Quarry expansion plan fuels residents’ complaints

Jackie Shuler has lived in the shadow of the Waynesville rock quarry most of her life. But as blasts have grown stronger and the size of the quarry bigger, so has the list of Shuler’s complaints.

“If you were home when they pulled a load, you would think, ‘Good God, are we having an earthquake?’” Shuler said.

Shuler blames the blasting at the quarry for fouling her mother’s well water. Shuler and her mother, who lives next door, are the quarry’s closest neighbors — so close the quarry pays Shuler the courtesy of a warning call before a blast.

Her mother’s well water suddenly became discolored shortly after some earth-jarring blasts from the quarry that Shuler described as the strongest she’s ever felt. Shuler now changes her mother’s filter every 60 days, but the water still leaves rust stains on her mother’s laundry.

Neighbors of the quarry complain of cracked house foundations, incessant dust, breathing problems, erosion and even fear for the stability of the mountainside being carved away by the quarry.

“Everybody has had a problem over the past few years, and everybody is kindly tired of it,” said Ronnie Deweese, 61.

Neighbors who were once resigned to living in the shadow of quarry operations have rallied in recent weeks to fight a proposed expansion. Harrison Construction wants to increase the quarry’s boundary by 13 acres, but not necessarily to mine rock.

A major rockslide occurred at the quarry last year, halting excavation in a main sector of the mining pit until the mountainside is stabilized.

The only way to fix it, according to engineers hired by the quarry, is to lop off the top of ridge above the quarry and recontour the sheer vertical walls where the slide occurred.

Residents liken the plan to a miniature version of mountaintop removal.

“I don’t want them to tear the mountain off. They have done enough damage,” said Deweese. “Look at what our generations of young’uns is going to look at years down the road.”

The quarry’s permit requires visual screening with trees, but the barren, exposed wall of the mining pit reaches hundreds of feet up the mountainside, dwarfing a row of trees planted along the road for aesthetics.

“You cannot replace something that God made,” said Suzanne Hendrix, 62, a neighbor to the quarry.

Meanwhile, Shuler doesn’t fancy the idea of the quarry moving in even closer as it crests the ridge that separates her from the mining pit. The quarry has made a generous offer to buy up her 20 acres, and she’ll likely take it.

“I’m sure if any of the other neighbors were offered what they are offering, they would take it and run, too,” said Shuler, the owner of Bypass.

The quarry has bought or leased several additional parcels of land to make the proposed expansion possible.

Now Michael Rogers is worried about what could happen to his spring as the blasting gets closer. Rogers’ spring, a pure source of water that feeds a 1,000-gallon reservoir used by three families for their drinking water, will be just four feet from the quarry’s new property line if the expansion goes through.

“They could fracture that aquifer and contaminate it,” said Rogers, 57, an electrician.

Groundwater aquifers in the mountains are “complex by nature,” said Ted Campbell, a hydrogeologist with the N.C. Division of Water Quality in Asheville.

Underground veins in the rock splinter and fracture like crooked tree roots. It’s almost impossible to tell if a vein tapped by a well is connected to the blasting zone a quarter mile away, Campbell said.

If the quarry expands, it could negatively impact views from some of the six-figure home sites in Highland Forest, an upscale development at the head of Lickstone — especially over the next 10 years when excavations are actively underway and before the backside of the mountain is revegetated, said Steve Rosenfelt, the director of Highland Forest. But Rosenfelt said his concerns pale in comparison to those of the more immediate neighbors.

“When you see all those folks, some of them with tears in their eyes, it definitely inspires you to become involved,” Rosenfelt said.

Muddy water

State inspectors with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources are tasked with oversight of quarry operations. They are supposed to make surprise routine inspections to check compliance with numerous environmental regulations.

“I think typically it is annual,” said Janet Boyer, regional land quality supervisor based in Asheville.

However, a review of inspection reports dating back to 2005 show that the quarry went three and half years without a single inspection — from April 2005 to August 2008.

Boyer attributed the large gap in inspections to being short-staffed.

