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Cherokee asks for input into corridor planning

By Jennifer Garlesky • Staff Writer

As Jackson County officials work to develop a plan to regulate commercial growth along U.S. 441, officials from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians say a partnership needs to be formed to ensure that the area’s economic development fits both parties’ needs.

By next summer water and sewer lines will line the two-mile corridor that leads visitors into the Qualla Boundary’s business district and the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

Earlier this month Jackson County commissioners approved a study along U.S. 441 to the U.S. 74 junction with the hopes of preventing unsightly commercial growth and traffic congestion similar to the driving conditions along N.C. 107 out of Sylva.

A Raleigh based consulting firm, Kimley-Horn, already has begun mapping the area and will author a land development plan. The study will be completed by May 2008.

Assisting the consulting firm with their decisions is a seven-member steering committee. County commissioners appointed members to the board at their Nov. 19 meeting — Debbie Cowan, Bill Gibson, John Parker, Mark Brooks, Jerry McAbee, David Fergurson, and Calvin Murphy, who will represent the EBCI. Having a representative of the Eastern Band on the committee will include Cherokee in the development process, commissioner Will Shelton said. The committee will also have two alternate members.

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But even through the study is in its beginning stages, tribal officials stress the importance of Cherokee being involved in the decision making process.

“Right now I am not clear on the study itself,” Principal Chief Michell Hicks said. “I ask them (Jackson County commissioners) to stay open minded.”

Some say that the study will impede growth along the corridor but county officials have gone on the record stating it will just establish development guidelines.

If development regulations become too stringent, it might discourage businesses from developing along the corridor, which is a concern for Cherokee, Hicks said.

“That limits Cherokee,” he said.

Hicks also is slightly skeptical of the impact the study will have on development.

“Whether we like it or not it will turn into N.C. 107,” Hicks said.

Attracting commercial businesses to Cherokee is one of the items on Hicks’ agenda.

Tribal members have invested money into the Whittier sanitary sewer project, which will boost economic development for Cherokee.

Cherokee’s assistance with the sewer project is two fold, Hicks said. It will provide adequate sanitary sewer to Smoky Mountain Elementary School and help economic development along the corridor, he explained.

Tribal workers are clearing land along U.S. 441 to construct an entrance road to Cherokee’s planned Sequoyah National Golf Club. Within the next 60 days, Hicks says, workers will begin moving land to construct the golf course. Plans call for this project to be completed in 2009.

Also, the construction of the new Cherokee Comprehensive School will open up a prime retail development in Cherokee.

Once the new school is built, plans call for the current elementary school in downtown to be demolished, Hick said. The tract is a hot spot for commercial development.

Several major retail stores have shown interest in the area, Hicks said.

“But everything is still at the table,” he said.

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