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Public to hear about proposed changes to Waynesville land-use ordinance

A proposed update of Waynesville’s progressive land-use ordinance that has been several years in the making is close to becoming law, as planners gear up to inform the public at two information sessions next week.

The new ordinance will update a plan that hasn’t been changed since 2003, which Waynesville Planning Director Paul Benson says is too long.

“It was due,” said Benson. “It [the ordinance] was adopted in 2003 and, honestly, wasn’t that well developed. There’s been a pretty steady drumbeat of complaints about parts of the ordinance, particularly the parking-in-front portion.”

Benson is referring to a clause in the ordinance that requires new buildings and larger renovations to locate their parking either behind or to the side of the building to present a more pedestrian friendly, urbanized feel to new development in the town.

According to Benson, 85 percent of the ordinance will remain unchanged since, he said, the ideas behind the 2003 version were solid, if the execution was sub-par.

Among the substantive changes to go into effect, perhaps the most powerful is the creation of Condition District zoning, which allows the board of aldermen to create a negotiated, site-specific zoning districts on a case-by-case basis, allowing them to make exceptions for certain developments that meet particular criteria. This change has, however, already been enacted ahead of the rest of the new ordinance after Ingles lodged a special request with the board.

Other changes will include less vagueness in design standards, increased protections for open space in high-density residential areas, and more relaxed slope regulations to allow denser development on slopes with less than 25 percent grade.

Another key feature will be an update to the parking regulations, which would vary by district and building type. For regional business districts like Russ Avenue, the new rules would allow up to 50 percent of required parking to be out front.

The new standards will also give developers some leeway in their landscaping choices, particularly around where to put plants in parking lots.

Benson said he hopes that the meetings, to be held Nov. 30 at the Waynesville Recreation Center and Dec. 2 at the Waynesville Fire Station No. 2, will allow residents who might be impacted by the changes to get their questions answered.

“It’s an opportunity for people who are interested to come in and learn about it and have input,” said Benson, “and for people with specific issues to come in and see how those are being handled.”

The sessions will begin at 6 p.m and will feature a presentation detailing the changes as well as displays and opportunities for residents to comment and ask questions.

Benson said he also hopes to have a form for questions and comments available both at the meeting and online, so those who are interested can formulate and submit questions after the meetings close.


Public meetings:

• 6 p.m. on Nov. 30 at the Waynesville Recreation Center.

• 6 p.m. on Dec. 2 at the Waynesville Fire Station # 2.

Waynesville adopts conditional zoning at Ingles’ request

Ingles is now one step closer to giving their Waynesville store a revamp, thanks to a decision taken by the town’s aldermen last week.

The board granted Ingles request for a conditional zoning district, which would allow the supermarket chain to go ahead with their redevelopment plans without any delays in the process.

Conditional zoning districts are slated to be part of the town’s updated land-use ordinances that will be open to public comment later this fall. Ingles, however, couldn’t wait that long, so they petitioned the board to make a decision now.

After meetings between town officials and Ingles representatives, the board seemed convinced that the grocery store wasn’t seeking to get in under the wire by pushing through a project before the updated ordinances are adopted.

Mayor Gavin Brown said that, initially, he’d harbored reservations.

“At first I had some reservations about what we were doing here,” Brown said. “At first I was a little suspect of having all that authority and all that power. The nice thing is that if we don’t like it, we don’t have to do it. It’s really our decision to make within the confines of the ordinance itself.”

Michael Egan, attorney for Ingles and also an expert on zoning, spoke on behalf of the store, assuring the aldermen that the request wasn’t frivolous.

“They didn’t just file this application out of a spirit of playfulness. It’s very important to them. It’s critical to them to get started as soon as they possibly can,” said Egan, who has helped Brevard and other local municipalities put together similar measures.

“It’s a terrific tool,” said Egan. “It’s probably the best tool that local governments now have.”

For the town, adopting conditional zoning will allow them to make exceptions to current zoning on a case-by-case, plat-by-plat basis.

“It’s very site-specific,” said Paul Benson, Waynesville’s planning director. “You can tailor it to an individual and so that makes it really a popular tool.”

It is also a powerful tool, giving the planning board and the board of aldermen the power to change and negotiate around current zoning regulations for specific businesses or individuals.

There are, said Benson, some restrictions, though.

“The most specific restriction is they can’t ask for a use that’s not allowed in the underlying zone,” Benson said, which does limit the amount of leeway that a board can offer.

