well as a “maker’s space” offering students — in college and in the K-12 system — and community members alike a spot to create all sorts of art forms and prototypes, combining art with engineering and design. The land could also house the new animal shelter that Jackson County so sorely needs, the pitch said, with university students walking dogs to fulfill service learning requirements and the capped landfill restored to provide green space such as a dog park and walking trails. 

The agreement could work similarly to those typically seen between counties and community colleges, County Manager Don Adams told the group March 5, with the county paying for brick-and-mortar infrastructure and the university hiring faculty and staff, and filling the buildings with equipment and supplies. 

The discussion is in the early stages, with no solid estimates on cost or firm plans as to how the county might pay for these facilities. However, commissioners are interested enough to explore the idea further, with various members of the board expressing during a March 13 work session that they’ve heard positive feedback from the community. 

Poston said it will likely take 45 to 60 days from the time he submits his text amendment recommendation for the zoning change to make its way through to approval from the Dillsboro town board. On the county’s end, the next step would be to hire an engineer to develop concrete cost estimates for the project. 

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