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Forest Hills leaders dream of their community’s future

The Village of Forest Hills wants to control its future by possibly acquiring a 74-acre, abandoned golf course located within its borders.

If the privately owned property is obtained, the town’s leaders indicated that they might try to offset the purchase cost by developing 25 acres or so into cluster housing for Western Carolina University staff and faculty, or for active senior-aged residents.

The owner, at last check, was asking upwards of $1.3 million for the property, but Forest Hills leaders said perhaps there might be room for negotiation on that amount. Or, certain tax breaks may be available that could help knock it down.

“I’d like to see us pursue this aggressively,” Council Member Suzanne Stone told fellow board members, who gathered Friday for a facilitated strategic-planning session.

Stone echoed board member Clark Corwin in saying that she could envision the property serving Forest Hills as an important community venue. Stone mentioned the possibility of musical events; Corwin said he pictured a small arboretum.

Any residential development on a portion of the defunct golf course would be individual houses, not a large-scale student complex as proposed recently by a campus-housing company (see related article). A community survey polling residents about such developments largely received negative marks.

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A residential planned unit development, however, could prove a benefit to the community and an overall land-value enhancer for Forest Hills residents, County Planner Gerald Green said. Cluster housing such as this generally includes green space and a community garden.

But money is a problem for the tiny incorporated entity, which has only a few hundred residents.

“We don’t have funds, and we don’t want higher taxes — we’re stuck,” Mayor Jim Wallace said.

Green said that wasn’t necessarily true.

“The challenge is to create a vision that people will buy into,” the county planner said.

Green suggested Forest Hills combine strategic efforts with WCU, which could advertise as a university with top-notch learning and cultural opportunities for seniors. That population, in turn, could become a source of funding for the cash-strapped institution through class fees or donations through a college-linked retirement community. The university is working on a new strategic plan now. Stone, who sits on a WCU subcommittee working on development issues as part of that plan, said she’d touch on the possibilities with her subcommittee members.


WCU annexation decision delayed indefinitely

Annexing a 35-acre parcel of Western Carolina University is off the table for now, the Village of Forest Hill leaders said Friday during a strategic-planning session.

“That is moot until after WCU’s strategic planning session,” Mayor Jim Wallace said.

Former Chancellor John Bardo last year asked the tiny town, which is across the highway from the university, to annex part of campus to further his dream of a “Town Center” for unincorporated WCU. The idea was to pave the way for legal sales of alcoholic beverages, which currently aren’t allowed outside town limits in Jackson County, in hopes it would entice new restaurants and bars to rectify the lack of nightlife around the university.

Since then, Bardo has retired and a new chancellor, David Belcher, has taken over. Belcher has initiated new strategic planning for the university; the state has slashed WCU’s budget in the name of cost-savings measures; and Jackson County commissioners have said they’ll place a countywide alcohol referendum on the ballot next year, which if it passes, could eliminate any need for annexation since alcohol sales would become legal countywide if approved by voters.

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