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A master plan for making Waynesville even more pedestrian friendly has been unveiled after a year in the making. The long-range plan lays out priorities for new sidewalks over the next 15 years.

“The basic rationale was to fill in small missing links on main roads first,” said Paul Benson, town planner. In later years, the plan calls for extending sidewalks into residential areas.

Topping the priority list is South Main Street. Despite a new Super Wal-Mart being built within walking distance of hundreds of homes, missing stretches of sidewalk inhibit pedestrians fromwalking to it, Benson said.

Other top priorities are along roads slated for a redesign anyway, which Benson described as the low-hanging fruit since the town can get state funding for sidewalks if they are built in conjunction with road construction. Otherwise, the town only has enough money to tackle 1,000 to 1,500 new feet of sidewalk a year, according to Public Works Director Fred Baker. Since funds are limited, it’s important to have a plan that lays out priorities, he said.

The town got a $20,000 grant from the N.C. Department of Transportation to hire a consultant to create the pedestrian plan. A steering committee was appointed by the town to guide the process.

The town also held a public workshop, conducted surveys and solicited email comments to gather a spectrum of views. Nearly 100 members of the public shared their gripes and wish-list for areas needing pedestrian improvement.

“It gets the public involved in deciding which ones are most important and it gives the town a blueprint to follow when making decisions,” Benson said.

A public workshop on the plan will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. on Thursday, June 25, at town hall. The town wants to hear from the public about where they want to see sidewalks or what intersections and crossings they consider dangerous for pedestrians. The town will incorporate public comments into the final plan.

For more information, or to view a draft plan, please contact Paul Benson at 828.456.2004.

Jackson County leaders have finished the first draft of a planning ordinance they hope will transform the U.S. 441 corridor in Whittier from a mish mash of billboards and unregulated growth into a model of tidy landscaping and mountain-themed architecture.

The U.S. 441 Development Ordinance made its public debut at an April 30 presentation at the Qualla Community Center. It now must go to the planning board for a review, then before county commissioners who will the decide whether to pass it into law. If it passes, Jackson will be the first county west of Buncombe to make a foray into land-use planning or zoning in a mostly rural unincorporated area.

The document, created by a county-appointed steering committee, is the culmination of a year-long process. At nearly 100 pages, it calls for mandatory landscaping and architectural standards, limits the size of signs and requires dumpsters to be screened.

Commercial development along the corridor is sparse now. But water and sewer are being installed along the highway, priming the pump for more intensive development to follow. The ordinance sets out a vision to guide anticipated growth from the outset along the stretch, which serves as an entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Cherokee.

“I know what is pretty and what is ugly is a matter of perspective, but on the other hand, there is signage and a type of building construction that I don’t believe is good for the community or the southern entrance of the (Park),” said Bill Gibson, a steering committee member, at the first public presentation of the ordinance.

Jackson County Planning Director Linda Cable said the appearance of the corridor is critical, since it’s a major gateway to the nation’s most-visited national park.

“This being a tremendous tourist attraction, it’s important that the corridor remains pleasing to visitors,” Cable said.

Gibson expressed high hopes that the ordinance, “will make the corridor both a safer travel route and a landscape over time that will become more pleasing not only to folks that live here, but travel here.”


Model process

The process of creating a planning document for the corridor began when citizens approached commissioners with concern over growth poised to follow the extension of water and sewer lines. Commissioners took heed and hired consulting firm Kimley-Horn and Associates in November 2007 to oversee the process. What followed was a series of stakeholder interviews, workshops, and a four-day series of interactive meetings with a team of planners, engineers and architects where public input was sought to create a vision for the area.

The public had plenty to say.

“There was overwhelming participation in this event,” said Matt Noonkester, a Kimley-Horn consultant for the project. “I think that’s what made the vision so important and so valid.”

Billboards were a big issue for people during the planning process, Nooncaster said. Participants were asked to guess how many billboards lined the corridor. Estimates ranged into the 300s — far below the actual number of 68, but a testament to the perception of clutter they created.

