Downtown Waynesville prepares for a new arrival

The Waynesville Public Art Commission will celebrate the installation of “Celebrating Folkmoot,” their third commissioned public art piece, on Nov. 5. The event will begin at 6 p.m. in front of the new Waynesville Police Station.

Colossal in scale, the metal sculpture is comprised of a flowing banner-like form with seven flags that will turn with the wind. The piece will be installed at the corner of Main and East streets in the planter next to the recently constructed police station.

“One of the goals of the Waynesville Public Art Commission is to involve the community in our efforts to enrich our public spaces with art, and enthusiasm for this project is gratifying,” said commission member Marilyn Sullivan.

As with the WPAC’s inaugural art piece, “Old Time Music,” located in the heart of downtown Waynesville, at the corner of Main and Miller streets, funding for the Folkmoot project is being provided by area businesses, community and art supporters and funding from the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority.

The Waynesville Public Art Commission was established in 2006 by the Town of Waynesville and its mission is to engage the community and enrich public spaces through original art that celebrates Waynesville’s unique historic, cultural, natural and human resources.

Following the dedication ceremony, WPAC members will host a celebration reception at the Gateway Club starting at 6:30 p.m. The menu for the evening will include international fare with an optional cash bar and the music will represent the Folkmoot theme. The tickets purchased will be considered a donation to public art, and the entire amount raised will go toward the next commissioned piece for the town. Tickets for this event are $25 and are available through the Downtown Waynesville Association by calling 828.456.3517 or contact any of the following WPAC members: Kaaren Stoner, 828.627.0928; Chris Sylvester, 828.506.2597; David Blevins, 828.316.0266; Marilyn Sullivan, 828.456.8376; Mieko Thomson, 828.456.6710; Philan Medford, 828.456.3184; Mike Gillespie, 828.456.9007; Karen Kaufman, 828.452.0409; Starr Hogan, 770.878.6006.

Trapp will be the featured speaker at the reception and present “The Importance of Public Art.” Trapp has worked in stone and steel for years creating lavish outdoor pieces for corporate and private clients and municipalities. He is well known and his work represented throughout the country.

Most like plans for Russ Avenue makeover

A proposed redesign of Russ Avenue, the main commercial thoroughfare in Waynesville, received strong public support among those who attended a public workshop last week to learn more about the plan.

“I think this has to be done,” said Lyle Coffey, one of several residents who came out to study the large maps on display. “Russ Avenue has to be redone in some way.”

Verona Martin said the free-for-all that defines Russ Avenue makes driving it unpleasant.

“I’m not happy with it all, especially in the morning when it is so congested,” Martin said. “It puts me off.”

The redesign aims to improve traffic flow, but will also impart an aesthetic appeal sorely lacking today, said Ron Reid, the owner of Andon Reid Inn Bed and Breakfast in Waynesville.

“It is important for us because so many of our guests come in this way,” Reid said of the corridor. “It is the gateway to Waynesville.”

The key component of the plan is replacing the middle turn lane with a landscaped median the length of Russ Avenue. Drivers could no longer dart across multiple lanes of oncoming traffic in pursuit of their favorite fast-food joint on the opposite side of the road.

Instead, left turns will be corralled at intersections, improving both safety and traffic flow. A network of new side streets would skirt behind the businesses, taking pressure off the main drag.

Intersections that are off-kilter will be aligned and extra turn lanes added. The most dramatic example is at the entrance to Ingles, where a side street looping behind CVS and McDonald’s is off-center and as a result under-utilized. A building stands in the way of the intersection to be aligned, but the plan calls for knocking it down to shift the intersection over.

“This is an awfully needed intersection alignment,” Coffey said of the spot.

The only people raising issues with the plan were property owners in the direct path of a wider road footprint. While they supported the premise of the redesign, they lobbied for alterations that wouldn’t encroach as much on their property.

“I’m taking a hit right there,” said John Burgin, pointing at the spot on the map occupied by Arby’s.

