Plans call for new Belk, a Michaels and PetSmart in Waynesville

Belk department store in Waynesville might be moving from its anchor spot beside Ingle's grocery store to a much larger and brand-new building beside Super Wal-Mart.A Michaels craft store and Pet Smart might also join the ranks of big-box chain stores at the Waynesville Commons development on South Main Street, according to building plans submitted to the town's planning office.

The new stores have been proposed for a 12-acre commercial site next to Super Wal-Mart that originally was slated for a Home Depot. When the economy tanked, Home Depot pulled out, and has been trying to off-load the tract.

While construction plans under review by the town call for an 85,000-square-foot Belk, the Waynesville store manager said it is still too new to talk about.

"The details haven't quite been published. It is still in the works," said Reasey Johnson, the general manager of Belk in Waynesville.

Plans were filed with the town by CBL & Associates, a commercial property development firm that has been marketing the site for Home Depot. There has not been a sale of the site recorded yet, and the tenants are not yet cast in stone.

"We have nothing official to announce regarding a prospective development in Waynesville," Matt Phillips with CBL & Associates. "We explore a number of opportunities; some that are realized and some that are not. We will be pleased to make an official announcement when we have actual information to share."

County economic development leaders have been working for years to bring development to the former industrial site. A sprawling, rusting, old factory was bulldozed to make way for the retail strip complex five years ago. But new stores have been slow to locate there because of the economy.

"This is what we expected to happened, but the unfortunate three year economic hiatus held us up," said Waynesville Mayor Gavin Brown, also a member of the county's economic development commission. "It is nice to see we are having nationally known businesses locate in the community. I'm not saying there aren't local suppliers of those same products, but it is nice to know Waynesville is recognized as a place to be."

Waynesville leaders compromise on parking in front of businesses

Developers in Waynesville rejoice: your customers may now park in front of your buildings. Sometimes. In some places.

The new rules, passed after nearly two years of deliberation, will allow limited parking in the front of businesses for high-traffic commercial districts, something that was strictly forbidden under the town’s smart growth policies, much to the chagrin of some developers and business owners.

Parking design has been a controversial topic since 2003, when the town’s new land-use plan relegated parking to the side and rear of buildings in favor of a streetscape defined by building façades — a more attractive option than asphalt parking lots.

But a committee tasked with reviewing the town’s land-use plan over the past year recommended the town allow some parking in front buildings.

After two months of debate of their own, the town board was split 3-2 on exactly how much parking should be allowed in front during last month’s town board meeting.

Town leaders ultimately did not allow as much parking in front as the land-use review committee or the town planning board suggested. Instead of allowing two rows of parking spaces in front of the building, the town board cut that down to just one row.

Town board members Libba Feichter, Wells Greeley and LeRoy Roberson voted to limit parking in front to just one row.

Greeley, who wasn’t on the board when the original ordinance was hashed out, said he was pleased with both the process and the result. Greeley said that he knew coming in that the standards would be a challenge — the parking provisions in particular.

He said that he feels like the end result was a good compromise between the pro- and anti-parking factions.

“I think this strikes a compromise as being now commercially friendly but yet still trying to keep the façades and the front of the buildings maintained,” said Greeley.

Roberson said that he was also pleased with the eventual outcome of the months of discussions and debates.

He also came to the board after the initial statutes were penned, but said that the cleaned-up version will lay a good framework for future development.

“I just think it gives it a better look,” said Roberson. “Instead of having another Russ Avenue on South Main, you’ll have something that’s more appealing and something that will function better overall.”

Mayor Gavin Brown and Alderman Gary Caldwell sided with the committee in wanting two rows.

Caldwell said that, while he’d never be completely happy and did vote against the parking proviso, the overall compromises that were reached were workable.

Town Planning Director Paul Benson said the idea was to offer a clean and inviting aesthetic, while still giving businesses, and their customers, workable parking.

