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New group forms to oppose N.C. 107 plan

Jeannie Kelley stands in front of preliminary N.C. 107 plans sporting her ‘Say No To The Road’ apparel. Holly Kays photo Jeannie Kelley stands in front of preliminary N.C. 107 plans sporting her ‘Say No To The Road’ apparel. Holly Kays photo

During an Aug. 6 public hearing on the future of N.C. 107 in Sylva, Kel-Save owner Robert Kelley was the first to speak, delivering an impassioned treatise on the need for a plan that would do more to protect Sylva’s small business community from annihilation as right-of-way is acquired. 

One month later, Kelley, 49, passed away from colon cancer, and his mother Jeannie is honoring his memory through a new group formed to oppose the N.C. 107 plans in their current form. 

“He was so passionate about this that I have decided we will continue to fight against the project, and today I’m announcing I’m forming a group of my own,” Kelley told the Sylva Town Board during public comment Sept. 27, sporting a blue t-shirt and blue rubber band bracelets, both proclaiming, “Say no to the road” in white lettering. 

“You’ll be hearing from us later,” she added. 

Unlike the Jackson County Smart Roads Alliance headed up by Sylva attorney Jay Coward, Say No To The Road doesn’t aim to come up with a replacement plan but rather to ensure that town and N.C. Department of Transportation officials are aware of opposition to the existing — though preliminary — plan, which according to a report released this spring would require 54 businesses, one nonprofit and five residences to relocate. 

Kel-Save, Krismart and Kountry Kupboard — all owned by the Kelley family — are not on that list, but according to Kelley the effect of the project would be about the same as if the DOT took the building, as the driveways currently used to access the businesses would be blocked off. 

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“The property we have, we bought it with those cut-ins there,” she told the town board. “They were already there. They’re taking them all away.”

Kelley also made it to the town planning board meeting, held later the same day, telling members that the road project is “going to be a bloodbath” and suggesting that town leaders aren’t taking the implications seriously enough.

That’s not the case, board members responded. 

“I think we do,” said Planning Board member Ellen Hunter. “We are concerned about that. We’ve been talking about it for a while.”

The N.C. 107 issue has been a tough nut to crack, with everybody recognizing the need to do something on the busy and high-crash-rate road. However, the many businesses and driveways along the route, as well as the constraining topography surrounding it, makes a low-impact solution hard to come by. 

The current 107 plan is far from being final. The plan that Kelley and everyone else is currently responding to is only 25 percent complete, with substantial changes likely coming as the DOT considers public comment and receives utility plans from Duke Energy and the Tuckaseigee Water and Sewer Authority. An updated set of plans is expected to be released this winter. 

“It’s just the first cut. It’s nowhere near the final design,” said Planning Board Member Rose Bauguess, who works as the senior planner for the Southwestern Commission. 

In addition, the town is working with MountainTrue’s Asheville Design Center, which has offered its services pro bono to develop an alternative plan aimed at decreasing impacts on businesses. 

While the planning board held a robust discussion of the project’s goals, timeline and other issues Sept. 27, the board does not have a say in what the final plans look like, Town Manager Paige Dowling told the body. However, the board will be important to navigating the fallout, she said. 

“One role I see is looking at ordinances that can make it easier for businesses (facing relocation),” Dowling said. “During the fire downtown (in 2014) we were still enforcing temporary signs, but we didn’t charge fees for a certain amount of time. Or requirements that are in our zoning, like parking and landscaping — that might be something we want to look at for businesses that are impacted by this project.”

The planning board meets monthly at 5:30 p.m. on the third Thursday of the month. It will have plenty of time to explore ideas for helping relocated businesses, as the DOT isn’t set to begin right-of-way acquisition until the end of 2019 or early 2020. Construction would start around 2022. 

“I want this board to start thinking now how it can be better for the business community,” said Dowling. 

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