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Proposed Cullowhee development standards get revised

Following a pair of community input sessions in October, proposed planning regulations for the Cullowhee area have been tweaked a bit. 

“Relatively minor revisions to text and to maps,” explained Jackson County Planning Director Gerald Green. 

The Cullowhee area, home to Western Carolina University, is the fastest-growing area of Jackson County. Though the area has seen a blitz of student-housing related developments in recent years, no development standards are currently in place. In 2013, Jackson County commissioners assembled the Cullowhee Community Planning Advisory Council and tasked it with taking a look at potential standards for the area. 

Following a year of work, the advisory council recently presented its proposed development standards and zoning recommendations to property owners and residents. Over the course of two sessions at WCU, members of the public weighed in on the proposed standards — many were not keen on either the specifics of the draft or the concept of the exercise, while others voiced support for the proposals and a recognition of their need. 

Taking the comments gathered, the Cullowhee advisory council has made some adjustments to its original proposals. The revised regulation standards will be put before the public in January. 

Tweaks to the proposed standards include:

Related Items

• Establishing minimum requirement for sidewalk inclusion — The proposed standards require single-family developments to include a sidewalk. Language has now been included to clarify  that this requirement only kicks in when a development exceeds 12 units. The standards now allow for the alternative option of providing a walking trail in lieu of a sidewalk. 

• Establishing a 50-foot buffer from rivers — Currently, structures in multi-family developments are required to be between 25 and 30 feet back from a river. The distance is dictated by either a trout buffer or a floodplain buffer. The proposed Cullowhee standards have been changed to include a 50-foot buffer.

“The planning council felt that a 50-foot buffer would provide better protection for the river,” said Green. “Thirty feet doesn’t seem very far when you see it in actuality.”

• Withdrawal of certain properties — Some areas originally included within the Cullowhee Community Planning Area have been excluded. During October’s input sessions some Cullowhee property owners complained that too much of the proposed planning area was zoned as single-family residential and would not be conducive to the community’s growth. Green told them that the single-family designation had been used as a default designation and could be reconsidered. 

Revisions to the proposals have properties located west of N.C. 107 and between the airport and North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching removed from the planning area. Other properties, such as properties housing WCU’s landfill and faculty housing, have been exempted from the proposed standards. 

“The lack of development potential was the primary reason,” Green said of the exemptions. “These properties do not appear to have the potential for development that others do.”

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