Community members wanted design guidelines to address building appearance and advocated for the creation of a development district to guide future growth. They overwhelmingly supported the development of a community brand, which would include a color palette, appropriate building materials and signs of a certain shape and size.

“There was strong support to look at regulating building architecture,” Noonkester said.

They liked the idea of a pedestrian-friendly, four-lane road with a landscaped center median.

Public input was compiled into the Small Area Plan, adopted by county commissioners in April of 2008. The document would serve as the foundation for a more comprehensive ordinance.

The bottom-up approach to planning was lauded by many who watched the process unfold. The Small Area Plan actually received an award from the American Planning Association.

“It was a really good model, not only for the ordinance that came out of it, but also the process,” said Ben Brown, communications coordinator for the Mountain Landscapes Initiative, the region’s largest-ever planning effort. “They chose to use a charette to talk directly to the community and help shape the principals and goals of the ordinance, which makes a lot more sense. That was the first really good example in the region of how to go about planning.”


Finding balance

Public opinion was kept at the forefront as the steering committee worked to draft the development ordinance.

Committee members, many longtime residents of the area themselves, had to strike a delicate balance between economic development and retaining Whittier’s beauty and character.

Debby Cowan, a steering committee member, spoke of the her experience trying to reconcile the two. Cowan said she wanted to preserve the area’s natural beauty, “but also recognized that Food Lion was one of the greatest things that happened in our community.”

Gibson also talked of trying to strike a balance.

“I have a great respect for individual property rights,” he said, but at the same time, “some of the changes we’re seeing right now are not in the community’s best interest.”

Though a strong private property rights sentiment might make some mountain folk wary of growth rules and regulations, it’s also important to develop in a wise manner, said Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Vice Chief Larry Blythe. The tribe was heavily involved in the process.

“It’s hard to put restrictions on people’s land, but when you’re talking about smart growth and the long term, we the tribe support this effort,” Blythe said.

During the process, committee members worked to shed their personal beliefs for the sake of what was best for the community as a whole.

“We feel like this is something that was prepared from the viewpoint of all the different people and all the different backgrounds of people in the community,” said Cowan. “While we don’t have it perfect probably, we do think the framework is something we worked very hard to make support everybody in the community.”

The committee’s efforts to include all viewpoints didn’t go unnoticed, said Michael Egan, the county’s consulting attorney on land development matters.

“I was very impressed with the dedication the committee had, always trying to think of the rest of the folks. There’s wasn’t a meeting that went by that somebody would say, let’s step back and take a look at that; let’s consider what affect that’s going to have on our neighbors and the folks who live here,” Egan said.


Billboards: Tourist draw or clutter?

The draft development ordinance for U.S. 441 encourages development that helps maintain the area’s natural beauty and character — a style dubbed “mountain authentic.” According to the ordinance, the ubiquitous large, colorful billboards that line the corridor aren’t in keeping with the area’s character, and are prohibited. The ones already in existence will be grandfathered in, however. Under the ordinance, signs are limited to 32 square feet. Preferred sign materials include brick, stone, and exposed timber.

Miami Lively, a representative of Santa’s Land Advertising, which owns a number of billboards, raised protest to the strict requirements at the public presentation of the document.

“You cannot put most people’s logos and directions on a (32-square-foot) sign,” Lively said. “The bigger the sign, the easier to read. We agree we don’t need a whole bunch of clutter, but the business owners are paying taxes for their businesses. If they don’t make money, the tax money isn’t going to come in.”

Lively added that “billboards bring tourism to the area.”

Ron Servoss, a community resident, disagreed that billboards enhance an area.

“I drove the corridor into Washington, D.C., last week, where there are no billboards allowed, and it was just wonderful to see the countryside,” Servoss said.

Noonkester pointed to the commercial corridor outside Sylva off N.C. 107, where billboards have been allowed to spring up without regulation. The road, and the unchecked growth along it, is often used as an example of what to avoid becoming.

“How many people like driving N.C. 107?” Noonkester asked, citing its sprawling strip mall and fast-food appearance. “The people of Cherokee would benefit more if this place keeps an identity they can associate with.”

