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Wednesday, 28 November 2007 00:00

Jonathan Creek project is just not a good fit

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Rumors have been circulating for years about the proposed mega-development in the Jonathan Creek area, the one with a thousand houses and a huge retail center that would take advantage of the area’s proximity to Interstate 40 and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Well, now that those plans are out of the bag, so to speak, the one thing people in the affected area should be reminded of is this: it’s going to take a grassroots effort that pulls out all the stops to prevent a development like this from getting under way.

Several stories have appeared in the local media over the past two weeks about Cataloochee Wilderness Resort. The project, still in the infancy of its planning, is a proposed 4,500-acre resort that would have 1 million square feet of leasable space in 30 buildings, a 450,000-square-foot Home Store, a 14-screen cinema, restaurants, a 100-room hotel, a ski resort, two lakes, two golf courses and 2,250 single-family homes.

Trouble is, little if any of the land has been obtained. It seems those backing this project have not contacted many — if any — of the business prospects they mention in their promotional materials. Meetings are being held with state permitting officials, but even county commissioners are in the dark about what’s going on. Right now, at best, this project has some big dreamers, a concept that is not very original or creative, and perhaps a few potential investors. It could fizzle as easily as it could take off.

Another red flag should be mentioned, one that has many Haywood folks doubting the project’s validity. Dean Moses has been called a consultant for the plan. Moses, as those who have been around for a while remember, led county leaders and citizens through a circuitous and often duplicitous ordeal that started with a plan to build tankless hot water heaters in the old Dayco building and ended with a bankruptcy court wresting the building away from Moses and others and turning it over to the Haywood Advancement Foundation. Moses has burned more bridges in Haywood County than he can ever re-build, so the decision by this firm to use his services does not reflect well on the project’s credibility.

Projects this size often build momentum and stumble toward eventuality. And since Haywood County does not have a comprehensive land-use plan, all investors have to do — if they can acquire the property —is meet the requirements of the few ordinances already on the books. The lack of a land-use plan makes developments like this scary, because it puts too much control in the hands of outside, big-money developers.

That means it is up to the people to voice their opinions and determine whether they want a project that would, to put it mildly, radically transform their lives. If residents of Jonathan Creek and the rest of Haywood County don’t want this project, they’d be advised to organize quickly. They need to petition county commissioners. They need to get together and find out who has already agreed to sell land and who hasn’t. They may not be able to stop the entire project, but they might be able to limit its size.

Haywood and the rest of the counties on the eastern side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park have branded themselves as alternatives to the mega-retail development centers that have cropped up in places like Gatlinburg and Sevierville. That’s a good niche, but projects like this will quickly destroy that well-earned reputation. Let’s not take that chance.

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