Despite their conceptual support for a greenway along the Tuckasegee River, Jackson County commissioners expressed hesitation about purchasing land to establish it.
At a meeting Monday, the commissioners unanimously approved spending about $39,580 on a 1.4-acre plot but also unanimously tabled the $178,000 purchase of a 14.2-acre parcel.
Had both purchases been approved, the first mile of the proposed 4.5-mile greenway between Sylva and Cullowhee would have been established remarkably quickly.
Commissioner Tom Massie most strongly opposed the purchase, not on the property’s merits but because of the possibility of setting a precedent that could eventually cost the county dearly.
Massie said the county should try to buy conservation easements instead, where the property remains in private ownership but allows the greenway to pass through it. It’s less expensive than buying parcels outright.
“We do not have enough money to,” said Massie. “We need to be very careful about which tracts we’re going to buy and which tracts we’re going to buy a conservation easement on.”
Massie expressed disbelief that the landlocked 14-acre plot with no road access could carry a $178,000 price tag.
“I can’t believe that price,” said Massie. “I don’t think that’s a fair value.”
Massie suggested the county negotiate further with the property owners.
Commissioner William Shelton expressed the same worry of setting an undesirable precedent by approving purchases rather than pursuing easements.
While County Manager Ken Westmoreland agreed that outright purchases could set a precedent, future deals also depend on the “motivation and interest” of the parties involved.
“We do have one property owner adjacent to these two pieces that will make a complete donation to the county,” said Westmoreland.
According to Westmoreland, the 14-acre plot, owned by Carolyn Cabe, was identified in the greenway master plan as not only a location for the greenway itself but possibly other amenities like a resting area, a picnic area or a shelter.
“It’s relatively flat,” said Westmoreland. “It is a very usable piece.”
The 1.4-acre parcel, purchased from Anita Samuel, fronts the Tuckasegee River and includes a 16-foot existing right of way belonging to the Tuckaseigee Water and Sewer Authority.
The right of way would allow the county to secure Clean Water Management Trust Funds and other funds down the road, Westmoreland said.
The greenway master plan, adopted by the commissioners this year, recommends that the greenway between Sylva and Cullowhee, utilizing an existing sewer line easement as the primary trail corridor, as well as some additional footage for buffering and stream bank protection.
Emily Elders, recreation project manager for Jackson County, said the entire corridor is fairly undeveloped with homes.