One concern voiced at the hearing dealt with the creation of a commercial gateway district at the corner of Soco Road and U.S. 19, a business and retail district that could include a grocery store. Local builder and contractor Jay Ring said that Maggie Valley has had grocery stores in the past, all of which have shut their doors. Ring contended that the nature of the town is seasonal, and a grocery store has not been able to sustain itself because the town’s population decreases drastically in the winter.
Town Planner Nathan Clarke admitted the town has indeed “had a grocery store and several pharmacies or drug stores” move in and out of the area over the years.
“If the town had a magic wand to bring in Ingles, Kroger or the Fresh Market and make them stay, they would have 25 years ago. It’s really up to the corporations to take a chance on Maggie and its up to Maggie to make sure that investment is protected,” said Clarke.
Clarke added that there “is nothing in the ordinances today stopping those from returning,” and emphasized that the point of a land-use plan is to create an environment in Maggie Valley that is more attractive to those kinds of businesses.
Currently, a Ft. Worth, Texas, firm called Buxton is conducting a study to determine the types of franchises that a town the size of Maggie Valley could viably attract and support. The company tracks spending habits of local customers through credit and debit card purchases and compares towns with similar features and demographics to determine what businesses could meet the needs of a community.
Maggie Valley received a list of Buxton’s recommendations, which they sent back for the company to revise.
“There were some things on that list that were thought to be a little odd,” Clarke said.
For example, Buxton suggested that Casey’s Carryout, a business most accurately described as a truck stop, would be a good fit in Maggie Valley. However, since 18-wheelers are prohibited from driving through the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Soco Road does not serve as a major corridor for truckers.
“We were looking around at each other and wanted some better answers,” Clarke explained. The town is still waiting on the second set of results. Rather than getting discouraged, though, Clarke sees the Buxton study as giving “the people of the town a lot of good information and research that will be the basis for why that particular business will succeed in Maggie Valley.”
Places for Teens
A second topic that dominated the public hearing — and one planners did not discuss in their presentation — was recreation, especially for the younger population of Maggie Valley.
When Benchmark representative Erin Musiol was asked if the land-use plan included recreational facilities for children, she replied that the plan included a greenway trail for walking, “but open space issues were not discussed. That might fit into the mixed-use areas, but a recreation area as a sole use has not been discussed.”
Seasonal resident Evelyn Lee said that was a problem.
“As a great-grandmother, you have nothing that appeals to 12- and 14-year-olds who come visit here. There’s a playground for the little ones, but no soccer fields exist to get a game going,” said Lee.
Planning Board member June Johnson said the planning board had discussed that issue.
“What can we do for young children and teenagers? We have spent hours and hours on what we can do about that issue. If I owned property and wanted to get rich, I would want to put in something that attracts families. We need to think about the vibrancy that youth and children and families bring,” said Johnson.
Audience members suggested several types of businesses that would appeal to youths, including a roller rink, movie theater or bowling alley.
Again, Clarke emphasized that the planning board is looking at the issue.
“Recreation is definitely something that we’re interested in trying to promote, but the whole purpose of the plan is to make Maggie Valley more attractive to investment,” said Johnson. “Definitely, that would include those recreation opportunities mentioned at the meeting, be it a bowling alley or a movie theater.”
Is growth all good?
At the moment, Maggie Valley seems to be at a crossroads. Residents were conflicted between wanting a larger variety of businesses but also wanting to keep the small-town feel. As one audience member put it: “Do we really want enough people allowed in town to warrant a grocery store?”
Like it or not, growth has already come to Maggie, planners said. Chains might be more eager to set up shop in Maggie Valley if they knew — as Mayor Roger McElroy pointed out — that the town’s winter population has risen by about 50 percent a year, making it increasingly possible to sustain a large business.
“We’re gaining more and more of a full-time population every day,” Clarke said.
Planning board members said an involved citizenry is necessary to manage Maggie Valley’s growth, and they were pleased at the turnout to discuss the land-use plan.
“If there are 50 people in this room, that’s 49 more of you than I’ve ever seen at one of the planning board meetings,” said Planning Board member Jay Ring.
The next public hearing will take place at a town board of aldermen meeting tentatively scheduled for sometime in July.
• The creation of mixed-use districts, which would combine residential, business and retail, along Soco Road and Moody Farm Road.
• Establishing a downtown center, also known as a commercial village district, for Maggie Valley on Soco Road close to Ghost Town.
• Designating space for a commercial gateway district, which could include developments like a grocery store and would serve as a formal entry point into Maggie Valley.
• Establishing districts for neighborhood businesses, like a pharmacy or video store, which would encourage residents to shop locally rather than traveling to neighboring towns for their needs.
• Consolidating businesses that may need more space, such as car dealerships and storage warehouses, into two open-air districts on the outskirts of Maggie Valley.