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University says county development ordinance shouldn’t apply

County and university officials had a sit-down last week over the question of whether Western Carolina University should fall under Jackson County’s revised subdivision ordinance.

The ordinance was revised in March 2014 to require new apartment complexes to include elements such as open space and sidewalks in their plans, but during a recent review of the new rules, County Planner Gerald Green realized that the ordinance was written so as to include WCU in its purview. Earlier this month, the planning board agreed to forego any action that would exempt the university — not because they’re worried that WCU would build something out of line, they said, but because they favor the increased communication between county and university that inclusion would foster. 

“Personally, I don’t think the applicability of the ordinance to WCU is a major issue since the WCU construction standards far exceed our expectations,” County Manager Chuck Wooten said. 

Wooten met with Chief of Staff Melisa Wargo, Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance Mike Byers and General Counsel Mary Ann Lochner, who agreed it would be a great idea to regularly update the county planning board on university construction projects but disagreed with the assertion that the board should have the right to approve or disapprove university plans. 

“The [attorney general’s] office has weighed in on similar questions at other institutions,” Chancellor David Belcher said, and university representatives are now researching those opinions. 

“They’re still not convinced that the subdivision ordinance applies to them,” Wooten said. 

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While the two parties disagree on that point for now, both sides stressed that the discussions are friendly and there is no animosity between county and university. 

“We’re in very healthy and very friendly conversations,” Belcher said.

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