Burgin built the store 15 years ago and has leased it to Arby’s ever since. But the redesign would claim precious parking lot real estate and wipe out his drive-through exit.

“You have to have a drive-through,” Burgin said of the fast-food business. “The numbers that go through a drive-through are staggering.”

Bike lanes and sidewalks on both sides of Russ Avenue would increase the road’s footprint, but would mostly fall within existing right of way. Extra turn lanes at major intersections are a different story, however, and would require taking of property. Such is the case in front of Arby’s, where an extra right-turn lane funneling vehicles into the Ingles entrance would claim part of Burgin’s already-cramped parking lot.

Mike Melner, owner of Joe’s Welding, stands to lose his entire shop if the intersection makeover at Dellwood Road goes through. But Melner said he liked the overall plan.

“There’s good and bad,” Melner said. The bad mostly being the loss of property, and the rest being good.

Melner, a horseback rider, said he would rather see horse lanes than bike lanes down Russ Avenue, thinking they would be important in the future.

“You have to keep your mind open,” Melner said.


Long, long, long way off

The town got a $40,000 state transportation planning grant to hire a firm of its choice to create a new plan for the road.

The total cost of the makeover is $21.7 million, according to estimates prepared by the firm, Wilbur Smith Associates. The road designers broke down the costs into the two major components: $15.5 million for the makeover of Russ Avenue itself and $6.1 million for the network of new side streets.

It could easily be 20 years before the plan comes to fruition, according to Town Planner Paul Benson. That’s how long it typically takes to advance a project to the top of the state road construction list. As for the Russ Avenue project, it isn’t even on the list yet, and once it does get there, there’s no telling where the DOT will place it in the pecking order.

“It’s a pretty long time in the future,” Benson said. “It is always subject to money availability and political wind.”

New plan aims to corral chaotic thoroughfare

A plan to redesign Russ Avenue would dramatically alter the appearance and traffic flow along the frenzied main commercial artery of Waynesville.

The plan has several components, but chief among them is wiping out the middle turn lane. Instead a landscaped median will run the length of Russ Avenue.

If you want to visit up a business on the other side of the median, you’ll have hang a U-turn at a traffic light or duck up one of the new rear-access streets and skirt behind the buildings.

“A huge thing is the rear connectors,” said Town Planner Paul Benson. “It would allow people to move between businesses without ever coming out onto Russ Avenue.”

The goal of the median is to prevent left turns across multiple lanes of oncoming traffic when pulling in and out of parking lots. Instead, left turns will be corralled at intersections, improving both safety and traffic flow.

“Every time you have a left turn, you have to slow down and that means everybody behind you slows down,” Benson said. “Left turns bring traffic to a complete stop.”

Corralling turns at the traffic lights mean through traffic can sail by rather than constantly braking for darting cars.

It’s not likely that everyone will be fans of the median. It could deter people from patronizing an establishment on the other side, a possible negative for business owners.

But the status quo isn’t much better, said Fred Baker, the Waynesville Public Works Director.

“Nobody is going to visit a business if it is gridlocked in front of your store,” Baker said. “It doesn’t do much good to have unlimited driveway access when it is so congested people don’t want to stop and there’s lots of accidents.”

Nonetheless, some drivers might not like the idea of doubling back should the mood strike them for an Arby’s roast beef or KFC biscuit on the spur of the moment.

But perhaps that’s a good thing, said Joe Taylor, the owner of Taylor Ford Motor Company on Russ Avenue.

“It’s as dangerous as a cocked gun,” Taylor said of Russ Avenue. “When you get 25,000 cars a day on a five-lane road, you shouldn’t impulsively dart across oncoming traffic, so maybe it is a good idea if you have to think about getting over and turning at the stop light. You are encouraging people to be a little safer.”

Taylor comes and goes from his Russ Avenue dealership several times a day. The only time he dares a left out of his parking lot is late at night or early Sunday morning when traffic is sparse. Otherwise, he makes his way to the nearest traffic light for his left-turn needs.

While Taylor thinks creating a safer road is paramount, he likes the other elements of the plan as well: the additional turning lanes at major intersections, the rear-access roads, and realigning sigogglin intersections.

