Maggie Valley is in the process of dealing with the sticky issue of getting business owners to clean up their property for several reasons — mostly to attract more tourists and more businesses.
“We can’t expect any economic and social change until we get some of these properties cleaned up,” said Town Planner Andrew Bowen. “Everyone’s property has a large impact on their neighbors.”
The staff and board of aldermen in Maggie Valley realize it has to be done and have made it a priority this spring before the summer tourists begin to pour into town. But Bowen, who is leading the initiative, is framing it as a community project and hopes the valley residents and business will work together to improve the town’s aesthetic beauty.
Maggie Valley has the tools needed to get the Soco Road corridor spruced up — it’s just a matter of enforcing the ordinances it has on the books. Bowen said the only difference now is that the board has the political will to make it happen.
“As a tourist town, the perspective and visual aspect is very important,” said Mayor Ron DeSimone. “I think our board is committed to improving the visual quality of Maggie Valley, and we all recognize something needs to be done.”
Soco looking so-so
Driving down Soco Road through Maggie Valley reveals a hodgepodge of different structures — some well-kept and others that were long abandoned when the economy tanked in 2008. There are vacant parking lots with weeds growing up between the cracks in the pavement, buildings in disrepair, junk cars lining the highway, old signage for closed up buildings and boarded up windows.
It isn’t what the town, the residents or the business owners want visitors to see when they drive through. They would prefer visitors to notice the unique attractions, restaurants, parks, greenways and beautiful mountains surrounding them.
With the town board’s support, Bowen is working on a “spring cleaning” to get rid of the junk cars, grown-up weeds, unauthorized signage and dilapidated buildings. He sent 107 letters out in late March to every property owner along Soco Road to let them know about the cleanup effort.
“Here’s the analogy I’ve been using — a successful mountain town is a very nice picture in a beautiful frame. We have the frame of the Great Smoky Mountains, but if we don’t have a beautiful picture to go in it, it doesn’t matter how pretty the frame is — it’s not going to sell,” Bowen said.
He has identified 30 problem properties along Soco Road but isn’t ready to call them out by name. He doesn’t even want it to get to that point. He wants the community business owners to step up and fix the problems before any enforcement or citations are needed.
“Overall the valley looks nice, but there are a few pieces that detract from the overall beauty of it,” Bowen said.
Businesses put on notice
With spring and summer tourism approaching, Bowen asked business owners to take a look around their properties from a tourist’s perspective. Since visitors come to this area for the natural beauty, he said, it was vital that the valley’s business corridor be aesthetically pleasing and welcoming to encourage visitors to stop, shop and stay.
Bowen said the letter was a heads-up for all property owners, but on May 1 he will start notifying the business owners that have infractions. They will have a month to fix the problem before Bowen begins issuing citations for every day the problem is not addressed.
“As this will be a town-led initiative, I will be enforcing all town ordinances that apply to issues of clutter and uncleanliness,” Bowen wrote in his letter. “To be exact, I will be pursuing all infractions within the subject matter of signage, solid and organic rubbish and junk vehicles.”
Bowen said he doesn’t want the cleanup effort to be a negative or harsh process. He said he is willing to answer any questions businesses have and help them resolve any issues they have.
DeSimone said all of the businesses, residents and tourists have something to gain by making Maggie Valley visually appealing. He wants the town to approach the cleanup initiative in a positive and helpful way to ensure community participation.
“I’ve often said, if you go over to a business and tell them they have to do something, you’ll probably get some resistance,” he said. “But if you try to reach out and help them, they’re more likely to do it.”
DeSimone said the town was willing to assist businesses in a number of ways, whether it’s donating trash trucks to do some cleanup or organizing volunteers to paint or clean up brush.
Troy Graves, co-owner of Cabbage Rose Gift Shop in Maggie Valley, said the cleanup effort is a move in the right direction.
“The valley is beautiful and people come here to see the surrounding mountains, so we need the town to look good to have people want to stay,” he said.
As a business owner in the valley for many years, Graves also understands how businesses have been struggling since the recession. While the town sidewalks used to be congested during the summer to the extent people couldn’t get through the crowds, that is no longer the case even on the busiest of weekends.
“It’s hard — I understand with the way business has been for several years it’s expensive to make improvements,” he said. “A lot of people just don’t have the money.”
Parks and greenways
The town is not just waiting for businesses to make the valley look better.
When the community came together last month to offer ideas about how Maggie Valley could create a town center plan, many residents indicated they wanted to see some improvements done quickly instead of years down the road.
In response to that, Bowen is working to create more open spaces for residents and tourists to enjoy. He has a passion for parks and greenways, and Maggie Valley has plenty of opportunities for both.
Bowen said the town found that it had an easement for a 0.4-mile stretch along Jonathan Creek — near the west intersection of Moody Farm Road. He said the town has applied for a grant from the Pigeon River Fund to create a greenway that has three access points to the creek.
The town is applying for a state recreation grant to improve its park and playground area behind town hall. Bowen’s long-term recreation plan includes adding a splashpad water feature for kids, a brand new playground and a place for people to play bocce ball and horseshoes.
Maggie Valley also has shown interest in purchasing a portion of a larger tract of land along Soco Road to convert it into park space. The town board of aldermen went into a closed session last month to discuss purchasing about 1.3 acres of the total 6-acre parcel at 4521 Soco Road — just past Setzer Cove Road.
The property was once home to a barbecue shack that was torn down. DeSimone said no official vote has been taken on the purchase.