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Cullowhee plan inches toward finish line

fr cullowheeDon Kostelec stood in front of a flip pad in the cafeteria of Cullowhee Valley Elementary School. He asked for it all. Hold nothing back.

“If you were king for a day, put it on there,” he instructed, inviting attendees at a Cullowhee Vision Plan session earlier this month to prioritize elements of the evolving plan. “If you think we’re nuts, or got something wrong, put that on there too.”

Kostelec was referring people to a comment form available at a table near the rear of the cafeteria. It provided a venue for the public to rank various action steps — such as conducting a Small Area Plan or student preference survey — and comment on the plan in general, which together with the work of the Cullowhee Community Planning Advisory Committee, could soon serve as the foundation for eventual planning regulations. 

Mike Clark, however, forwent the comment card. 

“If this passes, it’s a zoning and it’s gonna affect all of us,” he said. 

Clark, a member of the Cullowhee advisory committee, has expressed this opinion before. In meetings. In letters to the editor. It appears to garner sighs and rolls of eyes around the cafeteria.

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Clark is against efforts to realize regulations in the rapidly growing college town of Cullowhee. This late-in-the-game community visioning session was another opportunity for him to speak his mind. 

“How about letting them vote?” he said, suggesting any planning district be put before the public on a ballot. 

Clark’s critique was lively, but short-lived. The rest of the room appeared on board with the plan. On board with notions of zoning standards, public transportation and greenway connectivity.

Last summer Jackson County commissioners assembled the Cullowhee advisory committee to help the community create a collective vision and to draft development standards that will guide future growth. Kostelec — of Kostelec Planning in Asheville — was brought on board as a professional consultant. 

After a series of community forums and regular committee meetings, the vision has taken shape and potential development standards have been drawn up. This summer, the advisory committee expects to wrap their work up and forward any recommendations to the county commissioners.

The vision, in short, entails a community divided up into specific zones — degrees of industrial, commercial and residential — each with allowable and disallowed activities. The vision involves new development held to certain standards. It addresses aspects of planning such as parking and density and open-space requirements.

Based on the rankings provided at the most recent community meeting, Kostelec will tweak the vision plan once more. That, in turn, will be taken into account as the advisory committee considers what recommendation it may make to county commissioners. 

Jackson County Planner Gerald Green expects the committee’s work to wrap up sometime this summer. After that, it’s up to the commissioners to decide if the area indeed needs some type of regulation. 

Green realizes that all the visioning work could be for naught, destined for the proverbial dusty shelf, if the commissioners have no appetite for it. Still, he said, better a plan on a shelf than no plan at all.

“You may never achieve your goals, because you don’t have a vehicle, but at least you’ve got the goals,” the planning director said. 

After the meeting in the cafeteria, Kostelec said the visioning process, as well as any related development standards that may eventually be considered, is aimed at responsible growth. In addition to helping the community guide its growth, he considers such planning standards necessary for public safety as well.

“When I see a driveway with a 30-degree slope and a five-story apartment building, to me that’s a public safety issue that needs to be addressed,” he said.

Kostelec has been witness to a lot of growth in Cullowhee. He graduated from Western Carolina University and can recall one of the first student apartment developments being built.

“I remember, that was a big deal,” he said of the beginnings of Cullowhee’s growth, “because I was living in a mobile home down by the river.”

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