“We need it so badly,” Taylor said of the plan.

At one time, the five-lane commercial strip — defined by a middle turn lane dubbed the suicide lane — was standard road-building fare for the DOT. The five-lane road design proliferated across the nation, working hand in hand with suburban sprawl of fast-food chains and strip malls.

But road engineers have been moving away from the model and instead have heralded the landscaped median as a new approach, largely due to extensive research of accidents involving a suicide lane, according to Deniece Swinton, a transportation engineer with Wilbur Smith Associates, the firm that created the redesign plan.

“Initially DOT was all for that suicide center lane,” Swinton said. “But I think they are coming to realize a median is a lot safer. We are finding more and more of them in DOT are opening up to that idea.”

The design is a lot prettier, too, driving communities to request the design over the traditional five-lane strip.

“The majority of the cities we work with, this is the first thought. They want something pretty — a landscaped median with street trees,” Swinton said.

While some business owners oppose medians, claiming it will hurt their stores if people can’t turn in, Swinton said the trade-off is worth it.

“The only thing I can say is the whole safety factor,” Swinton said. “I understand the median prohibits people from turning left directly into their business but providing them a safer way to get into their business is a plus.”


Crafting the plan

While those caught in after-work traffic snarls on Russ Avenue might feel like the prospects for a fix are hopeless, a solution is well within reach, according to Swinton.

The town got a $40,000 state transportation planning grant to hire a firm of its choice to create a new plan for the road. Swinton was the lead consultant on the project.

Swinton’s first impression of the road?

“Very busy, a lot going on, a lot of traffic, a lot of potential conflict points.”

The description sounds familiar to anyone who’s driven the stretch during rush hour, one foot hovered over the brake while furtively on the lookout for darting cars.

Swinton’s goal was to corral left turns to traffic lights, thus the median. With left turns off the main road being restricted, Swinton looked for alternative ways to access businesses, thus the rear access roads behind buildings.

“I thought personally it was somewhat of an easy fix. There was enough land to create these connector roads,” Swinton said.

The commercial corridor targeted in the plan is less than one mile long, roughly from Bi-Lo at one end of Russ Avenue to the bypass just past McDonald’s.

Russ Avenue is an important road in the county and one that plays dual roles, said Mayor Gavin Brown.

“It is an important commercial hub in the town of Waynesville,” Brown said. Brown also sees Russ Avenue as one of the major gateways into town.

The town thus had dual goals in a redesign: make it prettier and improve traffic flow.

Baker called the redesign “extremely attractive.”


What’s next?

When or if the plan ever comes to fruition ultimately lies in the hands of the Department of Transportation.

To get that ball rolling, Brown anticipates the town board will formally adopt a redesign plan for Russ Avenue by spring. It will then advance to a regional transportation planning board, and from there inch its way toward the DOT’s state priority list.

“If we can get the powers that be to agree that this is the result we want, then politically they will have to find the money to do it,” Taylor said.

Brown is hoping to see the plan implemented in 10 years.

“You would like to think if we really pushed on it and DOT was cooperative and funds were available, that would be reasonable,” Brown said of his 10-year goal.

Baker said the plan could be targeted in stages if there isn’t money or political will by the DOT to do it in one fell swoop.

In ideal world, however, it would be fully implemented rather than a piecemeal approach, Benson said.

“If you just pick one piece, it won’t work as well as if it is fully integrated,” Benson said. “The tricky thing is it involves quite a bit of property acquisition to create these rear connectors.”


See the map

Watershed assessment still underway

The team of experts conducting an ecological assessment of Waynesville’s 8,600-acre watershed has collected so much data that they have had to hunt down a bigger software package that can actually handle the load.

“We cannot fit this on Excel,” said Dr. Peter Bates, the director of Western Carolina University’s natural resource and conservation management program who is heading up the study of the watershed.

One of three creekside stations that collect data on water quality every five minutes has already generated more than half a million data points.