The steering committee hopes it has nailed down that identity in the development ordinance.

“As we grow, I hope that future generations can look back on this group and say, they did a really good thing for this community,” said County Commissioner William Shelton.



What’s in store?

Here’s a sample of the aesthetic standards called for in the U.S. 441 Development Ordinance. For the complete ordinance, go to

• Accepted building materials include stone, exposed timber, fiber cement siding, wood siding, and shingle siding. No aluminum buildings.

• Dark and earth-tone building colors are strongly encouraged. Intense, bright, black or fluorescent colors shall only be used as accents.

• Dumpsters must be screened and blend with the building.

• Trees must be planted around parking lots and shrubs must be planted around building foundations. Landscape plans must be prepared by a landscape architect or designer. Trees must be planted in parking lots that are more than 8,000 square feet.

• Billboards are prohibited. Other signs cannot exceed 32 square feet.

Waynesville’s South Main Street — the two-lane thoroughfare that is the major artery between downtown and the new Super Wal-Mart — could be increased to four lanes and even have roundabouts, according to preliminary redesign options recently laid out by the Department of Transportation.

Town officials have been hounding DOT for more than a decade to redesign the corridor, which also serves as one of the gateways to Waynesville.

The DOT made forays into a feasibility study for the road in 2002, but the plan went nowhere and was shelved.

South Main Street is now back on the drawing board. Town leaders are hopeful the DOT will come up with a redesign that fits in with the town’s land use plan and makes South Main Street more pedestrian friendly and aesthetically pleasing.

South Main Street has long been the neglected end of town. The need to redesign the dated corridor has grown more urgent since the arrival of Super Wal-Mart in 2008. The two-lane road is no longer able to handle the amount of traffic that has been added as a result of the megastore and buildings that have sprung up around it. According to DOT, 18,400 vehicles per day are coming and going in the vicinity of Super Wal-Mart.

“We needed something addressed,” said Mayor Gavin Brown. “It’s not going to go away — it’s an issue and it’s a problem.”

DOT has laid out several redesign options to study. One calls for widening the thoroughfare to four lanes from Hyatt Creek Road, just next to the Super Wal-Mart, all the way to U.S. 276 right at the edge of downtown. A raised median would be placed in the middle.

Another option calls for widening the road to four lanes about half way to downtown — near the Waynesville Inn Golf Resort and Spa, i.e. country club — then to three the rest of the way. Roundabouts could be included in the three-lane section.

A third option would maintain the road as a two-lane corridor and implement intersection improvements such as roundabouts.

The options differ from those offered up in the 2002 study, before the town’s land use plan was in place. That study recommended a four-lane divided road with extra turn lanes in some places at a cost of $27 million. The old study estimated that 30 businesses and a dozen residential homes would be displaced by the redesign.

Starting early last year, town officials pressed DOT to revisit the feasibility study so it incorporated the town’s land use plan. The town opposes major widening of the road all the way into downtown or through residential stretches, Brown said.

In the commercial area, the town does not want a five-lane road, Brown said, preferring a four-lane road with a landscaped median in lieu of a middle turn lane.

In addition, the town wants eight-foot wide sidewalks on either side of South Main Street to accommodate bicycle and pedestrian traffic and street trees lining the corridor.

“Sidewalks are necessary for the safety issue — people are going to walk to these facilities,” Brown said, referring to the new Super Wal-Mart, Best Buy, and other businesses that have cropped up around them. Currently, the sidewalks lining South Main Street are patchy at best, and at points, disappear completely, leaving pedestrians dangerously close to oncoming traffic.

The initial plan didn’t include sidewalks — in fact, the new plan likely wouldn’t either if the town didn’t make it a priority to push for them.

“The DOT is very focused on automobile transportation, and they talk about being multi-modal, but I’ve seen them be pretty reluctant to include things like bike lanes and sidewalks because its an extra expense,” said town planner Paul Benson. “If the town wants to see amenities like that, we’ve got to get involved.”

By all indications, that’s just what Waynesville officials have done. Brown said he’s called the DOT every two months for the past year to check on the status of the study.

