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Wednesday, 11 February 2015 14:45

Cullowhee land-use plan on the move

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A land-use plan to guide growth in Cullowhee will take a detour past the planning board en route to Jackson County commissioners this spring.

There was some uncertainty over what trajectory the land-use plan would take once the Cullowhee planning task force finished it. A unanimous consensus at last week’s commissioner’s meeting was that the planning board should take a crack at it next.

“To not include the planning board in this process will be a mistake,” County Manager Chuck Wooten said during a discussion at last week’s commissioner meeting. “I think having another independent review would benefit the commissioners and the community.”

County Planner Gerald Green and County Attorney Jay Coward agreed. But it will only be a cursory once-over.

“Seems to me it would be a simple overview, another set of eyes to look at it, sign off on it, and pass it off to the board of commissioners,” echoed Commissioner Chairman Brian McMahan.

The stopover with the planning board won’t include a public hearing. And any substantive changes are unlikely, given the thorough public vetting the plan has already undergone. A Cullowhee planning task force spent 18 months crafting the growth and development guidelines.

“We’ve had a lot of community meetings and a lot of public hearings. We took a lot of opinions and feedback. We’ve met and wrestled over it,” said Scott Baker, the chair of the Cullowhee planning task force and a vice president at Southwestern Community College.

The final stop for the land-use plan is the county commissioners. Commissioners appear solidly behind the land-use plan, but will hold a public hearing before enacting it, and could make any changes they see fit.

Green said the majority of people who live and work in Cullowhee support the land-use plan despite its detractors.

“Some of the people who objected spoke louder than the ones who were supportive, and that is natural. We listened to their concerns and made a lot of adjustments,” Green said.

Its main purpose is to protect residential neighborhoods from incompatible commercial development and large-scale student housing complexes, Green said.

A steady increase in students at Western Carolina University has been the main driver of growth in Cullowhee in recent years. A rash of large-scale student housing complexes have cropped up around campus, creating clashes with residents in the vicinity. But bars, restaurants and rental houses packed with college kids — really any development of almost any type, any size and any nature — could land in the middle of neighborhoods without rules stipulating where certain types of development can go and what it must look like.

Opponents don’t like government rules dictating what they do with their property, however.

Green sees the land-use plan as a tool of empowerment for the people who live and work in Cullowhee to chart their own course rather than turning the wheel over to outside forces.

 “Who makes the decisions now?” Green asked. “This effort puts the decision-making power back in the hands of the community.”

Members of the Cullowhee community have been voicing concerns about disjointed development patterns for years before finally mobilizing the county to begin a land-use planning process.

“For folks who live there, it has been a long time coming,” said County Commissioner Vicki Greene.

Jackson is the only county west of Buncombe with zoning outside of town limits. Cullowhee will be Jackson’s third such community-based planning district to impose zoning. Cashiers and the U.S. 441 corridor leading to Cherokee are the other two.

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