“The concept of one row is that it sort-of replaces on-street parking in places where you can’t have on street parking, and still keeps buildings pretty close to the road,” Benson said. “I think [the aldermen] recognized that a limited amount was probably desirable, at least in some locations, but they didn’t want to go too far.”

What that means will differ greatly for businesses and developers on the ground from district to district, and sometimes even from case to case, said Benson.

“It varies from no parking in front, like in the central business-type districts, to maximum parking in front with a controlled-use permit,” said Benson, referring to the new stipulation that allows some developers to ask that their property be made a special zone, with site-specific conditions.

Ingles on Russ Avenue, which is pursuing a major expansion, is the first to be granted such a permit.

Not everywhere in town, of course, would be privy to parking-in-front. For businesses, it’s limited to the town’s three major commercial districts — Russ Avenue, the Elwood-Junaluska district and South Main Street — and certain residential districts.

Democrats ‘struck speechless’ by state budget cuts

Under the newly verdant trees shading the lawn of the historic Haywood County Courthouse, 29 people silently lined the sidewalk last Friday, sending the message that they were “struck speechless” by slashed state funding proposed by House Republicans.

Their signs bore slogans decrying the deep cuts handed down to schools, universities, the elderly and environmental programs, among others.

Pacing in the sun on the courthouse steps behind them, Rep. Ray Rapp, D-Mars Hill, was anything but speechless. He’s the group’s spokesperson, and it’s probably fair to say that he’s livid about the cuts.

The phrase that he keeps returning to, and indeed the one that he has trotted out on the House floor throughout the budget debate to characterize the Republican’s approach to cuts, is “ready, shoot, aim.”

There’s no money, he said, he gets it. But there must be a line drawn somewhere, and he is concerned that the money-slashing sword is being drawn too quickly and wielded too loosely.

“We’re talking about fundamental services that are being cut to our people,” said Rapp. “These cuts are draconian, destructive and deeply disappointing.”

The ones he seems most viscerally worked up about are the ones that affect children and the elderly — the House plan calls for $1.2 billion to go from school funding and 50 percent of the money senior centers get would be taken away. Project Care, an in-home service for the elderly that got its start in Haywood County, would be eliminated completely. More at 4, a preschool program would take a big hit, as would its early development companion, Smart Start.

Rapp tends to refer to such educational reductions as “eating our seed corn,” and, he said, he thinks it’s going to have a negative impact on the future.

Rapp and his fellow Democrats have a plan to stave off some of the slash-and-burn that would sweep across the state if a similar budget emerges from fiscal wrangling in the Senate later this month. Rather than cutting the state’s sales tax by a penny, keep the sales tax at its current level. A one-cent sales tax billed as temporary to solve state budget shortfall two years ago was set to expire this year. Keeping it in place would at least defend schools from some of the more painful and deleterious blows.

“Nine-hundred million of that $1.2 billion could be erased by simply continuing that one-cent sales tax,” said Rapp.

The idea, though, isn’t likely to get much traction in a General Assembly that’s ruled by Republicans, many of whom ran on a no-tax-increase platform of fiscal conservatism, or at least promised a lightened tax load.

Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin, who bumped out incumbent Democrat John Snow last November, is one of Rapp’s Senate counterparts. He’s not going for the sales tax extension, and his Republican colleagues, he said, are unlikely to do so, either.

“It was a temporary tax for two years and it expires June 30, and if they thought that they needed a tax for longer than that, they should’ve voted for it,” said Davis.

If all goes to plan, he expects that he and his Senate colleagues may be proffering their own budget — similar, he said, to the House offering — within a few weeks.

Davis concedes that these cuts aren’t easy to swallow, but he maintains that, for now, they’re necessary.

“We’re not too excited about cutting good programs, but there’s only so much waste, fraud and abuse in the budget,” said Davis.

Davis said that he is hearing pleas from constituents, however.

“The magnitude of this problem is significant. I have lots and lots of people calling me, writing me letters, emailing me, telling me that they know we have some serious problems, but don’t cut my programs,” said Davis. “This is not easy.”

