Mayor Saralyn Price asked a packed room of people at town hall last week not to focus on the price tag, but rather the possibilities.
“I ask that you keep an open mind and don’t worry about how much it’s going to cost,” she said before the plan was presented. “We are here tonight to see if we like the plan.”
The $7 million plan includes road improvements, reverse-angle street parking, sidewalks, crosswalks, a median refuge island, bike lanes, a splashpad for children, undergrounding a quarter-mile of utilities and an open-air pavilion to house an ice-skating rink in the winter and a farmers market in the summer.
“This is the Cadillac of all options,” project planner Sealy Chipley said. “Y’all get to choose what you have in the end.”
Of course the entire project doesn’t have to be tackled all at one time. Town Manager Nathan Clark said the town could prioritize smaller project pieces as funding becomes available.
“To take my favorite saying from former Town Manager Al Matthews, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time,” Clark said.
The project team first held a public input meeting in March 2015 to get feedback from residents about what they wanted to see in Maggie Valley. Chipley said initially the committee had to outline where the town center should be along the five-lane U.S. 19 corridor. Based on public feedback, a majority of people saw the town center being from the Comfort Inn down to Evans Cove Road. That quarter-mile strip also includes the festival grounds, Market Square Shopping Center, Cabbage Rose Gift Shop, Guayabitos Mexican Restaurant and the Cataloochee Ski Shop.
Chipley said residents really wanted to slow down traffic on Soco Road and encourage more walking and biking around town — the quarter-mile town center proposal would do just that. A splitter island located near the Comfort Inn would create a half roundabout to slow down cars as they enter the town center.
Proposed reverse-angle parking within the town center would also slow down traffic as drivers would have to be more aware of cars entering and exiting parking spots. If businesses within the town center would give the town easements into their parking lots, Moore said, the road could be widened on both sides so that Soco would still have two lanes eastbound and westbound plus 260 parking spots, the median and bike lanes on both sides.
“The idea is to push the curb up as close as possible to front doors of businesses — the (reverse angle) parking spots would basically replace business parking,” said project engineer Reuben Moore.
Instead of pedestrians having to cross five lanes of Soco Road traffic, Chipley said a median refuge island would make crossing safer and more aesthetically pleasing. The grassy median would have trees, a sidewalk running down the middle of it and three crosswalks over the highway.
“The splitter island will slow people down, and we recommend marking the speed limit down to 20 miles per hour,” Chipley said.
Some people weren’t crazy about the idea of reverse-angle parking, but Chipley assured everyone that it is safer than regular diagonal parking and much easier than parallel parking.
“Reverse parking is safer — your trunk is unloaded on the backside of the road and you can see better when you leave,” she said. “It’s also fewer steps than parallel parking takes.”
An ice-skating rink is something Maggie Valley leaders have envisioned in town for many years, but the cost and location have always been obstacles. The town center proposal includes plans for an open-air pavilion that could act as an ice-skating rink in the cold months and a farmers market in the warm months. Moore compared the plan to similar projects in other states to peg the estimated cost at $2.4 million.
“You can get a really nice regional attraction for that price,” he said.
He said the property across from the festival grounds could be a potential location for the pavilion. The property is vacant now after the Sweetbriar Motel burned down a couple of years ago.
Another attraction high on the priority list was a Veterans Memorial Park that would include a splashpad fountain for children. Moore said it would beautify the town while also providing something for youth to do in the summer. The estimated cost is $350,000.
During the previous public input sessions, residents mentioned how unsightly the overhead utility lines were along Soco Road. Even though the cost may not be worth the effort, Moore included an estimate for undergrounding the lines only in the town center area — $2.25 million.
The town center plan has been in the works for more than a year. The board of aldermen allocated $25,000 in the 2014-15 budget to hire J.M. Teague Engineering to lead the process along with input from McGill Associates, Martin McGill Management Consulting, Kostelec Planning and Chipley Consulting.
At the suggestion of Alderman Phillip Wight, the town manager asked the 80-plus people in the room to raise their hands if they supported the town center plan. While members of the audience had questions and concerns about certain aspects, a supported the overall concept.
Clark encouraged everyone to spread the word in the community to enable the initiative to carry forward. The next step will be for the board of aldermen to discuss future priorities and begin budgeting money for particular phases of the project.
“For the first time we could have a true downtown and a true sense of place,” Clark said. “This is the most expensive proposal the town of Maggie Valley has ever considered, but were not going to change without it. What you see is something I feel proud to be associated with.”
To see the entire town center plan, visit www.townofmaggievalley.com.