A draft agreement between Western Carolina University and the Village of Forest Hills calls for a referendum on mixed drinks, beer and wine if the tiny incorporated community agrees to help create a new “Town Center” for its large neighbor.
The letter of intent, obtained Friday by The Smoky Mountain News, also suggests Forest Hills lose its name for that of the “Town of Cullowhee,” and it adopt a “mutually acceptable mixed-use zoning district ordinance based on an initial draft provided by WCU.”
WCU Chancellor John W. Bard sent the letter, dated Dec. 6, to Jim Wallace, mayor of Forest Hills.
“The purpose of this letter of intent is to provide the framework for negotiations between WCU and Forest Hills regarding a proposed transaction, and outline material terms and the basis upon which a definitive development agreement may be negotiated and prepared for execution by Forest Hills and WCU.”
The development agreement would be for 20 years unless the two parties mutually agreed to terminate the bargain.
“The Town Center may involve construction of up to 2 million square feet of building space. … Building space currently contemplated includes, without limitation, general retail business, residential space, food services business and entertainment business. The parties agree that large, ‘big box’ retail establishments will not be permitted in the Town Center,” the letter states.
WCU wants to develop 35 acres on its main campus. The university’s desire to create a commercial hub and vibrant college town hinges on Forest Hills. Cullowhee is not currently incorporated as a town, and as a result, stores and restaurants can’t sell beer, wine or liquor drinks. That has proved a major stumbling block in attracting commercial ventures typically associated with a college town.
Forest Hills consists of fewer than 400 residents. Most are current or retired faculty and staff of the university. The town incorporated in 1997, mainly to prevent an influx of students from taking over the community.
Discussions about some combination of a merger and annexation have come to the forefront since summer. A group called the Cullowhee Revitalization Endeavor (CuRvE) formed almost three years ago and began looking at ways to bring life to the community surrounding the WCU campus. CuRvE opened talks with Forest Hills this summer, and now the university and the town are talking directly to each other about the possibilities for creating a new town.