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New apartment rules set the stage for a safer walk to campus for WCU students

The advent of three large student apartment complexes around Western Carolina University in the past few years has prompted concern in Cullowhee over increased traffic.


In response, Jackson County’s planning board has approved rules that would require new apartments from here on out to build sidewalks, hopefully reducing commuter traffic to- and- from campus by encouraging students to walk or bike.

“It feels like unplanned growth to have all these apartments cropping up in Cullowhee with no sidewalks,” said Sarah Graham, a planning board member. “It seems like it would have been a better issue to deal with eight years ago before all those apartments mushroomed up around Cullowhee.”

The arrival of new apartment complexes will inject hundreds of students onto narrow, two-lane roads with scarce shoulders around the university. Without sidewalks, students will be more apt to drive to and from campus, causing traffic issues, according to concerned residents in the vicinity of campus. 

While the new rules will not apply to existing apartment complexes, going forward, sidewalks could be required for any new apartments with more than 60 bedrooms. The requirement is not hard and fast but does give the planning board the option of requiring sidewalks on a case-by-case basis, said County Planner Gerald Green.

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The new rule would technically bring apartment complexes with more than 60 bedrooms under the purview of the county’s subdivision ordinance. The county could then require sidewalks as a condition of their permit if it so chose, Green said. 

Apartment complexes would have to comply with other regulations in the subdivision ordinance as well, including open space requirements, but sidewalks were “the main motivator,” Green said.

Developers would only have to build sidewalks within the complex itself, however, not the entire way to campus. It’s a start, Green said, but the larger concern of adequate pedestrian access around campus will remain. 

The new rules for apartments originated from the Cullowhee Planning Council, a task force appointed by Jackson County commissioners last year to begin looking at land-use planning for the area.

A full suite of growth and development regulations in Cullowhee is still in the making.

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