“We went through a very low staffing period,” Boyer said.

Some residents are surprised by the lack of oversight, but others say it’s par for the course.

“A big corporation like that, they can absolutely do what they want to,” Shuler said.

Residents claim whenever it rains hard, Allens Creek flowing past the mine turns chocolate brown with mud running off the quarry.

State inspectors routinely instruct the quarry to shore up erosion control efforts nearly every time they visit the site, according to inspection reports. However, inspectors fail to make a follow-up inspection to see whether the proper steps were taken.

Boyer said that isn’t unusual, however, given stretched staffing of her division.

“They usually list minor things on every inspection they do,” Boyer said, and they don’t always warrant a follow up.

By contrast, follow-up visits are customary for local inspectors with the Haywood County erosion control program. The quarry is exempt by the state from Haywood County’s erosion regulations, however. The upshot: a residential contractor building a house faces tougher oversight than a major quarry operation blasting away part of a mountain.

Furthermore, state inspectors have failed to visit the quarry during an actual rainstorm. State inspectors take stock of the quarry’s erosion control practices in theory, but haven’t actually witnessed what happens when it rains.

So residents have taken it upon themselves to document the erosion, photographing Allens Creek upstream and downstream of the quarry to show the stark difference in water quality.


Blasting is one of the biggest complaints by neighbors of the quarry.

“It will rattle the dishes in their cupboard. We’ve had picture frames fall off and everything else,” said Michael Rogers.

But Judy Wehner, assistant state mining specialist, said that alone doesn’t mean anything.

“They might have a picture falling off their wall if a truck goes by or a clap of thunder hits,” Wehner said. “Houses rattle.”

A few neighbors claim their foundations or basement walls have cracked due to the blasting, but again Wehner isn’t so sure.

“I can count on one hand any damages directly attributed to blasting,” Wehner said.

Blast strength is regulated by the state, which defers to federal limits designed for mountaintop removal coal mining. Wehner said those limits are stringent enough to guard against property damage.

The quarry is required to keep seismographic records of all its blasts. If a blast exceeds the allowable limit, quarry operators are supposed to report it to the state. But otherwise, the seismographic readings and blasting records are never seen by regulators unless they get a complaint.

For years, residents have complained directly to the quarry about the strength of the blasts, unaware there was a mining agency in Raleigh they should have been directing their grievances to.

As a result, the state went years without laying eyes on the blasting records for the Allens Creek quarry.

Now, in response to properly directed complaints, Wehner asked the quarry for two months of records. Neighbors would like to see far more than that reviewed, as they don’t trust the quarry to voluntarily report a blasting violation if they have one.

But Wehner said her office doesn’t have the manpower to go review more than that, given the number of quarries it oversees.

Wehner says the Waynesville quarry is in compliance based on the two months of blasting data she’s seen — and the fact the quarry has never self-reported a violation. Wehner said the quarry would never cover up a violation as the penalty for doing so is too great a risk. Furthermore, the quarry has been far, far below the allowed blast strength based on the readings she’s seen. The quarry won’t use more dynamite than it needs to since it costs more money to do so.

“As a good neighbor, we are well, well, well below the level for allowed blasts,” said Don Mason, who’s in charge of environmental compliance for the Harrison quarry.

Due to repeated complaints from one neighbor, the quarry hired a contractor recently to install a second seismograph on her property.

Since seismograph readings are only reviewed by the state when there’s a complaint, neighbors now complain every time there is a blast. Quarry neighbor Michael Rogers said mining regulators in Raleigh aren’t too happy about his wife’s repeated calls.

“They said ‘You people do not need to call down here every time they blast,’” Rogers recounted.

Rogers’ wife countered that she would continue to call as often as she wanted and they may as well get on a first-name basis.

Since Wehner can expect a complaint with every blast these days, she gave the quarry a standing order to send her every seismograph reading to save her the trouble of calling and asking for it each time.

The state could set a tougher limit for blasting rather than deferring to the federal threshold for mountaintop removal coal mining. Individual quarries, such as those in closer proximity to neighbors, could be held to more rigorous standards if stipulated in the state’s permit.

