Archived Opinion

Can’t believe what’s happening to my hometown

Can’t believe what’s happening to my hometown

Change is difficult for most people. Watching my humble hometown turn into an unrecognizable place is a hard pill to swallow. 

As I travel across the county and see the demolition of certain buildings and spaces that remind me of childhood or my grandparents, it isn’t easy. Yet locals who were born and raised in this community bear the brunt of these growing pains. We have accepted the once good-paying manufacturing jobs leaving over the past 30 years. We’ve watched housing prices increase to the point a one-bedroom apartment goes for nearly $2,000 as if we’re in a booming place like New York City. 

I recently had someone argue that Western North Carolina prices are not New York City prices, yet if you take a look at the numbers we’re actually paying more for housing than those folks — if you consider the median income. It’s a sad day when you can no longer afford to live in your hometown. Or afford a home. Affordable housing does not exist. Instead, we might allocate a tiny percentage of luxury apartments be used for low-income housing? Leaders tout new “affordable” homes for sale between $300,000-400,000. Ha! But I digress. 

Our home is being loved to death. Each year our national park posts record setting numbers of visitors. Residents can’t enjoy the natural beauty of our area without being shoved off trail by crowds. Our favorite hiking spots are covered in trash to the point Max Patch was forced to close for camping. 

These visitors do bring money to the area, but not everyone is dependent on their dollars. For years us locals have been repeatedly reminded of how we simply would not survive without these outsiders. Single-industry economies have been created to exert absolute control over the people, politicians, and land while the wealth flows out of the mountains. 

Appalachia has been exploited for years. Our resources — whether it’s coal, logging, or prime mountain views — have been ruled by absentee owners interested in making the highest profit available from our natural resources. As a result, most of the Appalachian folk have been dependent upon and at the mercy of one industry. Unfortunately, Haywood County’s industry is now tourism. Low paying hospitality jobs or small businesses offering less than fast food wages for college educated persons. Sign me up. 

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While visitors and second-home owners bring some money into our community, the botheration of their impact falls on locals. Our school system is faced with a choice of getting rid of locally paid teachers due to lack of funds. Enrollment is down. School board is scratching its head like “we don’t know why this is happening.” It’s because there are hardly any decent jobs and no one can afford to live here. I’m no PhD but c’mon, it’s not rocket science. Our infrastructure can barely sustain the traffic. Drive down any main thoroughfare within the towns of Waynesville or Canton and risk the need for an alignment after hitting 10 potholes. 

What, if any, solutions are the local politicians proposing to actually help us locals? It’s election season and we’re starting to see all the same campaign slogans about “values” and “vision” yet rarely do any of the officials in this community’s government actually solve our problems. We see a lot of them hawing around difficult issues. “We need a task force!” “We need to spend thousands on a study!” Though the answers are glaringly obvious. Common sense is out the window. Sometimes I read through the utter nonsense that spews from these elected folks’ lips and literally want to bang my head against a wall. 

If we’re going to keep relying solely on tourism as our bread and butter, can we at least move toward making those people pay? An example for fixing the horrific roads might be implementing parking meters or paid parking in downtown areas. Other tourist destinations of smaller size like Tybee Island expects visitors to pay for parking. Yet in downtown Waynesville, a year-round tax paying resident might drive around for a half hour while searching for parking. Why not issue a parking sticker for town residents and if you’re not inside city limits, you pay for parking. Simple solution. You might even create a job or two by hiring meter maids. 

And don’t get me started on occupancy tax money. Our county generates a lot of occupancy tax yet the state says to use it for marketing, tourism related expenses, funding tourism related capital projects, beach renourishment and very little goes into a general fund for non-tourism use. Seems like a no-brainer that the occupancy tax money should at least in part be used to repair our infrastructure, pay for emergency services and fund our schools. Stuff we actually need. 

I’m just another ninth-generation local scratching my head and wondering, when is the madness going to end? We’re at a point of no return but can we at least get some people with enough sensibility to respond to complex problems with actual resolutions? Or do we get more of the same and eventually leave the area for good because we’re not part of the cool kid, out-of-state lunch table that can afford overpriced seats? 

(Packer is a multi-generational local who lives in Waynesville. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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12 comments

  • To the editor of Smoky Mountain News and Heather Hyatt Packer, the comment to this article made by Elizabeth Allison Stroupe should be your next front page article in big bold letters for everyone to read. If it does not touch your heart then you should pack your things and move on to the next city.

    posted by Laura Murray

    Monday, 05/02/2022

  • To Gene and Walter....
    I would like to address your low opinion of the residents of Haywood County. Indeed, I can't see why you would even want to live among people you hold in such low esteem! It makes me wonder about my "greedy" father who worked from before sunup until after dark, seven days a week when I was a child on the very land in question for the development on East Street and in the Sunnyside communities. Or about my "greedy" grandparents who put their money into the very land in question for the development on East Street and the Sunnyside communities--buying 50 something acres to farm and raise a family that included/includes 6 children, 12 grandchildren, 15 great grandchildren.....Or how about my "greedy" ancestors who arrived first in Maryland, and then crossing mountains to settle in the Bean Town community (1700s), and on Catalooche, and in the Soco community, all their wordly possessions in tow at a time when government assistance was unavailable and most able bodied men would not have accepted it if it was? Greedy?
    And now for you to judge anyone who is forced to sell a family homestead through circumstances out of their control, really, who are you?? At least speaking as a member my family, the Allisons of East Street, every member of this family has put blood, sweat and tears into a place that will now, sadly, live only in pictures and dreams. Even those of us that moved away have at least been able to return and walk where my grandparents walked, see the view that my father saw when he paused from work.
    I visited "home" recently for one last look---to take pictures before the land that my family toiled for 4 generations is gone, to take 2 White Pine saplings to plant in my yard, to take a couple of bricks from the house that built 4 generations of my family.
    Because the simple truth is that the wrong kind of development is what has pushed natives from Haywood County. You cannot build an economy that rests on the minimum wage jobs such as tourism and have a place that children can return to and build a future. My little opinion won't matter in the end, because politicians are going to do what politicians do, and it has very little to do with what is the will of the people.

