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Bryson City seeks citizen input in land-use plan

Want to build anything you want in a downtown location that receives a ton of visitors each summer? Then Bryson City, with its total lack of rules governing development, is just the place for you.

Better hurry, though, because town leaders want this wide open, anything-goes situation to end.

“We’re going to fix Bryson City up the way people want it,” said Alderman Kate Welch, who has served on the town board since 1995. “And, not just for today, but down the road.”

To that end, the town aldermen appointed a planning advisory committee in November 2006 made up of planning board members and various citizens. The advisory committee has been tasked with preparing Bryson City’s first land-use plan.

“This is something that is really important to all of us,” said Planning Board Chairman Brad Walker. “With the tremendous growth that is taking place, we have realized we need land-use management.”

As part of that process, town leaders held an informal session at Town Hall on Tuesday, May 29. Residents, business owners and others were asked what they wanted to see included in the plan.

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The list is long, at least based on the number of Post-It Notes containing suggestions that were tacked on the walls. But there were commonalities.

These included the need for more downtown parking (“need parking,” “more parking downtown, enlarge parking spots”), objections to any suggestion of closing Frye Street to motorists (“do not close for pedestrians”), and a general agreement among those attending the meeting that they want Bryson City to keep its small-town feeling (“not Gatlinburg or Helen, Ga.,” “No Helena, Montana or Tuscon, Arizona.”).

Other comments included a wish for grants to pay for business façade improvements and better utilization of the Tuckasegee River, which cuts through the center of Bryson City.

“This is good. It gives us stuff to sift through and prioritize,” said Wally Treadway, a planning board member, as he watched people writing down suggestions.

There’s still time to do something, said Murphy Hunting, owner of Smoky Mountain Computers.

“I don’t think it’s overdue yet, but if they don’t do something soon, the town we know and love will be gone,” she said.

Carolyn Allison, incoming Swain County Chamber of Commerce president, agreed.

“It does seem people are coming in, and in my personal opinion, are pushing too fast into development,” she said.

Kristy Carter, a state community development planner, said a draft land-use plan should be completed by fall for town board review.

The state, through the Division of Community Assistance, advises communities that lack the resources to go it alone on how to prepare land-use management plans.

Carter said the plan could contain appearance standards for buildings, environmental protections, and there is the possibility of creating a one-mile buffer zone around the 1,460-acre town, called an extra-territorial zone, or ETJ.

It will contain the following five components:

• Executive summary.

• Issues and vision statement.

• Information base (existing conditions and projections).

• Goals, objectives and policies relevant to each subject area.

• Intended course of action consisting of future land-use plan, development management program, plan implementation schedule and monitoring and adjustment program.


By the numbers

Population of Bryson City

2000 — 1,411

2005 — 1,462

Population of Swain County

2000 — 12,968

2005 — 13,585

Growth of Bryson City

1990-2000 — 23 percent

2000-2005 — 3.6 percent

1990-2005 — 27 percent

Housing units in Swain County

1990 — 5,664

2005 — 7,823

Housing units growth in Swain County

1990-2000 — 25 percent

2000-2005 — 10 percent

Source: N.C. Division of Community Assistance

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