The town board and planning board held two workshops in March to chart a vision for Sylva’s future. That vision includes commercial development that compliments the town’s small town character.
Milt Wofford, a planning board member, said corporation chain stores today don’t take pride in their community. They will build the cheapest building they can get away with with no regard for the community’s character, Wofford said.
“They are looking at the bottom line for their stock holders, so they create everything for the cheapest expense,” Wofford said. “That’s where it becomes imperative upon the public to require ordinances to govern corporations who have no or very little community sense. They’ll do what they are told to do, but won’t do any more.”
Today’s commercial districts no longer add to a community like the downtowns of yesteryear, but detract from a community, said Bill Graham, a planning board member.
“A lot of what we are building now discourages us from relating to one another and hurts our community,” Graham said.
Mayor Brenda Oliver agreed.
“It seems like the buildings were just thrown up to the almighty dollar, for the cheapest building you could build,” Oliver said. “What buildings that we are building today will last?”
Most fast-food structures have a life expectancy of just 25 years. On one hand, that could work to Sylva’s advantage. Existing fastfood joints along the commercial corridors will eventually be razed and modernized. New buildings will have to meet the latest town guidelines governing building design.
Waynesville is already witnessing a new look along its main commercial corridor just a few years after passing a comprehensive smart-growth land-use plan that required better building design, landscaping, smaller signs and sidewalks.
Town board member Stacey Knotts said Sylva still has an opportunity before more commercial development hits.
“We still have an opportunity here to put some of that in place before more comes,” Knotts said.
Town board member Harold Hensley did not seem as interested in the idea as the rest of the town board and planning board. Hensley wasn’t impressed with examples of fast-food building designs that blended with their respective communities.
“Does a Big Mac taste any different out of that building?” Hensley asked, citing an aesthetically pleasing McDonald’s.
When some board members chastised corporate chain stores for insensitive building designs, Hensley said Sylva needs the corporate chain stores.
Town board member Maurice Moody said the corporate chain stores would still come to Sylva, they would just have to blend their design with the community’s character.
“If they want to do business in your community, they will conform appearance wise to whatever,” Moody said. “You can have the convenience of the bigger companies but an appearance that does not look like a strip mall.”
Hensley said that would be up to individual communities to regulate.
“I think that’s what we should do,” Moody said. “I think it is our responsibility to set the requirements appearance-wise.
The town board decided by consensus to explore some design regulations that would lead to more friendly commercial development. The planning board was assigned to start tackling the issues. Some of the components could include building design, landscaping, signs and pedestrian considerations.