    posted by Elizabeth Allison Stroupe

    Monday, 05/02/2022

  • Most of the local people who are selling out are doing so not out of greed, but out of necessity. The leadership in our small town governments no longer listen to our concerns and continue to act in the best interest of creating a bigger tax base for themselves.
    Since we are so easily dismissed, it becomes increasingly hard to pay the taxes without having a voice in the decisions that are being made. If greed exists anywhere, it lies at the feet of our elected local government who forces the locals out.
    It’s a hard thing to watch family land leave the family bloodline. You should be very careful making an assumption that greed is the driving force of giving up land that we and our families have put our lives into.

    posted by Charlotte Rogers

    Monday, 05/02/2022

  • In 2006 I discovered that a huge number of residential properties in Haywood County were owned by absentee owners. These properties are second homes either making money for the owners as rental units or purely rental units. Which, I think, should be taxed at a higher rate than owner lived in properties. SC does this and uses the funds for supporting infrastructure needs that benefit the community.

    posted by Penny Wallace

    Sunday, 05/01/2022

  • So the inability to pay taxes on acres of family owned land suddenly becomes greedy locals selling their property? Gaslight & blame... I bet I know how you vote! Also, many locals would support local businesses if they were designed for us. Very few small businesses in the area are made for regular shopping. And if people want rusted out cars on their property-thats genuinely none of your buisness Walter! People should be able to do what they want with their land. Don't like it? I hear there are plenty of nice HOA's in Florida. Feel free to move back there.

    posted by heather packer

    Sunday, 05/01/2022

  • Yet, the people that were here demanded lower and lower taxes. They spent their money on more and more cheaper imported products, often not needed. How often do we see 4 cars rusting in the yard and a mobile home in front of the large 2 story homestead. Are they willing to pay the property tax to educate their children, and perhaps offer college to all who want it. Rather than putting in a new road or tax breaks for a new Walmart, are they willing to invest in local businesses? Are they willing to shop them exclusively? There are lots of ways to keep your money circulating in your community, but you all have to do them rather than selling out to the next quick fix shiny new thing. So far I see no one doing so.

    posted by Walter Cook

    Saturday, 04/30/2022

  • And not one word about greedy locals selling off their family property to second homers, tourists and developers.

    Interesting.

    posted by Gene

    Saturday, 04/30/2022

  • I hear ya! Unfortunately it's a nationwide problem for many reasons. Housing is ridiculously out of control, including investment firms buying up the real estate and then gouging renters.
    My son lives on Lake Michigan in Michigan, and the people there complain about the FIPs, the F+++ing Illinois People, but their entire towns rely on tourism. Look at it this way, income is valuable to a town, which would otherwise be a ghost town, no pun intended for Maggie Valley.

    posted by Deni Gottlieb

    Saturday, 04/30/2022

  • Well said. John Bardo, former chancellor at WCU, used to say "Build it and they will come." To which my response was, "We're already here."

    Your point about occupancy tax and TDA generally is essential. The same politicians who scream about picking winners and losers have created what amounts to a slush fund for a single industry.

    posted by Mark Jamison

    Saturday, 04/30/2022

  • You are so right and it’s only going to get worse. I have been to several planning board meetings and a few alderman meetings. The residents are the people they are supposed to represent but rare is it they do. It’s very frustrating that they blindly accept everything presented by Town staff and developers while completely discounting what the people say. The concerned citizen speaks their allotted 3 minutes after staff and developers speak as long as they wish. Within 10-15 minutes, it’s approved for the development. If you think this untrue, just look back on the boards’ minutes and see if ANY developers have been turned away completely. It’s very sad for all the locals.

    posted by Charlotte Rogers

    Thursday, 04/28/2022

  • Well said .and many people feel as you do.and Canton has put all that money into a mountain top hiking trail .For what ,more congestion on the roads !

    posted by Linda Stienbarger

    Wednesday, 04/27/2022

  • I agree 100%. Thank you for putting this in print. We locals used to be able to walk up our beautiful mountains and admire the beauty now we have million dollar homes stuck out on every side AND don’t dare walk on to their property. They think we are back country people with little education. I use to love shopping down town Main Street now it’s all been moved to shopping centers. No more nostalgic down town shopping. Most people have to drive to Asheville to get a decent job to pay for these so called affordable homes. Our roads are horrible, as you said. Driving is an obstacle course, weaving around pot holes that need fixing. What has happened to our beautiful city the place where my parents and their parents grew up. Progress is not always progress for the betterment of locals but seemly more for people retiring here that have money.

    posted by Brenda

    Wednesday, 04/27/2022

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