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Maggie calls on higher power to referee ridgetop cross proposal

fr gtcrossA lofty vision to build a 220-foot cross on the mountaintop above Maggie Valley has been downwardly revised to 125 feet, but it could still run afoul of the state ridge law.

Maggie town officials have been trying to sort out whether a gigantic cross on the mountain would be allowed under the state law. But the answer isn’t clearcut, so the town has placed the burden of proof on the person behind the idea, namely long-time Maggie businesswoman Alaska Presley.

“We are putting the onus on her. She has to provide proof from the state that she is following their laws,” Maggie Town Planner Andrew Bowen said.

Presley conceived the cross as a signature attraction of a Christian theme park that she hoped to build on the mountain above town. Now in her 90s, Presley may pursue the cross as a standalone project, however, regardless of whether the Christian park comes to fruition.

“It has always been my dream to leave something positive for Maggie, and this cross should be considered a piece of art for everyone to enjoy,” Presley said in a letter to the town.

Some residents believe it will detract from the mountain scenery and harm the viewshed, however.

Presley has broached her idea with the town twice so far this year, once in a sit-down meeting and later in a follow-up letter. Despite previous talk of a 220-foot cross, Presley realized that wouldn’t fly under the ridge law.

“I acknowledge a cross of 220 feet as originally planned will not be feasible,” Presley said.

Instead, she said she wants to make it 125 feet.

That may still be too high. The state ridge law says no structure can extend more than 35 feet above the crest of a protected ridge.

Calculating the elevation of the ridge crest — the line between two peaks on a given section of the ridge — isn’t as easy as it sounds, however, and the town doesn’t want to assume that risk itself.

“If I was to write a permit that was against state law, the town could be given some kind of putative action,” Bowen said. “We would hate for it to get built and the state then come and say ‘whoa, whoa, whoa you have to do something about this.’”

So far, however, the state has declined to help Maggie Valley determine how high the cross can be. A clause in the ridge law expressly prohibits any town or county from issuing a building permit that violates the ridge law.

But ironically, when Maggie asked for help calculating the crest elevation to ensure compliance, state agencies said that wasn’t in their purview.

“The Mountain Ridge Protection Act of 1983 does not give a state agency the authority to oversee or enforce the law,” according to Jamie Kritzer, spokesperson for the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. “Not all state laws provide for a state entity to enforce those laws.”

Still, Maggie Valley doesn’t feel like it should be the adjudicator of a state law.

“We just don’t feel at this point we have the authority,” Bowen said.

Whether the N.C. Attorney General’s office will be willing to render an opinion either, however, is unknown.

“I do not know. That will just be the process,” Bowen said.

The town has its own height limits on the books for buildings and cell towers. Buildings can’t be taller than 45 feet and cell towers can’t be taller than 125 feet.

But the cross doesn’t meet the definition of either.

“If it were a cell tower or a house or hotel, we could have handled it easily and not gone through all this process,” Bowen said.

The proposed cross in Maggie appears to be a precedent setting case for testing the ridge law. 

“I couldn’t find any other communities that had gone through this,” Bowen said.

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