For Davis, the loss of legitimate programs is lamentable but necessary to right the state’s listing fiscal ship. He’s hopeful that things will soon get better, good programs can be restored and rainy day funds replenished. But today, even a great program may not be great enough to stay around.

“We cannot fix our state budget without touching those items, so some programs are really getting the ax,” said Davis. “But you know, nothing is a good deal if you can’t pay for it.”

Rapp, however, said the cuts have become unpalatable.

“I don’t think the average citizen anticipated the depth of cuts that they’re making,” Rapp said.

Thai food spices up Waynesville’s culinary scene

Americans love pad thai.

This one fact, Nonglak Pafuang is sure of. After moving to the U.S. from Thailand five years ago, she’s learned that the varied cuisines of her homeland are popular stateside, but none more than pad thai, a popular stir fry that features fried egg and rice noodles. It’s just one of the things she’s learned over the last half-decade spent starting and running Thai restaurants around the Southeast.

Pafuang, known to pretty much everyone as Doh, is the manager of Waynesville’s newest restaurant, Thai Spice. The Main Street store isn’t her first foray into Asian dining. She and the restaurant’s owner, Karan Kalongrat, have opened and run two other Thai dining spots, one in Wilmington and one in Anderson, S.C.

Those restaurants are now in the hands of their capable staff, said Doh. And she and Kalongrat have brought their traditional Thai flavors to the mountains.

“We plan to stay here,” she said. “When I look out of the door, the mountains and trees are so pretty.”

Originally, they’d looked at Asheville as their next location, enamored of its beauty and mountain charisma. But they eventually settled on Waynesville, which won out with its small town charm. It took them three months to get the place ready for action, and they opened their doors in early April after checking off a sizable list of repairs and renovations.

And in their short time in the space once occupied by Ceviche’s on Main, she said things look promising.

Unlike the other locales where they’ve set up shop, Doh said that so far, their Waynesville patrons have been eager diners who have been waiting for a Thai option to open its doors.

“It seems like people in this town really seem to know Thai food,” said Pafuang. And while they grew love and support for their food over time in their other homes, she said they started almost from scratch with customers there.

And noticing those customers’ preferences is how they craft their menu; thus, the pad thai.

“We pick the most popular dishes that American people know,” she said, which usually include curries in addition to pad thai.

But if she had her way, Pafuang would be serving the more spicy and flavorful dishes that her home country’s national kitchen has to offer.

While much American food relies on the two heavyweights of flavoring — salt and pepper — to add kick to the cuisine, Thai fare, she said, samples a much broader selection of the seasoning range, both in taste and heat. On the restaurant’s menu, there’s even evidence of this: the options for each dish are mild, medium, spicy and Thai spicy. This, she said, is why her favorite Thai dishes are the most intensely spicy, flavorful offerings that don’t often make their way onto the restaurant’s menu. They’re a bit too punched up for the average American palate.

But she’s confident in the offerings that do feature on their menus, because she knows Kalongrat’s culinary standard is high. That’s why she can focus her energy and attention on making sure customers are not only enjoying a good product, but having fun and relaxing while doing it.

“I like to make a restaurant beautiful,” said Pafuang. “I’m happy when people come and enjoy the atmosphere.”

And she has, indeed, brought a sunny, Asian warmth to the place, gracing the vibrant orange walls with local art from Frog Level’s Gallery 262. A gleaming golden dragon greets diners at the front entrance and sheer white curtains billow behind it and in the front windows. The space itself is small but open, and diners are clustered around small tables that line the walls.

And while it’s a different experience than other restaurants that grace the downtown landscape, Pafuang hopes that locals will continue to warm to it, and maybe even try a new thing or two.

“When they get used to having Thai food,” she promises, “really, they’ll love it.”

(Thai Spice is located across the street from Sun Trust on Main Street in Waynesville.)

A recipe for helping kids

It’s 4:30 on a Tuesday afternoon, and in a kitchen in Frog Level, a chocolate almond layered torte is beginning to take shape. It’s a paragon of decadent, gourmet virtue, and it’s being lovingly crafted, layer on layer, for entry in this year’s Taste of Chocolate competition.