As overwhelming as that sounds, Bates said the data is “good to have” as he updated Waynesville town board members at a meeting last week. Waynesville conserved its giant watershed several years ago, protecting the town’s pristine drinking water supply. The town engaged Bates and his team to develop baseline data that will gauge both water quality and forest health over time.

While the former has been relatively straightforward, the latter has been difficult to define, according to Bates.

“It’s a little more fuzzy than water quality,” Bates said. “It’s ambiguous how you actually quantify in numerical terms what a healthy forest is. What we’re trying to do is create or increase natural diversity.”

Bates said diversity is the key to healthy water, plants and animals.

According to him, cutting down white pine trees would actually help create that natural diversity, since those trees were never native to the watershed anyway. Waynesville residents planted them in the late 1800s and early 1900s to stabilize the soil after they started harvesting the land.

Now, the white pines are more harmful than helpful to the watershed, according to Bates.

“White pines are shading other trees out, keeping them from coming in,” Bates said. White pine themselves are stagnating because they were planted close together and compete for sunshine.

If these trees are cut down, the end result would be more sunlight, moisture and all-around vigor for native plants and the forest floor.

When Waynesville placed the watershed in a conservation agreement several years ago, town leaders reserved the right to cut trees on the property rather than create an untouchable lockbox.

The prospect of future logging has caused controversy in the past, but as leaders promised at the time, it won’t be happening any time soon. Waynesville officials are being deliberate and gathering as much public opinion as well as scientific data as possible before making any decisions.

“The trees aren’t going to be cut for a long time,” Bates said.

Bates said he’d like to see more yellow poplars, oaks and ash trees in the watershed, as well open savannah-like pine forests reestablished along the ridges.

In the meantime, the team studying the watershed will continue working toward a complete forest inventory to keep track of any changes in forest conditions over time.

The team has also observed that some culverts and improperly graded gravel roads were causing impure water to be channeled into the stream. The team has accordingly begun a study of every road-stream intersection in the watershed.

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

Fundraising ramps up for Waynesville skate park

By Andre A. Rodriguez • Special to the Smoky Mountain News

It’s been at least a dozen years since Waynesville’s leaders began contemplating a public skate board park to provide a safe alternative to illegal skating on streets and parking lots.

The town bans skateboarding on sidewalks and most town streets. Violaters face a $50 fine and the possibility of having their boards confiscated.

But it doesn’t always stop them, whether it’s risking a stealth nighttime run through the town’s six-story parking deck or staging a mass ride down the middle of Main Street, as was the case in a rare display of public disobedience by young skaters a couple of years ago.

Waynesville Alderman Gary Caldwell, a long-time advocate of a town skate park, sees skaters taking up their sport wherever they can, often in private parking lots.

“The other day I was taking my mom for a stroll at the Brian Center on the outside, and I saw little guys over at Garrett Funeral Home’s extra parking lot skating and jumping up on that rail,” said Caldwell. “We’ve got to make [a skate park] happen soon.”

The town set aside $70,000 toward the park a dozen years ago and are now waiting to hear if they will be awarded a matching $70,000 grant from the state Parks and Recreation Trust Fund and town Parks and Recreation Department, Director Rhett Langston said.

Langston said he hopes he has good news to deliver about the grant soon, but the General Assembly’s delay in approving a budget has also delayed the grant process. The grant was tentatively scheduled to be awarded in July, but the date has been pushed back to at least Aug. 21, Langston said.

“It’s going to be stiff competition, more so than usual,” Langston said, citing the state budget crunch.


Park plans

Plans for the skate park call for a fenced-in, outdoor facility on the site of the former horse ring on Vance Street. It will join the sprawling town recreation complex along Richland Creek, where playgrounds, tennis courts, picnic shelters, ball fields, a greenway, a dog park, a track, and the Waynesville Recreation Center are clustered.

The park would be free to use, but skaters would be required to pay a small registration fee so the Parks and Recreation Department can keep track of who is using the facility. The town would maintain the facility, Caldwell said, but “I think it’ll be well maintained and taken care of by [the skaters]. I think that they’ll respect it and take very, very good care of it themselves.”

