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Cashiers residents form civic group

By Sarah Kucharski • Staff Writer

Members of the Cashiers area are organizing a new civic association to direct the community’s future.

The formation of the association is an outgrowth of a planning project a group of Louisiana State University students undertook last year. The students, led by LSU landscape architecture professor and part-time Cashiers resident V. Frank Chaffin, studied the area in terms of demographics, land use and projected growth. Their semester-long study resulted in the recommendation of aesthetic-yet-functional element such as the creation of a public park and preserving in-town wetlands.

However, the problem with making those recommendations is that there is no one to carry them out. Cashiers, a community of approximately 200 full-time residents, has no municipal government and little political representation aside from a single county commissioner. There is not an individual person or entity to contact when something needs to be done.

With a civic association, that could change, said Sherman Runions, a landscape architect who has been closely involved with the LSU planning project.

Originally from Tampa, Runions was involved with a civic association there. The non-governmental entity carried much influence with elected representatives, he said. A similar organization that perhaps held forums, met with governmental boards, encouraged civic engagement and served as a contact for various projects in the area could bolster the Cashiers’ community.

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About 25 area residents gathered last Tuesday (Jan. 10) to discuss forming such an organization and create an agenda for a second public meeting to be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 26, at the Albert Carlton Library in Cashiers. Topics on the agenda will include organizational questions such as the area the civic association would represent and subjects the association would like to address such as fire and law enforcement, infrastructure and affordable housing.

Though Cashiers has seen successful citizen-led efforts to facilitate change — establishment of Cashiers zoning district was a direct result of citizen action — getting people involved in a cause is a challenge, said Lester Freeman, who attended the recent meeting.

“I think it’s kind of been there, done that,” Freeman said, explaining that meeting attendance — regardless of what kind of meeting — is often low.

For example, when the group of approximately 30 LSU landscape design students spent a week in the area in February attempting to talk to local residents about their concerns and collect data for their planning project, they got little by way of participation. The students held a public meeting at the Cashiers Community Center, but only a handful of people showed up. And at the group’s public meeting at the library, where they presented rough sketches and ideas, students outnumbered community members 10 to 1.

Low attendance may at least in part stem from an uncertainty about just what it is that groups do, Freeman said. If the public doesn’t know what a group’s purpose is, they don’t know whether or not they want to get involved.

Runions iterated that he wanted the proposed civic association to be “a very transparent” and “pro-active” organization with a large body of members, as size helps create influence.

“The only way this is ever going to work is with numbers of people,” Runions said.

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