“In the instance where people have had problems, we have put limits in their permit,” Wehner said.

Dust plumes

Blasting also spews giant dust plumes into the air, which then drift and settle on neighbors’ homes. Even when the quarry isn’t blasting, there is a pervasive dust that settles over everything, according to Hendrix.

“We leave our doors and windows shut almost 24-7,” Hendricks said. “You can dig in the dirt in our yard and it is full of mica dust.”

Some quarry neighbors claim the dust is causing pulmonary problems.

State air quality regulators inspect the quarry unannounced annually and have never witnessed a violation, according to Angela Hopper, an environmental specialist with the state Division of Air Quality in Asheville.

Inspectors mostly look for dust being kicked up by equipment on the roads and by rock crushers. A water spray is continuously trained on the crushing site to keep dust down, and a water truck is supposed to spray the roads.

When it comes to blasting, however, there are no state regulations to control the dust that’s emitted.

“We do not have any rules in air quality that specifically talk about controlling dust from blasting,” said Paul Muller, regional supervisor for the Division of Air Quality.

While there is a federal standard for fine particles in the air, it is measured over a 24-hour period.

“Rarely would one plume of dust be able to cause a problem with a 24-hour standard,” Muller said. “I’m not saying short term couldn’t have implications, but we don’t have any standards.”

It is possible that fine particle dust could blow off the high, towering exposed walls of rock at the quarry — known as “fugitive dust.” Fugitive dust from quarries is supposedly regulated, but air quality inspectors say they have never noticed it.

Fine particle matter isn’t necessarily visible to the naked eye, however and can only be measured with air quality monitors. Muller doesn’t have a portable air quality monitor that could be set up at the site.

Air pollution is one of the six criteria that the state could use to deny the quarry’s permit. But lacking an objective way to measure fine particles in the air around the quarry, neighbors are left making unsubstantiated and anecdotal claims.

There is one case study Muller can point to, however. In Spruce Pine, where several quarries are concentrated, a woman complained incessantly about dust from the operations. Muller set up air monitoring equipment in her yard for several years, but it never measured a violation.

Mason, the quarry’s own environmental compliance employee, said dust mostly stays on site when blasting and any drift is minimal.

Impressive showing

Opponents are ready for a showdown at a public hearing over the quarry’s expansion slated for Wednesday night. They have been meeting weekly for two months to organize and plot strategy. Meetings have consistently numbered 60 people or more.

“When you have somebody that works all day long, they come home tired, but if they are willing to come out to a meeting, they are concerned,” Hendrix said.

While organizing has grown immensely easier in the age of email, many of those neighboring the quarry in the Allens Creek and Lickstone communities don’t use it, forcing residents to mount their opposition the old-fashioned way.

“It was word of mouth from one concerned person to another. Every time I talk to someone I say bring a friend or neighbor so they become aware,” Hendrix said.

Residents have gotten a few pointers from pros along the way. A regional environmental group called Western North Carolina Alliance has rallied to the cause. The issue is right up its alley.

“We empower people to work on environmental issues that are happening in their own backyards,” said Ryan Griffith, community outreach manager with WNC Alliance.

Griffith said the residents were surprisingly motivated and organized already, but navigating the bureaucracy behind environmental permits can be tricky, even for advocates who do it for a living.

“When you have several different layers of regulations, it is hard to figure out what you are supposed to do,” Griffith said.

WNC Alliance had a few minor tips, like organizing into committees to carry out assignments between meetings.

Griffith’s top priority is to keep the residents on message and shape years of pent-up anger toward the quarry into an effective argument.

The state won’t deny the permit because blasts rattle windows or the scarred mountainside looks ugly. To halt the quarry in its tracks, opponents must hone in on one of six criteria that are grounds for denying the permit, Griffith said.

Air quality, water quality, health problems, public safety, physical damage to homes — these are the areas where residents have learned to target their arguments.

“We knew when we got to that hearing, we had to stay focused,” Hendrix said.

Residents even planned a rehearsal to go over their comments on the eve of the public hearing.