But it’s not being forged at the hands of a professional chef or restaurant culinary team. It’s a group of teenagers in black aprons, taking over the old Armory kitchen after school, perfecting their entry before getting a jump on some homework.

These are the most recent participants in Kids at Work, a program put on by the Haywood Jackson Volunteer Center that gets at-risk kids out of possible mischief and into the kitchen, learning skills that they can take into their lives and, hopefully, into the workplace.

It’s headed up by Corey Costanzo, a counselor with Aspire Youth and Family, a Haywood County organization dedicated to helping young people and their families succeed.

Costanzo saw a niche in the educational system that needed filling — the region was pretty low on vocational training for young people that could offer them marketable job skills, right out of school.

When he heard that Haywood County’s Juvenile Crime Prevention Council was calling for ideas to help at-risk and court-involved kids get a kick start in society and the workplace, he jumped on the opportunity.

“If we teach them how to cook and give them counseling and social skills, we’re going to see a marked improvement,” says Costanzo, and the kids who are in the program seem to agree.

Averrie Gast says she is a good example of this. She’s a friendly, talkative blonde who is in the thick of the culinary fray in the kitchen, washing dishes, mixing chocolate, asking questions of professional chef Ambra Lowenstein, the group’s teacher.

She was referred to the program by her therapist, who thought it would help her confront her paralyzing fear of hot water.

“When I was 18 months old, I was burned by boiling water, and my whole life I’ve had a fear of boiling water,” she explains.

Since facing her fear with her friends in the kitchen, though, she’s broken its spell and says she’s now, a few months later, able to cook in her kitchen alone.

Plus, she says, the program has not only helped her conquer her fears but also given her a community that she loves and skills she can take into the workplace.

“It’s kind-of like our own little family,” says Gast of the tight-knit group of six.

They’re the third round of students to go through the program, and they learn everything from whipping up a roulade to washing the dish it’s served in. That way, says Costanzo, kids like Averrie graduate with the knowledge and experience to move into entry-level positions at any number of restaurants.

They don’t just stick with normal American fare, either, says Costanzo, which helps expose them to a raft of cuisines that will help them in the workplace, and will broaden their own culinary horizons and hopefully inject some more interesting, healthy options into their daily diets.

Kaleb Sise says this is one of his favorite elements of the program. He’s tall and tattooed, with his short, red hair styled up into a messy faux-hawk and gauges in his ears. Unlike some of his classmates, he’s dreamt of a chef’s life since childhood, and he appreciates the diversity that the program’s curriculum offers.

“My favorite food is Asian cuisine, and we’ve done that before,” says Sise, noting that he’s been experimenting in the kitchen since childhood. “When I was younger, I wanted to be a chef, I have since I was little, so I already knew some things.”

But whether their life’s aspiration is to be a chef or consider successfully producing unburned toast a culinary triumph, Costanzo has seen the benefits of the program change the lives of many students. So far, he’s had 84 participate, and says he’s seen some pretty dramatic improvements in some, both behaviorally and socially.

“One of my kids, he’s been in juvenile detention, he’s been kicked out of two schools, and now he calls me on weekends with his mother in the grocery store because he’s staying home on Friday night, cooking for his family,” says Costanzo. “To me, that’s the greatest success.”

That kind of transformation, he says, comes from not only teaching kids new and valuable skills, but putting them into a community of other kids and adult mentors who help them with homework, social and family issues and provide them a safe, fun and helpful environment on a regular basis. After being exposed to that, he says, a lot of his students don’t want to leave the program.

Among the six here today, a few were already expressing that very sentiment.

Although the program is producing pretty great benefits for the kids personally, its aim is really to offer them longer-term success professionally by getting them into the workplace.

The economy, though, is still brutal, especially for high school students and recent graduates with a dearth of on-the-ground experience.

