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Wednesday, 12 September 2007 00:00

Maggie mayor’s zoning request still up in the air

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By Julia Merchant • Staff Writer

A petition by Maggie Valley Mayor Roger McElroy to re-zone a 90-acre tract of land to allow for higher density development is being met with vehement protests from town residents.

The development, called Timber Lake, is still in the earliest stages of planning. The mayor and his son Herb McElroy want to create a residential community with more than 200 homes on the land. The duo is petitioning the town to rezone the property to R-2, which would allow for higher density development on smaller lots. The current zoning classification — R-1 — only allows single-family residences on lots that must be at least one-third acre in size.

The McElroys want to change the classification to allow for cluster development — clusters of higher density housing separated by areas of green space. They plan to put town homes on the property, something that wouldn’t be allowed under the current zoning.

Maggie Valley citizens spoke out against the project at a public hearing in early August. Among their concerns were the availability of sewer, possible environmental damage to the ridgeline, an impaired viewshed, and the housing density.

“A great portion of the property in question could not support the change in density; the topography would not allow small lots. Another issue is the infrastructure ... that is not adequate for such a change, nor are the schools capable of dealing with a great influx of students,” wrote Charlotte residents Rex and Susan Gibbs, who own property on neighboring Fox Run Road, in a letter of protest to town aldermen.

A concern over density was echoed in a letter from Raul B. Alegria, a homeowner in the Brannon Forest subdivision.

“I am concerned about the density and extent of construction which is proposed along the ridge,” Alegria wrote.

The large turnout in opposition of the rezoning came as a surprise to the McElroys, who say they have been planning their development for the past 15 years. The McElroys had been planning the development under the assumption that the property already had an R-2 zoning designation. The property in fact received an R-1 classification when it was brought under the town’s planning authority as part of its extra-territorial jurisdiction.

“Because my dad’s been on the planning board and board of aldermen, he remembers it was discussed 10 or 12 years ago that (the town) wanted to bring it in as R-2,” Herb said. The McElroys attempted to correct their mistake by petitioning for a rezoning. They didn’t expect the uproar that has resulted.

Herb McElroy contends that many of the fears are unfounded since the project is still so early in its conception.

“It still has to go through the town boards and planning. All construction has to be approved by the town boards; all the plans have to be approved by the planning board. There will be public meetings — the public will have six or seven opportunities to protest,” Herb said. “We’re just trying to put something together to complete our design.”

Herb said that Timber Lake is already included in the sewer capacity of the town — and has been for years — based on its inclusion as part of the ETJ.

Furthermore, Herb said fears about the property impairing a viewshed or being too dense are unrealistic. The property will include lots of green space, a walking trail, playground, and a stream with several waterfalls.

Herb and Roger said no environmental damage will occur if proper procedures are followed during construction. For instance, Roger said steeper areas will only have single-family homes on them; the proposed townhomes will be grouped on the level land. This is feasible, Roger said, because the property is shaped like a bowl.

“If a developer follows his due diligence, we won’t have these prices,” Herb agreed.

Herb questioned how big of a role politics is playing in the issue.

“You look at other developments out there and say, ‘why isn’t there an interest there?’” he said.

Roger said that he doesn’t see a significant difference between Timber Lake and other developments.

“What we’re doing is pretty consistent with what’s being done in the higher end communities all over the country. We’re going to have some nice amenities and some architectural control. We’re going to try to build a really nice community that everybody will be proud of,” he said.

Town Planner Nathan Clark likened the mayor’s proposed development to the Maggie Valley Country Club, a similarly large tract of land with mixed housing and amenities. Clark said the scale and scope of the project, though, might contribute to the public protest of the issue.

“The larger you get, the more affected properties you have around a rezoning,” he said.

Clark said this is only the second re-zoning request he’s dealt with since he started as town planner in October 2006.

A decision on the re-zoning was expected at an Aug. 21 meeting. However, the mayor discovered about eight lots on the Timber Lake property are not part of the town’s ETJ, and subsequently could not be rezoned by the town. Roger, who is running for re-election in November, is currently in the process of deciding whether to include the property in the ETJ or voluntarily annex it to Maggie Valley.

The request was tabled and will be discussed at a later date.

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