For Ingles, the crux of the issue is timing. Under the current regulations, they couldn’t redevelop the site — which is in the Russ Avenue Town Center District — much beyond minor renovations without bumping up against the ordinance’s confines. Within those boundaries, developers said, it would be impossible for them to update, since the store lies on what Benson calls a “flagpole lot.” That makes parking in the back or side of the building — a stipulation for buildings in the district — difficult.

Ingles hasn’t come out with definitive plan for what it wants to do with the site, and Benson said the town won’t know for sure until their application arrives. That’s when the real negotiations over what will and won’t be allowed in the conditional zone — or even if they’ll be allowed one — will begin.

The possibility of expansion eastward into the adjoining storefront once occupied by Goody’s has been mentioned, as has the idea of a gas station, which is the formula Ingles has been following for its newer stores. At Tuesday’s meeting, store representatives pledged that the expansion would bring up to 60 new jobs to the community, in addition to temporary contracting jobs that the redevelopment would create.

Egan said that the major negotiating points of the new conditional use would likely be parking and landscaping, and said that they hope to have an application for conditional use filed with the city in time to make an appearance on the Dec. 20 planning board agenda.

“The engineer is working on those plans right now and we hope to have that application in by the end of the month,” said Egan.

The next step is for the town to evaluate the store’s application and start talks to work out exact terms. Benson said that, if the timing is right, that process could be well on its way by early next year.

Fix the flaws, stay the course

Waynesville’s land-use plan is an ambitious set of ideas adopted during a booming economic era and thus full of the optimism of such times. Now that times are tougher, we hope task force members charged with updating the plan don’t forsake its guiding principles, a pedestrian-friendly new urbanism that is well-suited to meet future challenges.

Waynesville’s regulations guiding development and growth were adopted in 2002 after 29 months of public input. The rules address everything from building placement on lots to landscaping and signs, and the plan is marked by a decidedly liberal mixed-use philosophy that allows contrasting uses in close proximity as long as certain standards are met.

Since its adoption, there have been many flashpoints as town leaders sought to allay the concerns of builders and developers and address flaws in the plan. Finally, the decision was made to appoint a blue-ribbon task force to update the regulations, and that group has been working for months on modifications.

As expected, parking is one most contentious issues. Current regulations guide parking to the rear of buildings, creating a street wall that re-creates a downtown look rather than the traditional setbacks that give parking lots the dominant spot in nearly all commercial development. A big question is whether this look — examples include the CVS pharmacy and McDonald’s on Russ Avenue — forces too many concessions from business owners, and whether it is practical at all as one of the plan’s guiding philosophies.

We think it is. While concessions can be made in certain areas of town and on particular lots, we believe strongly that the pedestrian-guided growth will remain popular. Years fly by fast, and this land-use plan needs to look to the future. We’re not talking about next year or even five years from now, but more like 25 or 30 years down the road.

A couple of decades from now more people will be walking and biking, and we will have more mass transit. More and more people have decided that protecting what’s special about their communities is tied to the personal choices they make. In other words, shopping near one’s home and not being so dependant on the automobile and fossil fuels are important if our small towns are to thrive. This kind of future fits perfectly with the new urbanism land-use model that Waynesville has adopted.

As is always the case, the future depends on what happens now. Waynesville has to modify its land-use plan to fix the flaws, but let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater. The new urbanism model will evolve, but it is growing in popularity for many very important and essential reasons. Communities who get on board early — and stay the course — will reap the benefits in the decades to come.

Macon County asks for public input, take three

After two unsuccessful attempts at creating a comprehensive land-use plan, Macon County’s commissioners have directed staff to take another bite of the apple.

As County Planner Derek Roland travels from community to community asking the public for input on what amounts to a visioning document that will guide the county’s growth for the next 20 years, he’s had to contend with the community’s sense of mistrust.

“Einstein defined insanity as repeating the same operation over and over again and expecting a different result. How are we to expect a different result this time?” said Larry Starr, a resident.

Roland appeared at a forum in Franklin last Thursday sponsored by the League of Women Voters as part of a public outreach effort aimed at encouraging citizens to submit their opinions in survey form to the county’s Comprehensive Plan Committee.

Accompanied by Macon County Planning Board members Susan Ervin and Larry Stenger, Roland’s visit had another purpose, too –– to convince people that their voices matter.

Ervin urged the crowd of 20 or so people gathered at the luncheon meeting to speak freely with Roland, who has the task of managing the public input program and will ultimately administer any ordinances that affect zoning.

“I realize that many of you are highly skeptical, including me in some ways, and I encourage you to take this opportunity to put aside your skepticism and ask difficult questions,” Ervin said.

But the crowd gathered in Tartan Hall also wanted Roland to know that he had inherited a credibility issue, because of the county commissioners perceived unwillingness to act on constituents’ wishes.