Skateboarders will be required to wear helmets, and knee and elbow pads, unlike at BP Skate Park in Balsam, where many area boarders go to skate, particularly on inclement weather days since BP is an indoor facility.

The topic was an issue of contention during a public opinion meeting held in March 2008. Many experienced skaters said they don’t like skating in full pads because the pads limit motion and can be uncomfortable while skating on hot days.

Langston said there is no wiggle room for the full pads requirement, which is mandated by state law. He said he’s spoken with other municipal skate park operators who have said people still come to skate despite the requirement they be fully padded.


Brick by brick

While Langston awaits word on the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund grant, he announced that the Waynesville Kiwanis gave a $20,000 grant to the project. The park will be named the Waynesville Kiwanis and Parks and Recreation Skate Park, he said.

As families return from summer vacations and school gets cranking again, the fundraising effort is expected to kick into high gear. Langston said he plans to hold a fundraising meeting in mid-September. In the meantime, the town is selling bricks that will be used for a walkway leading to the park’s entrance. The four-inch by eight inch bricks can contain up to three lines of personalized text with 20 characters per line per brick. The bricks can be purchased for $50 each or two for $75. Langston did not have a total for the brick sale but did say sales were going “very well.”

“That’s been an ongoing event, and so far we‘ve been very pleased with it,” he said. “We’re trying to take that idea and get more aggressive.”

Langston said he hopes to get more young people involved in the fundraising effort since they’re the ones who will benefit from the project. The park is also looking for individual donors and corporate sponsors, who can get their name permanently placed on a dedication sign at the park.

Those interested in purchasing a brick, making a donation, or volunteering for the fundraising committee are asked to contact Langston at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 828.456.2030.

Waynesville’s South Main presents a vexing problem

Sounds like Waynesville’s leaders heard just what they expected last week regarding South Main Street — many people feel many different ways, and so no matter what the outcome many are going to be unhappy.

Waynesville’s leaders and residents have a real challenge in front of them as they decide just how best to re-design this corridor. South Main Street connects two distinctly different areas — the thriving, historic town center and the new big box development that currently includes Super Wal Mart and Best Buy. Along the way are nice neighborhoods, lots of small businesses, and a lot of open asphalt parking areas. The challenge is to provide the right roadway to bring together two areas that have commonalities and are also, in many ways, polar opposites.

The state Department of Transportation has so far said it will adhere to the town’s wishes. They say this corridor is not connected at all to any of its thoroughfare plans to move mass numbers of vehicles, and so will defer on this one to town leaders and local opinion. That means local residents and towns apparently won’t end up fighting DOT for the road they want, which still happens way too often.

So what is best? It seems fairly obvious that a road that gets progressively smaller as it nears downtown’s portion of Main Street makes sense. Bike lanes and sidewalks should be included the entire length of the route. Waynesville has already established a reputation as a pedestrian-friendly community, and making these main corridors adhere to this long-range plan is obviously in the best interest of the town and its citizens.

The area between Country Club Drive and the entrance to Super Wal Mart will be the most difficult. Some businesses in this area likely won’t be around within a few years, but others are right now awaiting the decision on the roadway so they can complete plans. This is where some will walk away dissatisfied with the final decision. Some think it’s time to four-lane this area — a move that would lead to the razing of many buildings — while others like the haphazard collection of small, privately owned businesses. For some, that’s the character of Hazelwood.

“It seems like they are trying to get rid of old Hazelwood to beautify the town. That’s what the sole purpose is,” said Oma Lou Leatherwood at a public hearing on the road held last week at Hazelwood Elementary School.

For others, the need to re-develop the area is obvious: “It’s just really decrepit looking. They are never going to attract businesses if that stretch is so ugly,” said Joellen Habas.

And so, without doubt, there will be losers and there will be winners. Some aspects of what needs to be done here are obvious, but some decisions will likely be made on the gut instincts of town aldermen. Stay tuned.

Public split on South Main’s future

In the heyday of curbside service, Jim Caldwell had a special talent for dressing hot dogs.