In an telephone conference with DOT designers in January, the town voiced concern over whether an overly wide road would be compatible with the town’s design guidelines and vision for the corridor. Town officials reiterated their wishes for sidewalks and street trees.

Brown said the regional DOT office has been very willing to work with the town and has helped them communicate their wishes to the state office.

“They completely understand the town’s vision and were very supportive of my comments,” Brown said of the regional Division 14 office.

DOT Feasibility Studies Unit Head Derrick Lewis cautions that the new designs being studied could change depending on the input of local leaders.

“We’ve changed our process to actively solicit government input at multiple points within the process,” Lewis said. “We’re just trying to get it closer to what everybody wants, and we actually get a better product in the long run.”

Lewis said the DOT will also seek public input early in the process, before the final designs are laid down. Members of the public will be invited to share their ideas and concerns at a workshop this summer.

Town officials promise to be vigilant in making sure the final product reflects the town’s vision.

“If we don’t like what we see, we’ll lobby for changes,” said Benson.

Attempts to pass Swain County’s first-ever planning regulations are showing signs of movement, but not in the direction that planning advocates hope.

A county subdivision ordinance, primarily setting standards for road widths and grades, was dropped from discussion by county commissioners a year ago after facing fierce opposition at a public hearing. No work has been done on it since, leaving Swain County as one of the few in the region with no regulations or oversight of construction on mountainside slopes.

The commissioners’ lack of interest in planning has now cost the county a grant that would have rekindled the topic.

Until recently, Swain County was second in line for a pot of money to help communities with planning initiatives, funded by the Southwestern Commission and the Department of Transportation.

The county was given the coveted number two spot because at the time, commissioners seemed serious about a subdivision ordinance and other planning issues.

But since the ordinance is dead in the water, the two grant sponsors asked Swain County Manager Kevin King if it was OK to bump the county further down the list and put neighboring Macon County in the number two spot.

King gave the Southwestern Commission and DOT the go ahead, and later informed the commissioners at the board’s annual retreat last weekend.

“That ordinance was dead anyway,” King told commissioners. “So we don’t have anything in place right now until somebody asks to put it on the agenda.”

King paused to see if commissioners showed signs of interest in the issue, but they remained silent, making it clear they had no intention of being the one to bring the ordinance up again.

Some Swain County residents think now is the time for the county to revisit the issue of planning. The economic downturn has slowed development, leaving commissioners time to hash out details.

“Right now, while land prices are dropping out the bottom, they should be trying to do something,” said Swain native Boyd Gunter. “You got a breathing spell here.”

Gunter, who lives in the Alarka community, has already seen too many developers ravaging his mountains.

“I own mountain land, and I don’t want to see it destroyed,” he said. “It’s just pure negligence on these Realtors’ parts to think you can come and build a house anywhere.”

Gunter has been pushing Swain commissioners to put development regulations of some sort in place for at least two years, but to no avail.

How’s this for a political endorsement: cast your votes in the upcoming municipal elections for those candidates who support land-use planning.

Franklin will soon have a new slate of comprehensive guidelines regulating development and promoting smart growth principles.

An overhaul of the town’s development ordinances has been four years in the making. The town board intends to pass the new regulations before November when three of the six board members face a crowded election.

By Julia Merchant • Staff Writer

Swain County’s first-ever planning board is nearly finished with its first project — drafting an ordinance to regulate road construction — and will send it on to county commissioners to review next week.

By Julia Merchant • Staff Writer

The surprisingly large crowd at a presentation on Maggie Valley’s proposed land-use plan seemed impressed with the details but questioned how applicable it was.

The land-use plan, created by Kannapolis-based firm Benchmark, would divide the town into districts where certain types of development will be encouraged. Residents got their first look at the proposal during a public hearing at town hall last Tuesday (June26).

By Julia Merchant • Staff Writer

After months of rigorous planning sessions, Maggie Valley town officials are finally ready to reveal to the public a new land-use plan they hope will help the town deal with anticipated growth.

Developers in Jackson County could be asked to designate 25 percent of new developments as conserved open space under a provision the Jackson County planning board is weighing.

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