“Most of the people in my community don’t know who’s on the board, and furthermore, they don’t care because they know their voices won’t be heard,” said Betty Wallace, a resident of south Macon County.

Others in the crowd were plainly skeptical that the county’s leadership had changed its tune since it conducted its last comprehensive plan, which the board of commissioners ultimately did not adopt. Since that time the county has seen a number of high-profile development issues that the planning efforts were aimed at avoiding, namely the failure of the road system at Wildflower, a mountainside megadevelopment, and the construction of an asphalt plant near residential property just outside of Franklin.

“I trusted a lot of people in this county, and they put an asphalt plant in my front door,” said Joyce Starr, after the meeting in Franklin last week. “I just felt absolutely betrayed.”

Roland delivered a PowerPoint presentation, fielded questions, and listened to recriminations. Then, he asked people to buy into the new process, and by the end of the meeting he was answering substantive questions, a testament either to the fact that people who care about issues will always care about those issues or to Roland’s own willingness to take punches without firing back.

“Talking to some people, they feel in the past the county government has ignored their concerns and largely disregarded their feelings concerning planning,” Roland said. “It’s important to know that we have a commission at this point that cares about what the citizens think. This board believes the voice of Macon County needs to be included in the planning process. The past is the past and those plans didn’t work, but this is different and this one will work.”

Roland said commissioners asked him to create a public input model — so surely they intend to use it.

A finished plan is more than a year away. Five subcommittees have been created to work on various components of the plan. Meanwhile, public opinions are being collected through surveys and at community meetings to guide the subcommittee’s work.

“I’ve looked at a lot of comprehensive plans, and this is the most extensive public input process I’ve seen,” Roland said. “We’re giving people a number opportunities to provide input to the plan.”


A New Balance

Stenger, who has served on the planning board for the past six years, said he has seen a change in the mindset of residents about planning. In the past, a stark divide separated long-time natives who craved economic development and transplants favoring environmental stewardship.

“There is some commonality. The reason the heritage people are here and the reason people move here is the beauty, so we have to protect that,” Stenger said.

In part, Stenger said the change of heart in the community is a result of the harrowing facts of the situation. Macon County had 23,499 people in 1990, 33,005 in 2009, and projections show the county could have more than 46,000 people by 2029.

With a water hungry metropolis to its south in Atlanta, and Cherokee’s booming casino –– which attracted over 4 million visitors last year –– to the north, Macon County can no longer avoid the issue of how to cope with development.

“Density drives the issue, and I see that now there seems to be a willingness on the part of the planning board and county government to entertain the opinions of the people,” said Stenger.

Roland, who grew up in Macon County, agrees.

“I think people realize that future growth has implications and can have negative effects,” Roland said. “They want to be able to have input rather than having the dollar determine that for them.”

The comprehensive plan will ultimately be hammered out in five committees, each using information gathered during the public input process to inform its decisions. The committees are to address a range of issues from affordable housing, to planning and zoning, to transportation and public services.

But at last week’s meeting the crowd was most interested in determining how serious Roland and the board are about controlling development.

“One of the things that worries me about the county is the old 1950s mindset that growth is good at any cost,” said Franklin Alderman Bob Scott.

Wallace showed that farmers are just as concerned as second-homers about the nature of Macon’s growth.

“Our efforts in planning since the 1950s have been geared to commercial interests, not rural interests,” Wallace said. “I’d like the planning board to decide how many more tourists we want in Macon County? Do we want 1,000? 10,000? 100,000?”

Ervin, who acted as a mediator during the session, said the county’s population has never been as growth-obsessed as its leaders.

“I think there has overall, in the general population, been a lot less infatuation with growth than there has been among the county commissioners,” Ervin said.

Roland has already visited more than eight community groups in similar forums across the county to talk about the plan and encourage residents to fill out the surveys the committees will use as feedback. He has plans to visit at least five more in coming months.

So far, he said he has heard people express the need for a balanced approach to planning.

“I think the thing I’m seeing the most is we have to find a balance between fostering economic development and preserving the land that makes Macon County unique,” said Roland.

Figuring out the measure of the balance will be where the rubber hits the road in the planning process. Roland said he wants to see the results of the process before he draws conclusions.

“We’ll just have to see the results before we make conclusions about how the vision has changed,” said Roland.

Big decisions ahead in debate over land-use plan

A steering committee tasked with examining and recommending possible changes to Waynesville’s land-use plan is finally getting down to brass tacks.

