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Waynesville keeps tight reins on sewer lines in the name of smart growth

Waynesville has once again denied Haywood County’s proposition for extending its sewer lines several miles beyond the town limits toward Balsam along U.S. 23/74.

The county has asked the town to augment its sewer lines near the rest stop a couple of times before, specifically to serve a roadside rest area. But, new sewer lines would also bring the possibility of new and potentially uncontrolled commercial development along that stretch of highway.

The Waynesville Board of Aldermen has rejected the county’s wishes in the name of smart growth, saying that it doesn’t want the corridor to become overwhelmed with sprawl similar Russ Avenue. By limiting sewer access, development remains concentrated in town instead of strung out across the landscape.

Despite past refusal, the county proffered the idea once again.

County Commissioners Mike Sorrells and Kevin Ensley had spoken with Waynesville Mayor Gavin Brown, who in turn tested the waters at the town board’s meeting last week.

“Mr. Sorrells and Mr. Ensley were pleading their case again, saying it would be better for the community,” Brown said. “The board had not agreed with that philosophy (in the past.)”

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Sorrells and Ensley have been proponents of the extending the sewer lines in the name of economic development.

“I am a forward thinker and anything that can improve the county or create jobs or economic development for the county, that is what it’s all about,” Sorrells said, adding that he did not understand Waynesville’s rationale for not wanting to extend its lines.

The county doesn’t have a sewer system of its own and thus is dependent on Waynesville’s approval. The town of Waynesville operates the closest lines and would end up paying to keep them up.

Without Waynesville on board, “We are just paddling upstream,” Sorrells said, calling the town’s denial “unfortunate.”

The county approached the town after the N.C. Department of Transportation announced the construction a second rest area across the highway from its existing one. Currently, motorists heading toward Sylva and Cherokee have to do a U-turn and then merge across two lanes of traffic to reach the rest area on the opposite side — a task that can be difficult because of the high volume of traffic on U.S. 23/74 each day.

DOT has gotten the town’s permission to build a small sewer line out to Balsam that will tie in with the town’s system, with the restriction it be used solely for the rest areas.

Sorrells said that since the DOT is already putting up the money for a small-diameter line, for just a little more a bigger line could be put in to accommodate development. He estimated the total project cost would fall between $600,000 and $800,000.

Although a couple of Waynesville aldermen said a feasibility report conducted by the county would glean a lot of information, the overall sentiment was that the town’s opinion had not changed.

“I’ll report back that this girl don’t want to go out,” Brown said.

When Brown broached the issue with the board, he compared the proposition to being asked out by a persistent suitor.

“It’s sort of like being asked out again,” Brown said. “I am here to ask you whether or not you want to go out again.”

The aldermen replied with hesitancy.

“We have been through this before,” said Alderman LeRoy Robison. “I still don’t see that anything has changed.”

Since the sewer lines would extend well beyond the town limits — and well beyond the town’s land-use planning jurisdiction — the board was concerned that any old type of business could plop down.

“We don’t know who is going to be there or what is going to be there,” said Alderman Wells Greeley. “I don’t know that I want this girl to go out.”

Ensley said the county could have stepped in to create regulations.

“We were more than willing to work with them to come up with some kind of common sense (regulations for what businesses can be there),” Ensley said.

If the town had chosen to run its sewer lines out to the rest area, it would have had to amend its 2020 vision plan, which discourages sprawl, Town Manager Marcy Onieal pointed out.

Town leaders were not only concerned about what type of businesses might move in but also about when they would see a return on their investment. No businesses are currently courting the town or county in the hopes of building in Balsam.

“This would be very speculative with no apparent benefit,” Brown said.

Board members feared that it could be 10 or 15 years before any development or customers come along to make the venture worth their while.

“We would be looking at maintaining a sewer line for a very long distance without support,” said Onieal.

However, Sorrells and Ensley, along with others, believe firmly in the Field of Dreams theory.

“Build it, and they will come,” Ensley said.

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