Bryson City adopts first land use plan

By Julia Merchant • Staff Writer

Bryson City Alderman have adopted the town’s first land development plan.

The plan — created over the course of a year and passed last month — was developed after input from the planning board, two public comment sessions, and a state official who brought statistics and maps to share with the town.

“It’s an outline. It’s got a good history of Bryson City and where we’re going. If we follow this thing as an outline, we’ll do real well,” said Mayor Brad Walker.

Among information included in the plan is the history of the town, demographics and geography. It took into consideration the whole town of Bryson City as well as its 1-mile extraterritorial jurisdiction, an area in which the town has planning authority but does not collect property taxes from.

The plan predicts that commercial development will take place largely along U.S. 19 both east and west of the town limits, as well as the Veteran’s Boulevard entrance corridor. Additionally, it highlights the downtown area as having “great potential for infill and redevelopment.”

Because of the likelihood of development, the plan suggests that the town “identify and acquire land in strategic locations to encourage appropriate development, including open space preservation, greenways and parks.” This is exactly what Walker wants to do next with Island Park, which the town has already acquired land for.

“My thing is parks. Besides everything else, I’d like to see Island Park built,” Walker said.

The plan also addresses the town’s water and sewer capacity, another area Walker would like to focus on.

“In December 2006, an assessment of the water and sewer utilities by an independent consultant indicated that the customer base for both water and sewer is anticipated to increase in the future, enough to raise real concern about the capacity of the system to handle the increase,” the plan states.

Bryson City currently has a moratorium on water and sewer connections to anyone outside the town limits while it develops expansion plans.

“I’m really interested in the water and sewer because that’s the most crucial,” said Walker.

The plan recommends that the town seek alternative methods of financing water and sewer. Having a land use plan in place makes it easier to apply for state grants for these type projects.

Other recommendations the plan makes are addressing the issue of affordable housing and rehabbing existing homes; and promoting road improvements for residential and emergency vehicle access. These are in keeping with many of the public comments, which cited cleaning up the town, improving traffic congestion and addressing the lack of planning, regulations and zoning as ways to improve Bryson City.

Walker hopes the town will promote what he calls “controlled growth. I think we have to grow, but not ruin everything,” he said. “If we just stick by (the plan), we won’t be making any major mistakes.”

Planning Board Chairman Troy Burns agreed that the plan is helpful in providing the town with direction.

“Even though it doesn’t actually hold the town to move right now and act on it, it still gives direction so that in the future it will have a positive influence. We have put it off too long,” he said.

Going Green

The land development plan isn’t the only project in the works calling attention to Bryson City’s future. The Tourism Development Authority (which Walker chairs) is tentatively developing a new niche marketing campaign — promoting the town as “green.”

With 87 percent of Swain County’s land consisting of national parks and forests and the county boasting the cleanest water and air in North Carolina, the concept of green and sustainable seems a natural fit, said Walker. Plus, with the creation of the land-use management plan and pedestrian plan, “it’s just the right time to do it,” he said.

The plan — currently called “the greening of Bryson City and Swain County,” — is preliminary. TDA members are working to come up with a mission statement to present to the community, and hope to unveil the new campaign around the end of April to coincide with the annual DOT-sponsored Clean Sweep.

Some of the item the plan recommends the town and county focus on “to be more green,” include:

• Encouraging builders to build green

• Using the Chamber of Commerce to promote tourism and other green industries

• Encouraging green businesses to relocate in Swain County

• Encouraging solar, water and wind power manufacturers to relocate in the area

• Encouraging private and government buildings to use energy-saving bulbs, plant more bulbs and create green space

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