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WCU falls under county subdivision ordinance, planning board says

Western Carolina University will now be subject to Jackson County’s revised subdivision ordinance, the planning board decided last week.

Technically, the university has been included under the regulations since the planning board revised them last year, but that implication of the revisions had flown under the radar until now. By declining to tweak the standards to exempt WCU, the planning board made a de facto decision to include them.

“Most universities fall under the planning board of the county that they’re in, so this isn’t anything unusual,” said board member Sarah Graham. 

The rules will affect WCU when it comes to development projects, like dorms, that include more than 60 bedrooms. The mixed-use development that the university is now planning to replace a commercial strip that burned during a 2013 fire will also fall under the ordinance, as the building will include student housing. Even outside of the subdivision ordinance, however, the county has had some oversight on the project, as the private developer working on it is still required to purchase a county building permit.

There’s no worry that WCU would approve some ill-conceived project that would fail to meet county standards, board members emphasized. To the contrary, they said, university construction projects typically outshine any parallel county standard. 

“I’ve done a preliminary review of the schematic plans of the mixed-use facility, and they exceed our standards,” County Planner Gerald Green told the board. 

The benefit of keeping WCU subject to the ordinance, Green said, would be the built-in tool for communication between the county and university that the permitting process would provide. 

Not that communication has been absent thus far, he stressed. 

“From my perspective, the university is doing a great job,” Green said, pointing out that he and other community members had been invited to help create the university’s master plan. 

WCU has yet to take an official stance on the question of the subdivision ordinance. University representatives are planning to meet with County Manager Chuck Wooten later this week, WCU’s communications director Bill Studenc said, and will have more to say on the matter after having that discussion. 

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