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Jackson planning asks if WCU should be subject to county development rules

When Jackson County’s subdivision ordinance was revised last year, it included some changes that would apply to development at Western Carolina University. Namely, all WCU projects with more than 60 bedrooms — including dorms — would have to comply with the new county standards.

The question, though, is should they? WCU requested, and was granted, exemption from the Cullowhee Community Planning Area. Should the same go for county standards? 

Scott Baker, planning board member and chair of the Cullowhee Community Planning Committee, thinks the county standards should apply. But not because WCU is a loose cannon that needs to be regulated. The university was exempted from the planning area in the first place because of its pre-existing plan to manage its own growth. 

“It’s not that they refused to be part of it,” Baker said. “It’s that they have their own master plan and it’s going to exceed the guidelines of the Cullowhee planning ordinance.”

As to the county ordinance, he simply believes that WCU falls within its purview and that there’s no good reason to exclude them. 

“There’s not a concern that they’re going to go rogue and build something crazy,” he said. 

While WCU is aware that the county is looking into the subdivision ordinance and its applicability to the WCU, the university hasn’t received any definitive communication on the issue from the county, said Bill Studenc, WCU’s communications director. 

“University leaders plan to maintain open lines of communication with county officials,” Studenc said in an email. “Western Carolina wants to be full partners working in collaboration with the county as the campus and the county grow in ways that preserve their natural beauty and enhance their sense of community.”

The planning board will discuss the issue at its Feb. 12 meeting, to be held 6 p.m. in room A227 of the Jackson County Administration Building.

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