That’s part of why they’re teaming up with The Open Door in Frog Level — where the kids already cook a few times a month — for this month’s The Whole Bloomin’ Thing festival.

The students will cook brunch to raise funds for the charity, and Costanzo hopes it will afford them some exposure to area restaurant owners who see their skills and will offer them a chance to improve them with real-world employment.

But even if not all of his graduates go on to culinary careers, Costanzo says he considers the shifts in their lives and their thinking a tremendous success in its own right.

“We really want them to be a part,” says Costanzo. “We want to give kids an opportunity to experience a different kind of family than what they’re used to.”

And in this group, where more than one said they came into the program with few friends or community and will be sad when they graduate from Kids At Work, that benchmark of success has probably already been reached.

Art as spectator sport

Great art isn’t often associated with speed – the Mona Lisa wasn’t painted in an hour. Michelangelo took more than four years to perfect the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

But for the last 10 years, a special event has laid out a challenge to local artists: create a finished piece, ready for sale, all in under an hour. It’s not a simple task, but Quick Draw has proven a popular challenge for artists, whose pieces are auctioned off at the end of the hour to support the arts education in Haywood County.

Now in its 10th year, Quick Draw is a fast-paced event that provides a new environment for people to experience art and for artists to create it, while providing funds to support the next generation of artists.

For the artists themselves, the event supplies a challenge and a chance to interact with the public that the studio just can’t provide. And with space for only around 50 artists, Jo Ridge Kelley — artist, owner of Ridge Runner Naturals in Waynesville and Quick Draw committee member — said they’ve now had to make it an invitation-only event.

“You know, it’s become so popular that we have to say that it’s by invitation only,” said Ridge Kelley. “Now we work with the ones that have been faithful to Quick Draw all these years.”

One of those artists is Ann Vasilik. Vasilik is a Western North Carolina native whose watercolor paintings can be seen in galleries and public spaces around the region. For her, the challenge, the crowd and the buzz of artistic creation make the event a unique experience every year.

“I enjoy the challenge and then just adding the time element on top of that just makes it even more exciting for me,” said Vasilik. “I certainly love doing watercolor, and this is an opportunity to show the medium at it’s best.”

Not all of the artists at Quick Draw can work against the clock, of course. Some art, by its very nature, takes a lot longer than an hour to come together. But around half will race the time limit to get their creations completed before auction time.

With a bustling and interested crowd milling around, working for an audience can be vastly different to creating solo.

While strategies for withstanding the pressure from both audience and deadline vary, Vasilik said her preferred method is blocking them out completely.

“What happens at Quick Draw is I totally block out the audience in front of me — the sounds and what they’re saying — because I’m so focused on the painting,” said Vasilik. “I have a little sign on my board that says ‘right brain at work, speech impaired.’”

For the spectators, even if the artists are too busy to chat with them about their work, just watching so much creativity burst forth in one place is an exciting experience.

Ridge Kelley said she hears art lovers singing the event’s praises all year long.

“I have people come into our gallery and say it’s their favorite event of the year, they wouldn’t miss it,” she said. “The creative energy is what I hear the most about. It’s just so amazing to see that many artists all in one place.”

While an event like this is fun for both participants and onlookers, the point, of course, goes beyond simple art appreciation.

Quick Draw raised $13,000 last year to fund art in local schools, as well as funding two scholarships for students studying the arts at a collegiate level.

This year, according to Ridge Kelley, they’re shooting for the $20,000 mark and trying to fund three scholarships.

But in addition to the funds generated by ticket sales and auction proceeds, Vasilik sees the event itself as an opportunity to turn more and more people on to arts education.

“I think the journey through the painting is the exciting part, seeing it come together,” said Vasilik. “I think you gain appreciation for what the artist puts into it, and a large part of it is entertainment, so you want to educate and entertain at the same time.”