Town aldermen commissioned the project nearly a year-and-a-half ago as a five-year review of how the town’s new land-use plan is working. A land-use planning consulting firm was brought on board for a fee of $54,000 to collect input and offer an assessment of problem areas in the comprehensive town ordinance. The consultant, Craig Lewis with the Lawrence Group out of Davidson, delivered his initial assessment to the steering committee last week.

The steering committee will begin holding twice-a-month meetings to plow through the issues identified by the consultant.

Lewis said one of the biggest gains the town will see at the end of the process is an ordinance that is easier to use. He called the current document “disorganized.”

“There are cross-references everywhere. There are requirements you need to know that are hidden in the definitions or hidden in special use requirements,” Lewis said. “If we do nothing else but reorganize and simplify it, I think we have earned our fee in this project.”

Waynesville’s land-use plan promotes pedestrian-friendly development and aesthetic standards for commercial development in an attempt to preserve small-town character. It was praised by smart growth groups throughout the state for its novel approach.

The land-use plan lays out guidelines tailored to 29 different neighborhood and business districts throughout town.

“It’s a ton of districts, more than I have ever seen for a community of your size,” Lewis said. “The initial reaction is ‘That’s too many.’ After looking through it and talking with you, I would say right now, I can’t come up with a good reason to throw that baby out.”

Lewis said they could be made more uniform and the language made much simpler, however. For example, the maximum size for signs between similar districts might vary by as little as four square feet.

Town Manager Lee Galloway said the myriad districts were an attempt to let each part of town dictate what type of development would best fit that area. It was also intended to be user-friendly.

“You could pick up the plan for the Raccoon neighborhood district and know exactly the rules in your district,” Galloway said.

But the result has been a nightmare for the town planner and zoning enforcement officer who have to keep all those rules straight.

“We want to satisfy the irritated without irritating the satisfied,” Lewis said of the pending rewrite.


Parking lot placement

The looming hot-button issue the committee will face is whether parking should continue to be relegated to the side and rear of businesses. Indeed, dissatisfaction over that issue drove town leaders to sanction the five-year review of the land-use plan.

“This is a clear issue that is gong to warrant more discussion from you all,” Lewis told the steering committee.

Lewis said there are merits to the town’s protocol. By placing parking to the rear and side of businesses, the streetscape is defined by building facades, sidewalks and street trees rather than expansive asphalt parking lots. Lewis said those who oppose the policy hold up two businesses on Russ Avenue as examples: Home Trust Bank and CVS, which sit across the street from each other on the commercial thoroughfare. While CVS has parking to the rear and side rather than in front, the building is far less attractive than Home Trust Bank, which has parking in front.

“People say the reason they need front-yard parking is because CVS is not a good- looking building,” Lewis said. “It is very stark along the front. The windows are small. It is squatty proportionally. It has a high, harsh retaining wall.”

Meanwhile, Home Trust Bank is handsome, he said.

“It has varied rooflines. There are more window openings. It has columns. It is more residential looking. The landscaping looks a little bit softer,” Lewis said.

The comparison between the buildings has nothing to do with whether parking is permitted in front, however, according to Lewis.

“Those are two different issues,” Lewis said. “I wouldn’t say we want to throw everything out all over town because of those issues.”

Town Planner Paul Benson said the town’s land-use plan attempts to dictate architecturally pleasing buildings, but the intent was skirted by CVS.

“It’s where our current ordinance really failed us,” Benson said. “They could comply with the letter of our current ordinance without creating a good building.”

But Joe Taylor, a member of the steering committee, questioned how the town can police the aesthetic appearance of a building.

“When you look at the beauty or lack of beauty in a building, that is a matter of opinion,” Taylor said.

Another issue facing the committee is whether businesses should be required to connect their parking lots. Currently, the land-use plan requires new businesses to provide passage for cars between parking lots behind their buildings.

Taylor, who owns the Ford dealership on Russ Avenue, said he doesn’t like the idea of people cutting through his parking lot to get the restaurant next door.

“So you are saying you want all the cars to go back out on to the main road if they are going from one place to another?” Lewis countered. “Generally speaking connecting driveways is the number one way to improve traffic flow on the main road.”

Taylor said if the town wants to create an extra street for traffic to move between buildings it should buy the right of way and build the street itself rather expect businesses to undertake it.


Where from here?

Ultimately, any changes to the town’s land-use plan or building standards must be approved by the town board. The steering committee will merely do the legwork and make recommendations.

Members of the steering committee questioned whether they should accommodate public input during their part of the process, or wait until the recommendations are sent up the chain to the town board.

“Do you want to try to integrate some wider public participation on our end of the process or wait until the end?” Bradshaw asked.

