Cullowhee zoning heads to commissioners
It’s been one-and-a-half years since the Jackson County Commissioners first OK’d a committee to look into doing some zoning in Cullowhee, and while Cullowhee is still without development standards, a proposal is on its way to commissioners’ desks.
Approval could come as early as Jan. 29, though it could also drag out a good deal longer.
“I appreciate all y’all’s input,” said Scott Baker, chairman of the Cullowhee Community Planning Committee, after the committee approved its proposal unanimously. “I know it’s tough. This is a lot of good we’re doing.”
“It’s a huge growing step for Cullowhee and our county,” agreed committee member Rick Bennett.
The committee’s final look through the standards came after one last community meeting, held Jan. 13. About 50 people showed up, a good bit less than the 75 or so that have attended the other input sessions held along the way, and the comments had a more positive flavor than before.
“It was a lot of people talking. There wasn’t as much angst. There were still people that had concerns,” said Baker, who also sits on the Jackson County Planning Board. “It was interesting, the dynamic change.”
Removing Little Savannah
One of those concerns came from Arbra Gibson, who owns multiple, largely undeveloped, property parcels along Little Savannah Road.
“We moved because Rabbit Ridge [Properties] was right beside us, yet they’re zoning our property both as multifamily and single family,” she said at the community meeting, “which would basically leave what they had zoned as single family unsellable because who wants to live beside apartments?”
She said that, while the proposed zoning for other properties on Little Savanna merely reflected the current status quo, the zoning on her property would be different from the present use. That was unfair, she said, and requested that her property be exempt from the planning area.
Gibson will get her wish, though not for the reasons she presented at the meeting.
“One of the requirements of community planning is that all the property be contiguous,” County Planner Gerald Green said at last week’s committee meeting. “I don’t think we can argue this property is contiguous.”
The map presented at the community meeting showed the Little Savannah area connected to the rest of the planning area only by a highway right-of-way along N.C. 107. An earlier revision had taken out the property parcels that would have connected Little Savannah to the rest of the planning area, and connecting parts of a planning area by road rights-of-way isn’t something that’s held up in court in the past, Green said.
The final proposal therefore removed the entire section along Little Savannah Road, but it’s possible that the area could be added back in the future if more property owners eventually decided they wanted in.
“I’m hoping we’ll hear from more people in different areas that want to be included,” Green said.
A dynamic plan
He emphasized that the planning process will be a dynamic one, with a committee of seven Cullowhee residents, property owners and businesspeople deciding on recommended changes to the standards and hearing from anyone who wants to be added.
One of those people was Tucker Kirk, who lives off of Edgewater Road just outside of the planning area.
“I’m in favor of us being in that, primarily to protect the Tuck,” he said at the meeting.
The planning committee members were favorable to adding Kirk’s neighborhood eventually, but only after taking some time to make sure that’s what everyone wanted.
“I think if they want to be included, I’m in favor of that,” Baker said. “We just need the momentum of all of them agreeing to it. This late in the game, to annex some other group of property owners in, we would need their buy-in.”
Zoning for mobile homes
The draft of the zoning standards presented at last week’s community meeting included a change allowing single-wide trailers in residential developments, but the planning committee modified that change after Green told the committee he’d heard concerns about single-wides being allowed.
“These comments came from residents of existing neighborhoods like Oak Forest, University Heights, and one of my neighbors asked me about it,” Green said. “What I propose is we create two residential districts. One would allow manufactured homes, and that would be mapped everywhere there is not an existing neighborhood.”
The planning committee agreed to designate existing neighborhoods as residential areas in which single-wide mobile homes are not allowed — double-wides still would be — while designating undeveloped areas zoned for residential housing as neighborhoods allowing single-wides.
More open space needed?
Some of those at the meeting last week took a look at the map and didn’t see as much zoned for parks and open space as they would like.
“I really like this development plan overall very much,” said Jim Costa, who lives in the Oak Forest neighborhood. “One thing that jumps out at me is there’s relatively little designated parks or open space.”
In particular, Costa singled out a wetland area off of Little Savannah Road that had been zoned for high-density multi-family housing. Oak Forest resident Catherine Carter had previously expressed her opinion that the area should be zoned more conservatively to protect the species and water quality of the wetland. Costa took Carter’s comment a step further.
The area, he said, “might profitably be designated as parks or open space.”
Green reiterated that he wants to be careful when it comes to private property, which is why the only open space zoning in the proposal is on county land.
“I don’t think that would be a wise request to make to the Board of Commissioners,” Green said.
The discussion surrounding that piece of land is a moot point now, anyway, as the Little Savannah area is no longer part of the planning area. However, the planning committee has noted the community’s desire for more parks where possible without infringing on property rights.
Though most of the comments at the meeting could be categorized as constructive criticism, one landowner made it clear that he was still not happy with the idea of having any zoning at all.
“Pretty much what you’re doing anyway is telling everyone what to do with their property,” said Cullowhee resident Doug Parker.
Parker particularly disagreed with the plan amendment requiring housing developments with 12 or more units to install sidewalks — such sidewalks wouldn’t be connected to anything else, so what’s the point? he asked the committee.
Over the long-term, Green said, hopefully they will connect. You have to start somewhere.
“The state is cutting back on its funding for sidewalks, but there are some private funding sources where if you’re building connectivity, they look at you more favorably,” he told the planning committee.
The point of the standards is to edge Cullowhee, bit by bit, toward becoming a cohesive, walkable community with a balance of restrictions that protect community rights while still respecting private property.
That’s a hard balance to strike, though. Hence why an advisory committee will continue to be in place even when — and if — the development standards are finalized.
“It’s a challenging thing,” Green said at the community meeting. “There’s a balance of the private property rights and the community rights. Where is that balance? It’s always something that’s moving. That’s why this process is dynamic.”
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