WHEN: Saturday, April 30 • 4:30-9:30

WHERE: Laurel Ridge Country Club • 788 Eagle Nest Rd., Waynesville

HOW MUCH: $50 in advance


Voices in the Laurel 15th Anniversary Gala Concert

Western North Carolina’s renowned youth choir Voices in the Laurel will perform with award winning composer and guest conductor Dr. Rollo Dilworth at 3 p.m. on April 10 at the First Baptist Church in Waynesville.

Voices’ 15th Anniversary Concert will include the premier of two newly written choral compositions, including one written expressly for Voices in the Laurel. In addition, Dr. Dilworth will conduct the mass choir, whose musical selections will include some old favorites like “Shine on Me” and “Walk in Jerusalem.”

Dr. Dilworth recently released a recording titled “Good News”, which features 12 of his choral compositions. He was recently appointed as associate professor of Choral Music Education at Temple University’s Boyer School of Music in Philadelphia, teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in choral music education.

Voices in the Laurel is comprised of regional students in grades 1-12. Voices focuses on providing young people quality choral education in fun and innovative ways. Founder and Artistic Director Martha Brown teaches music in the Haywood County Schools, and has coached and guided Voices through 15 years of public performance.

Voices in the Laurel pairs an open-door policy with one of the lowest choir tuition costs in the U.S. Fully one-fourth of choristers receive scholarships to fund tuition financial aid covering costs of sheet music, supplies, and uniforms. Proceeds from ticket sales and donations fund Voices scholarships.


What: “Voices in the Laurel 15th Anniversary Gala Concert” Performance Fundraiser for Voices in the Laurel

When: 3 p.m., Sunday, April 10

Where: First Baptist Church, 100 S. Main, Waynesville

Info: Concert tickets are $10 each, with children 12 and under $6. Tickets are available online @ or call 828.335.2849.

Waynesville considers compromise on parking in front of building

Waynesville leaders will vote this month on whether to loosen town guidelines governing growth.

A special task force spent the past 18 months reviewing the town’s development standards and recommending changes. The town’s land-use plan was heralded for its smart growth principles when it was passed in 2003, but developers have repeatedly complained the standards were too arduous and confusing, prompting the task force review.

The task force, which includes development and real estate interests, presented its recommendations to the town board at its last meeting, but aldermen elected to take some extra time to consider the measures.

Long at the center of contention have been the town’s parking regulations. For new commercial buildings, parking lots must go to the side or rear — rather than in front — of the building.

The concept promotes a boulevard aesthetic in the town’s commercial districts, advancing the goal of making Waynesville a more walkable, visually-appealing town, said the Lawrence Group, consultants who helped the town craft the new ordinances.

The idea is to turn streets now fronted by parking lots into tree-lined avenues and store façades that will provide a more welcoming entrance into the town.

In the new regulations, however, there is a provision for allowing limited parking in front of buildings in certain commercial districts. But nailing down the specifics of just how and when that option can be invoked has been the subject of some ire over the last year as the new standards were discussed.

“That was probably our biggest friction point with developers was the parking in front,” said Paul Benson, Waynesville’s planning director. In the new regulations though, Benson pointed out “there are a lot of variables in parking patterns now.”

Benson presented aldermen with a number of different scenarios that could crop up under the new guidelines, trying to illustrate what the more relaxed rules would look like for real businesses.

For big-box stores like Wal-Mart, they could have up to 150 spaces in front, while large retailers with a slightly diminished footprint, like Best Buy, would only be allowed around 25 spaces in front. Smaller stores such as CVS or banks would only get about eight front spaces under new regulations.

Among some members of the task force, this compromise didn’t always meet a positive response.

“It doesn’t help that much,” Joe Taylor said of the front-parking concessions in the updated guidelines. Taylor, of Taylor Ford dealership in Waynesville, was on the steering committee and was an outspoken advocate of allowing parking in front.

He said the committee suggested the provision for front parking to give potential developers a break in otherwise tight regulations. The problem, he said, is that it doesn’t quite do what they’d originally envisioned.

Under the new wording, up to 50 percent of the minimum parking required for the stores under the town’s ordinance could go in front.