“I think we should have some feedback in the middle somewhere,” said Steve Kaufman, a committee member and president of Reece, Noland and McElrath engineering firm.

The committee agreed that it would be good to solicit input along the way on some of the more volatile issues.

Only four of the eight members of the steering committee were present for the meeting last week. Two had said ahead of time they couldn’t come, while two were no-shows at the last minute. It was only the second meeting of the full committee that afforded face time with the consultant.

The committee agreed to meet every other Wednesday from 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m., although the consultant, who is based in Davidson, won’t be attending. The first meeting will be held Sept. 2.


Waynesville’s land-use plan steering committee members:

• David Blevins, appointed by Alderman Gary Caldwell

• Patrick Bradshaw, appointed by Mayor Gavin Brown

• Steve Kaufman, appointed by Alderwoman Libba Feichter

• Joe Taylor, appointed by former Alderman Kenneth Moore

• Ken Wilson, appointed by Alderman Leroy Robeson

• Patrick McDowell, chairman of the planning board

• Daniel Hyatt, chairman of the community appearance commission

• Mike Erwin, chairman of the board of adjustment

South Main redesign could ‘raze’ the bar

South Main Street in Waynesville is headed for a major roadway redesign, one that could take out rows of long-time businesses to make way for more lanes, sidewalks, bike lanes and a median.

South Main Street — the two-lane thoroughfare that is the major artery between downtown and the new Super Wal-Mart — has long been in need of a makeover with an increasingly run-down appearance over the decades. Despite the close proximity of walkable neighborhoods, South Main lacks sidewalks in some sections. There is no curb: rather parking lots and the street form a continuous sea of asphalt. Despite the arrival of a Super Wal-Mart along the corridor, many lots and buildings remain vacant or perpetually for rent.

A road redesign has been high on the town’s list of project requests submitted to the N.C. Department of Transportation every year. The DOT has finally launched a feasibility study for the road, spurred by increased traffic brought on by the new Wal-Mart. The plan calls for keeping the road two lanes with intersection redesigns only, adding a single middle turn lane, or bumping up to four lanes with a raised median.

The Cadillac version of the redesign would claim a 120-foot wide swath of right-of-way: four lanes, a raised median, and bike lanes and sidewalks on both sides, along with curbs.

“If you did that, all these buildings would be gone,” said Waynesville Mayor Gavin Brown, standing on the side of South Main Street one day last week. “The necessity of having four lanes is in conflict with current uses.”

Brown doesn’t want to say good-bye to many of the long-time businesses that he grew up with, from a local Ace Hardware store to chili dogs at Jim’s Drive-In.

“But in the long run, is it better for the community?” Brown asked, admitting that many of the businesses along the stretch have seen better days. “In 50 years from now, this entire corridor will be redeveloped.”

Brown envisions a new corridor that will have tree-lined sidewalks and rows of new businesses sporting aesthetic and pedestrian-friendly facades, as required by the town’s land-use plan.

“Its useful life for the most part has been expended,” Brown said of the current road design. “This is an opportunity for it to be a Phoenix.”

The widening could favor one side of the road or the other, claiming the majority of right of way from just one side of the road in an effort to preserve buildings on the other side, according to Eddie McFalls, a contracted road designer conducting the study for the DOT.

If town leaders, business owners and residents along the stretch don’t want to see large numbers of buildings taken out, a value call will come into play over which elements to cut, such as median or the sidewalks.

“Either it is going to be very wide or there will be trade-offs,” McFalls said.

Joel Setzer, the head of the DOT for the 10 western counties, said these are decisions that need to play out locally between town leaders and the community.

“We need a vision for the corridor,” Setzer said. Setzer said since South Main Street is mostly a local road and not integral to the state transportation network, the DOT is more likely to defer to local wishes.

“When you start looking at more of a local road, the designs and characteristics the local folks want weigh in even more,” Setzer said.


Residential section

The feasibility section is not only examining the commercial stretch of the road, but sections passing through residential neighborhoods as well. At one point, a DOT plan called for widening South Main Street through the South Main residential district known for its shady mature trees arching over the road, rock walls and affluent homes. Brown said the town would fight any plan that would ruin the character of the two-lane residential stretch.

“It is so comfortable to drive through the large, shady trees,” Brown said.

Setzer agrees.

“Based on the traffic counts, it doesn’t show we need to disturb that area,” Setzer said. “That was a big relief because no one really wanted to tackle that.”

It appears the DOT planners in Raleigh agree in principle.

“It would really change the character a lot to wipe out those trees,” said McFalls.

