N.C. 107 meeting scheduled
The upcoming remodel of N.C. 107 through Sylva will be the focus of a special meeting and public hearing planned for 5:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 6, at Sylva Town Hall.
Town commissioners scheduled the meeting following the resurrection of the Jackson County Smart Roads Alliance, a group that initially formed in 2002 to oppose construction of the Southern Loop road, which would have connected Cullowhee directly to U.S. 74 and reduced traffic on N.C. 107 through Sylva. The group was instrumental in causing the N.C. Department of Transportation to abandon the project and focus instead on improving the existing road, but when preliminary plans were released showing that road work would force up to 54 businesses and one nonprofit to relocate, the group reformed to oppose the plan.
A June 26 meeting led by Sylva attorney Jay Coward drew about 50 people, with MountainTrue co-director Julie Mayfield attending to offer the support of that organization and of its Asheville Design Center, directed by Chris Joyell. If the group could develop an alternative plan that meets DOT’s goals but reduces damage to area businesses, Mayfield said, many of the relocations described in the initial documents could be avoided.
Town Manager Paige Dowling met with representatives of the Asheville Design Center and the Southwestern Commission to discuss the issue, and during the town board’s July 12 meeting she suggested the town hold a public meeting on the project. The meeting will include project updates from DOT representatives and a rundown of the history behind the project. A public hearing will follow.
“There will definitely be a public hearing in the meeting, but it should be more than just a public hearing,” Dowling told the board.
Commissioner Harold Hensley expressed his support for the DOT proposal, which would add bike lanes and wider sidewalks to the existing road and turn the middle “suicide lane” into a median, with turns allowed only at certain points. The project would also eliminate many of the driveways currently perforating the 107 roadside, decreasing the number of places where people could enter or exit the road. Media coverage stating that more than 50 businesses — about one-sixth of Sylva’s total — would be decimated by the project was overblown, Hensley said.
“When they say you’re affected, that don’t mean your business is going to be gone,” Hensley said.
Being on the list for relocation doesn’t necessarily mean that the structures on the property will be bulldozed, but it does mean that the property would be “impacted to the point they’re no longer able to conduct the business that’s being conducted there today,” DOT Division Engineer Brian Burch said in a June interview. According to preliminary plans, the 54 businesses, five residences and one nonprofit named on the report would be eligible for funding to relocate. Finding new digs in Sylva could prove difficult, however, because as noted in the DOT’s April relocation report, “suitable business sites in and around Sylva are very limited.” All those relocations would make the project much more expensive than the originally estimated $35.5 million, of which $14.6 million was to go for right-of-way and utilities. The revised estimate says that right-of-way alone will cost $47.6 million.
However, the plans on which the report is based are far from finished. Construction planning is about 25 percent complete, Burch said, and project specifics could change significantly once utility plans for the corridor are released. Those are expected by December.
The road project has been nearly a decade in the making, with DOT including the town in conversations leading up to release of the preliminary design. Hensley was skeptical that the public hearing would add much new information and wanted to make sure experts would be on hand to answer questions.
“Are we gonna have somebody that can answer all them questions, or are we going to have a bunch of people from Timbuktu bitching about something because there’s something to bitch about?” he said.
Town commissioners debated briefly as to whether the Aug. 6 meeting should be held at town hall or elsewhere.
“Do you think this place is going to be big enough?” asked Commissioner David Nestler.
“That’s what I was wondering,” agreed Commissioner Barbara Hamilton.
However, Dowling pointed out, there’s more parking at town hall than at the library, and other larger locations would fall outside of town limits. Nestler suggested asking county commissioners for the use of their boardroom, but Mayor Lynda Sossamon said that could make the county appear to be involved in something it might not want to be involved in. The 107 project falls mostly within town limits, though a portion of the project will take place on county land.
Commissioner Greg McPherson wondered whether the meeting would draw as large a crowd as some commissioners expected.
“I haven’t heard a single word from anybody about this project,” he said. “I’ve heard all kinds of stuff in the paper, all kinds of rumor mill stuff, but I haven’t heard from one constituent.”
A motion to set the meeting passed unanimously.
A public meeting at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 6, at Sylva Town Hall, will take input on and provide information about the upcoming remake of N.C. 107 through Sylva. The meeting will include an overview of the history behind the project, and updates on its progress from the N.C. Department of Transportation. A public hearing will follow, with anyone in attendance welcome to give an opinion on the proposed project.
For more information about the project and the history behind it, visit www.smokymountainnews.com/news/itemlist/tag/nc%20107. To send commissioners written comments, find contact information at www.sylvanc.govoffice3.com. Town hall is located at 83 Allen Street, Sylva.