But the minimum number of parking spots required for a store is far less than any store would actually have.

“We don’t require a lot of parking. They [developers] usually want almost three times as much as we want,” said Benson.

Taylor said the required minimum is so small, that allowing 50 percent of that to go in front doesn’t do much.

“It takes the benefit of it away unless it’s a real large store,” Taylor said.

Though aldermen could have voted to adopt — or reject — the updated rules after the public hearing in March, board members all said they wanted just a little more time to mull over the proposals and give the public one last chance to weigh in.

And in the mean time, Benson has proposed a new option for the contentious front parking issue: special use permits, which would give developers with legitimate parking gripes a way to talk about it with planners.

By allowing special use permitting, said Benson, the board of adjustment would be able to hear pleas from business owners and builders on a case-by-case basis, judging them against a set of standards that complement the parking compromises already reached.

Under this recommendation, if a site meets one of several requirements — it has tricky terrain that governs where the building can sit or the business is looking to join with others and create a courtyard parking atmosphere, among others — the board would be able to give them some leeway.

In the end, the aldermen all said they wanted to reach a set of standards that are best for both the town residents and businesses.

“I’m a firm believer in compromise and finding the best compromise for this community. I want to maintain what is best for Waynesville and I believe we can do that,” said Alderwoman Libba Feicther.

For his part, Mayor Gavin Brown said that, after months of negotiation and debate, he’s ready to get the changes to the land-use plan out of discussion and on the books.

“I think the process has been more than democratic,” said Brown, and now it’s time to take that democratic effort and translate it into real, working guidelines that will hopefully lead the town into a better, more beautiful future.

Waynesville wins concessions in Junaluska water negotiations

Waynesville officials have finally signed an agreement with the Junaluska Sanitary District that marries the two entities for 10 more years of water service.

The contract had been in talks for several months and formalizes the relationship between the town and its largest customer, who buys water from the town wholesale and resells to its own customers, which include heavy hitters such as the hospital, Tuscola High School and Haywood Community College.

For the next 10 years, JSD has agreed to buy at least 200,000 gallons of water from the town each day, and no more than 750,000. The town, in turn, has agreed that the district doesn’t have to ask permission before selling to new customers.

Negotiations have centered around usage numbers — JSD was originally gunning for very low minimum and sky-high maximum limits — and Waynesville’s request that they grant permission before new customers hook on.

Part of the urgency for JSD was a $500,000 grant from the N.C. Rural Center that wouldn’t be doled out until a contract was in place, ensuring the flow of water between the town and the district.

On Waynesville’s side of the negotiating table, the desire for a contract was more philosophical than concrete. Without a contract, they could have been put in the tight spot of either losing their largest customer — a real revenue killer — after dropping significant investments on infrastructure for JSD or unwittingly becoming a regional water supplier, should the district decide to start selling water on to larger and larger areas without notifying the town.

Fred Baker, the town’s public works director, told aldermen last month that, although their relationship with JSD has always been cordial and mutually beneficial, keeping an eye on the town’s water is a wise strategy.

“Having plans and talking about future water supply is a good thing to do, and this is just the start,” said Baker.

Waynesville guards water supply despite pressure to unleash the spigot

The Town of Waynesville is negotiating with its biggest water customer, trying to take a stronger role in the future of how — and to whom — it sells water.

The Junaluska Sanitary District, which provides water to some of Haywood County’s biggest customers, like Haywood Community College and Haywood Regional Medical Center, is in talks to sign a contract with the town for how much, and how little, water they’ll buy from the town over the next 10 years.

For Waynesville, these are pretty essential talks. Junaluska Sanitary District already serves a sizeable chunk of the county. Should they decide to expand that business — which isn’t out of the question — it could catapult Waynesville into the spot of de facto regional water supplier, not a role the town board is necessarily amenable to.

Equally, without a contract, the town could be spurned by its biggest customer, which would dent revenues and stick them with the bill for system upgrades they’ve done for JSD.