However, there is still the possibility of a middle lane being added at key side roads so people waiting to turn left into their neighborhood don’t back up traffic behind them, McFalls said. Brown agreed, partly.

“At the same time, I don’t want to create turn lanes for people who aren’t turning,” Brown said.

Spot land-use plan to mark first forray into zoning

Jackson County leaders have finished the first draft of a planning ordinance they hope will transform the U.S. 441 corridor in Whittier from a mish mash of billboards and unregulated growth into a model of tidy landscaping and mountain-themed architecture.

The U.S. 441 Development Ordinance made its public debut at an April 30 presentation at the Qualla Community Center. It now must go to the planning board for a review, then before county commissioners who will the decide whether to pass it into law. If it passes, Jackson will be the first county west of Buncombe to make a foray into land-use planning or zoning in a mostly rural unincorporated area.

The document, created by a county-appointed steering committee, is the culmination of a year-long process. At nearly 100 pages, it calls for mandatory landscaping and architectural standards, limits the size of signs and requires dumpsters to be screened.

Commercial development along the corridor is sparse now. But water and sewer are being installed along the highway, priming the pump for more intensive development to follow. The ordinance sets out a vision to guide anticipated growth from the outset along the stretch, which serves as an entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Cherokee.

“I know what is pretty and what is ugly is a matter of perspective, but on the other hand, there is signage and a type of building construction that I don’t believe is good for the community or the southern entrance of the (Park),” said Bill Gibson, a steering committee member, at the first public presentation of the ordinance.

Jackson County Planning Director Linda Cable said the appearance of the corridor is critical, since it’s a major gateway to the nation’s most-visited national park.

“This being a tremendous tourist attraction, it’s important that the corridor remains pleasing to visitors,” Cable said.

Gibson expressed high hopes that the ordinance, “will make the corridor both a safer travel route and a landscape over time that will become more pleasing not only to folks that live here, but travel here.”


Model process

The process of creating a planning document for the corridor began when citizens approached commissioners with concern over growth poised to follow the extension of water and sewer lines. Commissioners took heed and hired consulting firm Kimley-Horn and Associates in November 2007 to oversee the process. What followed was a series of stakeholder interviews, workshops, and a four-day series of interactive meetings with a team of planners, engineers and architects where public input was sought to create a vision for the area.

The public had plenty to say.

“There was overwhelming participation in this event,” said Matt Noonkester, a Kimley-Horn consultant for the project. “I think that’s what made the vision so important and so valid.”

Billboards were a big issue for people during the planning process, Nooncaster said. Participants were asked to guess how many billboards lined the corridor. Estimates ranged into the 300s — far below the actual number of 68, but a testament to the perception of clutter they created.

Community members wanted design guidelines to address building appearance and advocated for the creation of a development district to guide future growth. They overwhelmingly supported the development of a community brand, which would include a color palette, appropriate building materials and signs of a certain shape and size.

“There was strong support to look at regulating building architecture,” Noonkester said.

They liked the idea of a pedestrian-friendly, four-lane road with a landscaped center median.

Public input was compiled into the Small Area Plan, adopted by county commissioners in April of 2008. The document would serve as the foundation for a more comprehensive ordinance.

The bottom-up approach to planning was lauded by many who watched the process unfold. The Small Area Plan actually received an award from the American Planning Association.

“It was a really good model, not only for the ordinance that came out of it, but also the process,” said Ben Brown, communications coordinator for the Mountain Landscapes Initiative, the region’s largest-ever planning effort. “They chose to use a charette to talk directly to the community and help shape the principals and goals of the ordinance, which makes a lot more sense. That was the first really good example in the region of how to go about planning.”


Finding balance

Public opinion was kept at the forefront as the steering committee worked to draft the development ordinance.

Committee members, many longtime residents of the area themselves, had to strike a delicate balance between economic development and retaining Whittier’s beauty and character.

Debby Cowan, a steering committee member, spoke of the her experience trying to reconcile the two. Cowan said she wanted to preserve the area’s natural beauty, “but also recognized that Food Lion was one of the greatest things that happened in our community.”

Gibson also talked of trying to strike a balance.

“I have a great respect for individual property rights,” he said, but at the same time, “some of the changes we’re seeing right now are not in the community’s best interest.”

Though a strong private property rights sentiment might make some mountain folk wary of growth rules and regulations, it’s also important to develop in a wise manner, said Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Vice Chief Larry Blythe. The tribe was heavily involved in the process.

“It’s hard to put restrictions on people’s land, but when you’re talking about smart growth and the long term, we the tribe support this effort,” Blythe said.

During the process, committee members worked to shed their personal beliefs for the sake of what was best for the community as a whole.