He could balance 10 buns up on one arm, stacked from his wrist to his bicep, while his other wielded ketchup and mustard bottles, striping the dogs in rapid succession, sprinkling them with onions and topping with chili.

Those were the glory days though, and the cars that once lined the curb in front of Jim’s Drive-In on South Main Street in Waynesville are few and far between today. The once blue-collar community anchored by four factories and tight-knit neighborhoods has been slowly deteriorating over the years, largely passed over by urban renewal.

“It’s just really decrepit looking,” said Joellen Habas, who travels the South Main business district several times a day. “They are never going to attract businesses if that stretch is so ugly.”

Planning is currently under way to overhaul the corridor, which connects downtown Waynesville with a new Super Wal-Mart at the south end of town. The road passes through three distinct districts: a residential stretch defined by affluent homes and mature trees, a mixed-use district with professional offices, and a commercial stretch.

After years of prodding by town leaders, the N.C. Department of Transportation has launched a feasibility study for a redesign of South Main Street. A public meeting was held Monday (July 13) to gather input from the community on which plan they prefer. Nearly 150 people turned out to voice their opinions.

While planning is only in the early stages, it already promises to be a bitter debate over how wide the road should be, particularly through the main commercial district. Some want more lanes to prime the pump for redevelopment, others want a small-town feel. Some want to hang on to the strip of old buildings, others want to raze them and start over.

There are three options currently on the table. One calls for keeping it two lanes, one calls for adding a single middle turn lane, and one calls four four-lanes with a small raised median. The four-lane version, which also includes sidewalks, bike lanes and street trees on both sides of the road, would consume 120 feet of right of way. A road that wide would take out nearly all the existing businesses on both sides of the road, according to the DOT.

Business owners along South Main Street don’t want to see their buildings bulldozed in the name of progress.

“It would take a barrel full of money to buy that much property,” said Dick Bradley, the owner of an Ace Hardware and gun store on the corridor.

While not a fan of a significantly wider road, Bradley does think the road needs an appearance overhaul.

“The junk cars, the filthy lots, the big weeds,” Bradley said of the aesthetic problems plaguing the road.

Currently, the road has patchy sidewalks and lacks curbs, with the road and adjacent parking lots forming a giant sea of continuous asphalt.

Long-time residents are distraught about the thought of razing the corridor in the name of gentrification, however.

“I can’t see them doing something like this just because Wal-Mart moved up here,” said Oma Lou Leatherwood, 63, who lives just off South Main Street. “It seems like they are trying to get rid of old Hazelwood to beautify the town. That’s what the whole purpose is.”

The area seems primed for redevelopment, although it has not yet been realized. Many properties in the commercial district are for sale or perpetually for rent. Economic development planners thought Super Wal-Mart’s recent arrival would spur growth along the corridor, with corporate chains like Chili’s and Walgreens expressing interest so far.

“Change is something that happens whether you want it to or not,” said Thom Morgan, the owner of Mountain Energy gas station along South Main.

Morgan has bought additional property to the rear of his lot that would allow him to move back should widening claim the front of his convenience store. Morgan hoped to use the extra property for an expansion, however, with plans to add more pumps, make his store bigger and bring in a Dairy Queen.

Morgan has already started designing a site plan for the expansion.

“I’m ready to start doing something in the next year,” Morgan said.

But a final road design could be years away, making it difficult for anyone to redevelop while in limbo over how much property a wider road might claim.


How wide is too wide?

Many at the meeting questioned the need for four lanes.

“There doesn’t seem to me like there is too much traffic,” said Joellen Habas, who travels the South Main business district several times a day.

“It gets backed up a little when people get off work, but then it moves on,” agreed Leatherwood.

Henry Foy, the former long-time mayor of Waynesville, said a two-lane road with roundabouts would suffice to handle traffic. Foy wants to preserve the small town feel. He said a large four-lane road with a median would destroy the town’s character.

“We don’t want Waynesville to get that big,” Foy said.