The original impetus for the contract was a $500,000 grant up for grabs from the N.C. Rural Center. JSD was poised to scoop up the money to expand or improve their water system, but they ran into a hitch: the Rural Center wanted a signed contract, guaranteeing that the flow of water from Waynesville would continue.

There had been a contract once before, signed in 1994 and expiring in 1999, but since then, the two groups had been operating essentially on a good-faith basis.

But with the need for a contract imminent, Waynesville then seemed to realize that it was in their best interest to formalize the relationship, too.

Currently, Junaluska Sanitary is an at-will customer. The town could shut off their taps anytime. Likewise Junaluska Sanitary could decide to buy water from Canton or Maggie Valley.

As the town’s largest water customer, losing their business would make the town’s investment in infrastructure to serve Junaluska for naught.

“If they decide to walk away from us, we’ve put all this infrastructure in,” said Waynesville Mayor Gavin Brown.

Perhaps a larger concern, however, is that Junaluska Sanitary may decide to get into the business of regional water transport, courting larger municipal customers like Clyde and boosting their demand from Waynesville dramatically.

Brown said the debate is a philosophical one.

“We don’t really want to tell them who and where they can sell to, but to dome degree we do. Yes, we sell water outside the city limits. And we want to sell it, but we want to know where it goes,” Brown said.

And that’s been the sticking point in negotiations with the JSD, who originally came to the table with a minimum daily purchase of 50,000 gallons, which is a pittance compared to the 400,000-plus they currently average each day. On the other end, they pitched a maximum daily amount of 1,250,000 gallons, an astronomical number that the town could technically accommodate, but would have to do some major upgrading to guarantee pressure and steady good service to everyone on the lines. It’s nearly a third of all the water Waynesville currently supplies to all of its customers.

“The concern we have is do they have aspirations to expand the system elsewhere?” said Town Manager Lee Galloway, who was slightly worried by the high- and low-ball figures thrown out by the JSD board in the initial contract draft.

In essence the town is concerned about being made a regional water supplier without their knowledge or consent, and with very little recourse if that happens.

In theory, Waynesville could terminate JSD as a customer if the latter began demanding more water than the town wanted, or was able, to give. But with vital public entities like the hospital, HCC and Tuscola High School all hooked into, and dependent on, water flowing through JSD’s lines, Waynesville would be hard-pressed to make such a drastic move.

Meanwhile, if the JSD were to ever see a better deal for water elsewhere, the town would be left holding the bag on all the infrastructure upgrades it’s made to accommodate them.

For their part, the JSD has said it doesn’t have any hidden agendas up its sleeve, and that the numbers in the original contract were just that — simply numbers. Their role, they say, is to provide water to people in the county who ask them for it, and they need this contract if they want to make the improvements necessary for that to happen.

“There are a few producers of water in the county, and there are plenty of people in the county that need water, so we have a statutory obligation to provide it,” said Burton Smith, the attorney for the district who is handling the contract. “In terms of how rapidly we grow, if we grow, those are decisions in part made by the [JSD] board and in part made by people who come to them and ask for water. We do not actively discourage or encourage anybody to do anything.”

But towns that provide water aren’t obligated to sell it to people outside their town limits. The choice to extend lines and expand water service beyond their borders is their own.

Since development often follows water lines, Waynesville doesn’t want to unwittingly contribute to sprawl by funneling more and more water to JSD for expansion, Brown said.

Waynesville has said that they’re happy for the JSD to grow, but within reason and with a little notice. They did concede to drop some contract wording that would’ve forced the JSD to come to them when they were considering new customers, but they also got the district to come down on their maximum limit to 750,000 gallons a day, which Galloway said will still require some system upgrades, but nowhere near what they’d need for 1,250,000.

In the end, said Mayor Brown, the discussions aren’t adversarial, but he sees the town as a public service concerned mainly with keeping the public good in view, while JSD, he said, is taking a business approach that sometimes clashes with the town’s view.

The contract is still with the town for review, and both sides said they expect to reach a workable solution soon.

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