“We feel like this is something that was prepared from the viewpoint of all the different people and all the different backgrounds of people in the community,” said Cowan. “While we don’t have it perfect probably, we do think the framework is something we worked very hard to make support everybody in the community.”

The committee’s efforts to include all viewpoints didn’t go unnoticed, said Michael Egan, the county’s consulting attorney on land development matters.

“I was very impressed with the dedication the committee had, always trying to think of the rest of the folks. There’s wasn’t a meeting that went by that somebody would say, let’s step back and take a look at that; let’s consider what affect that’s going to have on our neighbors and the folks who live here,” Egan said.


Billboards: Tourist draw or clutter?

The draft development ordinance for U.S. 441 encourages development that helps maintain the area’s natural beauty and character — a style dubbed “mountain authentic.” According to the ordinance, the ubiquitous large, colorful billboards that line the corridor aren’t in keeping with the area’s character, and are prohibited. The ones already in existence will be grandfathered in, however. Under the ordinance, signs are limited to 32 square feet. Preferred sign materials include brick, stone, and exposed timber.

Miami Lively, a representative of Santa’s Land Advertising, which owns a number of billboards, raised protest to the strict requirements at the public presentation of the document.

“You cannot put most people’s logos and directions on a (32-square-foot) sign,” Lively said. “The bigger the sign, the easier to read. We agree we don’t need a whole bunch of clutter, but the business owners are paying taxes for their businesses. If they don’t make money, the tax money isn’t going to come in.”

Lively added that “billboards bring tourism to the area.”

Ron Servoss, a community resident, disagreed that billboards enhance an area.

“I drove the corridor into Washington, D.C., last week, where there are no billboards allowed, and it was just wonderful to see the countryside,” Servoss said.

Noonkester pointed to the commercial corridor outside Sylva off N.C. 107, where billboards have been allowed to spring up without regulation. The road, and the unchecked growth along it, is often used as an example of what to avoid becoming.

“How many people like driving N.C. 107?” Noonkester asked, citing its sprawling strip mall and fast-food appearance. “The people of Cherokee would benefit more if this place keeps an identity they can associate with.”

The steering committee hopes it has nailed down that identity in the development ordinance.

“As we grow, I hope that future generations can look back on this group and say, they did a really good thing for this community,” said County Commissioner William Shelton.



What’s in store?

Here’s a sample of the aesthetic standards called for in the U.S. 441 Development Ordinance. For the complete ordinance, go to www.smokymountainnews.com.

• Accepted building materials include stone, exposed timber, fiber cement siding, wood siding, and shingle siding. No aluminum buildings.

• Dark and earth-tone building colors are strongly encouraged. Intense, bright, black or fluorescent colors shall only be used as accents.

• Dumpsters must be screened and blend with the building.

• Trees must be planted around parking lots and shrubs must be planted around building foundations. Landscape plans must be prepared by a landscape architect or designer. Trees must be planted in parking lots that are more than 8,000 square feet.

• Billboards are prohibited. Other signs cannot exceed 32 square feet.

Waynesville land use plan back on the drawing board

Waynesville leaders will finally kick off the town’s much-anticipated review of its six-year-old land use plan on April 22.

Town aldermen have hired the Davidson-based Lawrence Group, renowned in planning circles, as the consultant for the project. A $10,000 grant from the Community Foundation will pay for a portion of the $54,000 consulting fee.

The lead consultant, Craig Lewis, will be in Waynesville Wednesday, April 22, through Friday, April 24, to interview stakeholders and attend a meeting of the land use plan steering committee.

Stakeholders will be selected individually and could include the county Board of Realtors, Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Commission, for example. Mayor Gavin Brown had a broad definition of what a stakeholder is — “basically anybody in the community that’s involved in the use of land in Waynesville.”

However, Brown said the process will place particular importance on collecting feedback from developers.

“To be quite honest, this (review) is geared to some extent toward the developer segment of the community,” Brown said. “The last go around, for whatever reason, they weren’t engaged, and now we’re trying to engage those folks.”

Mounting complaints from developers that the strict architectural guidelines and other aesthetic criteria are too arduous prompted town aldermen to launch a review of the land use plan. Town leaders resisted making piece-meal or knee-jerk changes to the plan’s smart growth principles, and instead opted for a thoughtful and comprehensive review of the pros and cons of the town’s development standards.

The stakeholder interview process is not the same as a public hearing, which is planned though a date has not been set. Brown assured the public will get a chance to have their say at some point.

“There’s no question about that — I believe in everybody having their say,” Brown said.