Habas said she doesn’t want another major commercial thoroughfare like Russ Avenue. Instead, add some sidewalks and curbs, plant some trees, but leave the basic width alone, she said.

Patrick Bradshaw, an engineer with an office on South Main, said a four-lane with a median would be “overkill.”

Bradshaw said town leaders understand that, but the challenge will be convincing the DOT of that. Bradshaw thinks a combination of turn lanes, intersection redesign and congestion management techniques could improve traffic flow without a drastic widening.

Tracy McCracken, who owns property on South Main Street, called the four-lane design “too much for that part of town.”

Waynesville town leaders have not weighed in on which design they prefer. Alderwoman Libba Feichter said the town board will likely endorse a vision at some point.

“I feel like it would let people know we are together, that this is the plan that suits our community,” Feichter said.

Feichter hopes it is possible to pick a combination of plans, judiciously adding extra lanes at intersections but not the full length of the corridor.

The public seems united on one front: to leave the road alone through the core residential stretch. Widening that stretch would take out the tunnel of mature shade trees arching over the road.

“I don’t want them to destroy the character of our town,” said Pam Kearney, who lives in a neighborhood off the residential stretch of South Main.

Public art showcases Folkmoot USA

Folkmoot will be the subject of a public art piece commissioned by the Waynesville Public Art Commission (WPAC).

Artist Wayne Trapp has been selected to be the artist for the third public art piece. With an installation date scheduled for early November, the new piece will be placed in the landscaped area between the two retaining walls outside the new Waynesville Police Station located at the corner of Main and East Street.

The theme for this piece is Folkmoot — chosen to honor the international dance festival that has been such a vital part of the community for over 26 years. Folkmoot is a theme that represents the WPAC mission to “engage the community and enrich public spaces through original art that celebrates Waynesville’s unique historic, cultural, natural and human resources.”

The WPAC wanted a work of art that could convey the color, movement, energy and drama of this event and requested that artists interpret these elements in their design proposals.

Of the six artists who originally submitted qualifications, three finalists were selected to present detailed drawings and models to an advisory panel of citizens and town officials. These individuals were selected for their knowledge of public art installations, artistic knowledge and community history. Taking into consideration the verbal and written comments from the advisory panel, Trapp was chosen or the Folkmoot piece.

Trapp is a celebrated sculptor who has worked in stone and steel for years, creating lavish, even colossal outdoor pieces for corporate clients and public places. His interpretation of the Folkmoot piece will be a bold and dramatic statement and a lasting reminder of the friendships created abroad and at home that are a significant part of Waynesville and this festival.

During his presentation to the advisory panel, Trapp made the suggestion that children or other community members could be invited to design the colorful, moving flags that will become part of his permanent sculpture. Each flag could be an original, graphic design, not representative of any specific country. His suggestion was well received by the advisory panel and will be used in his execution of the Folkmoot piece.

As with the inaugural art piece, “Old Time Music,” located in the heart of downtown Waynesville, at the corner of Main and Miller, funding for this project will be provided by area businesses, community and art supporters and an award from the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority.

Waynesville’s second public art piece is also part of the Waynesville Police Station project and is planned for the plaza in front of the new building. In January, the WPAC sponsored a contest for Tuscola High School art students. They were asked to create a paver design for the plaza taking into consideration the history of the building site. The purpose of the competition was to give the students experience with the public art selection process, and at the same time, and for no extra cost in the building project, create a second piece of permanent public art for the town. The young artists used architects specifications and site plan as a reference. Upon submission, the students’ designs were reviewed by the WPAC and project architects (ADW of Charlotte) and three finalists were selected. The three finalists gave formal presentations to a committee of citizens and town officials who made the selection of the winning design, “A Patchwork Community,” by Courtney Boessel. Courtney’s design was presented to the Town Board in February for final approval.

Anyone who would like to make a donation to the Folkmoot or future projects, or for more information about the WPAC, contact the Downtown Waynesville Association at 828.456.3517 or Mieko Thomson, WPAC commission member, at 828.226.2298.

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.

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