Archived Opinion

Jackson, others need to learn to plan

By John Edwards • Guest Columnist

Positive planning by developers, government officials and local citizens could be of great benefit in dealing with the rapid growth taking place in southern Jackson County.

A direction of maintaining mountain beauty and values should be an objective to be considered, along with the financial aspects of rapid development. After all, our most valued assets in the greater Cashiers area are the natural beauty and serene lifestyle.

As a full-time resident for the past 16 years and owner of a small development company, I have an understanding of the need for sustained growth. However, the most attractive home in the area cannot match the beauty of the mountains. The greatest assets of mountain living need planning and attention before they become seriously endangered.

Planning is not well accepted by many in Jackson County, but other communities in the area with considerable success are implementing it. Macon County recently completed a long-range study that analyzed perceptions about the mountain landscape and the future of that region. One of the most striking realizations of Macon County is that nearly one half of the land belongs to people who live outside of the area, and rapid construction will continue as a dominant force to be considered in planning for the future. It also found that 95 percent of the participants in this study were in favor of doing something to address the county’s changing land, while only 5 percent were against land-use regulations.

In this interesting study by Macon Tomorrow, performed by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, it was found that the top 10 concerns included ridge-top construction, development on slopes, lack of land use planning, harmonizing growth with tradition and the need for economic growth and affordable housing. These concerns also can be applied to Jackson County, and it would be a positive step to consider a similar study.

An article in the Nov. 16 issue of the Smoky Mountain News featured the Balsam Mountain Trust, a land development company interested in protecting the environment. The Balsam Mountain Trust is a private endeavor that is taking on the challenge of providing upscale housing while also placing more than 3,000 acres — about two-thirds of the Balsam Mountain Preserve — under conservation easements. Both Michael Skinner, director of the Balsam Mountain Trust, and his assistant, Blair Ogburn, are to be commended for their efforts to seek financial gain while still maintaining the valuable assets of the mountains.

There are local individuals in the area, like Bill McKee, who value nature and have taken steps to preserve the heritage and beauty of the area. Groups such as the Nature Conservancy, Jackson-Macon Land Trust, Western North Carolina Alliance, Jackson-Macon Alliance and others in the area have resources to assist in planning for the Southern Jackson County area.

Now is the time to prepare for the future in this area in order to maintain the quality of life, which is Southern Jackson County’s trademark. The residents of this area deserve funding and leadership by the county to study the effects of growth in this area and possible steps that can be taken to preserve our heritage.

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