Town planner Paul Benson said at least two public hearings must be held according to law, and he hopes the town will hold even more. But Benson added that the public already has a voice in the process through the eight members of the land use plan steering committee, which was appointed by alderman.

“The general public basically has eight permanent seats in the process,” Benson said.

Before public hearings are held, town officials and stakeholders will work with the consultant to amend various sections of the land use plan, bringing each section back before the land use plan steering committee to review. In total, 29 districts will be reviewed, and Benson says they’ll all receive equal attention.


What is the Waynesville land use plan?

Waynesville’s land use plan is based on smart growth principles. It requires commercial developers to build sidewalks, plant trees along the street and in their parking lots, and adhere to architectural standards. Signs are kept short and parking lots are kept small, or at least not oversized. Parking is placed to the side or rear so that building facades and not parking lots define the streetscape.

Waynesville land use plan review moves forward

A comprehensive review of the town of Waynesville’s award-winning land use plan is set to begin following the town’s selection last week of a consulting company to lead the process.

The board of aldermen unanimously approved a $54,000 contract with the Lawrence Group, a regional planning firm that recently completed work on the Mountain Landscapes Initiative.

Town Planner Paul Benson called the Lawrence Group “the leading firm in the state with this type of ordinance.”

“We feel like it’s a great fit,” Benson said. “The firm can come in and tie up the loose ends, perfect our regulations and improve the readability; add good graphics to it and make it a more understandable ordinance.”

Benson has come under fire recently for being slow to move the review process along. The entire process was slated to take six months, but in November — the sixth month since the town decided to update the ordinance — Benson had yet to select a consultant to guide the review.

Benson blamed the delay on the large number of permits his office has had to review, as well as two other ongoing studies that have taken up time — the Russ Avenue Corridor Study and Pedestrian Plan.

“We may be moving slow and steady, but we are moving,” Benson told aldermen.

Benson said a town-appointed steering committee intends to meet weekly with the Lawrence Group to facilitate the process. At this point, the town will rely on the committee, not community input, to guide the review.

All told, the review will take almost a year rather than the six months originally budgeted. Benson said the six-month timeline wasn’t realistic.

“I apologize about the optimistic schedule. It wasn’t realistic given the workload we had at the time,” he said.

Mayor Gavin Brown, who has recently expressed discontent with the slow pace of the review process, said he’s ready to move it forward and won’t dwell on the delay.

“I’m not going to worry about yesterday,” he said. “We need to move forward on this.”

Alderman LeRoy Roberson told Benson to keep the town updated.

“I’d like a monthly report about what the committee was doing,” he said. “For months I was kind of in the dark.”


No South Main?

Though the review process is moving ahead, some may feel it’s leaving out the most vital part — South Main Street, a corridor that is rapidly developing due to the opening of Super Wal-Mart, Best Buy and other stores.

Benson said it was too expensive to incorporate a corridor study of South Main Street in the land use review process.

Business owners and Realtors in the South Main area have been some of the most vocal in calling for the land use plan review.

Roger Winge, a Realtor, said he wasn’t able to sell a prime parcel of land to Walgreen’s because the chain took issue with the town’s land use plan. Joe Taylor, chairman of the board of Old Town Bank, said the bank has been waiting for the land use review to be conducted before constructing a permanent building.

Benson noted that even though South Main won’t be incorporated into the town’s review process, the N.C. Department of Transportation is working on its own corridor study of the area. Benson said DOT is considering implementing a 100-foot right of way along South Main and widening it to a four-lane road with a center median, sidewalks and bike lanes.

Town officials, however, said they’d still like to see the area incorporated into a review of the land use plan.

“South Main Street is a hot spot for development right now,” said Town Manager Lee Galloway. “Maybe we can see if there’s some things that are cheaper. We need to talk to (the Lawrence Group) about some smaller scale work, possibly.”

Alderman Libba Feichter agreed that South Main Street should be included.

“I think it’s really, really important to get South Main Street right,” Feichter said. “It needs to be done right. All the advice we can get will make it a better end product.”

Benson said he will talk with the Lawrence Group to see if South Main Street can be worked into the review process.


About the land use plan

In 2003, the Waynesville town board passed a groundbreaking land-use plan that elevated the town to a state example of smart growth principles. The plan calls for landscaped parking lots, sidewalks, street trees and more attractive buildings, with the aim of making Waynesville a more walkable community. Critics of the plan have called the guidelines too onerous and say they deter commercial growth. The town is about to start a review of the plan to make sure it has been effective.

Seven western counties share land-use ideas

Slope and ridgetop development, protecting waterways, and farmland and open-space preservation emerged as the top land-management concerns of those responsible for implementing regional planning.

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