“I wasn’t cut out to be a public speaker, but I am getting pretty used it,” said Rogers, who’s become one of the de facto spokespeople for the neighborhood.

Residents may be at a disadvantage when it comes to proving their case, however. They have no air quality data to trot out. Inspectors have never witnessed the erosion or taken well water samples. They can’t prove the cracks in their basements are a result of the blasting.

Their complaints are mostly circumstantial, and it is unclear what steps, if any, the state environmental regulators will take to verify the neighbors’ anecdotal claims.

“It is always somebody’s word against somebody else’s word,” Wehner said.

The burden, it appears, will fall on the neighbors to prove their case — a process that may end up at the appeal level.

The state has only 30 days from the public hearing to issue some kind of decision. The state can approve or deny the permit, or ask the quarry for more information.

If either side disagrees with the decision, they can appeal it to the state Office of Administrative Hearings. Successful appeals usually have a lawyer and are put on much like a court trial.

The quarry can get to work right away if the permit is approved unless opponents go to the court and ask for work to be halted while an appeal is settled. But in doing so, opponents may be asked to put up a bond to cover losses the quarry suffers while the appeal plays out, to be paid only in the event the quarry prevails.

Why now?

Mason and Wehner have questioned the sudden rash of complaints given the long life of the mine dating back to the 1960s.

“I don’t want to say that anybody’s concerns are not legitimate,” Mason said. At the same time, he doesn’t understand why “now all of a sudden it is a problem.”

Wehner said the neighbors never complained about the operations until the quarry applied for its latest permit, even though the permit two years ago was for a much larger expansion.

But opponents beg to differ. They have been complaining — just to the wrong people.

“We always just called down to Harrison quarry,” said Rogers. “We didn’t know we were supposed to be calling DENR all this time. Then there would be a record for it.”

Deweese often called the quarry directly, but it took a while before he realized he wasn’t getting anywhere.

“When we would call over there and complain whoever we talked to just kindly dusted us off,” Deweese said. “We didn’t know where to call.”

The failure by residents to protest until now shouldn’t be used against them, said Griffith.

“This was sort of the straw that broke the camels’ back,” Griffith said. “It is sad because the neighbors have been such good neighbors to the quarry for so long, but they haven’t really reciprocated that.”

Deweese said the quarry has gotten worse compared to 20 years ago.

“You might hear a boom now and then, but as far as shaking the house, it never did do it,” Deweese said. “Then the bigger they got, they would shake our houses and then problems starting happening. Everybody is kindly fed up with it.”

Deweese hopes they have the state’s attention now.

“I hope a lot of people take notice of this and step in,” Deweese said. “I want DENR and other people to watch them more closely on air quality, water pollution, the sediment runoff.”

Deweese said he thinks the community will stick with the fight.

“It is a big outfit, and they got a lot of money, and it’s hard to fight money,” Deweese said. But, “I don’t think we are going to get tired and give out. Not if they are going to keep tearing our mountains down. The way I look at it, God ain’t makin’ us no more mountains.”

Coming next week

Check out next week’s edition to learn more about slope issues at the quarry, including a large rockslide last year and the controversy surrounding plans to stabilize it. Plus, read coverage of the public hearing.

Want to weigh in?

A public hearing on the expansion of the Allens Creek rock quarry in Waynesville will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 16, in the historic courthouse on Main Street in Waynesville. Comments will be accepted in writing through June 25. Email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or write to Dr. Kenneth Taylor; 1612 Mail Service Center; Raleigh, NC 27699–1612.

Quarry plays vital role in economy

Harrison Construction’s rock quarry on Allens Creek in Waynesville mines granite for building roads, driveways and concrete house pads. The raw crushed stone forms the base for roadbeds and is also the main ingredient in asphalt and concrete. Harrison has an asphalt plant next door to its quarry.

Before the recession, demand from private developments fueled demand for the quarry’s stone — around 850,000 tons a year. Now, the quarry is doing half that, said Don Mason, who’s in charge of environmental compliance at Harrison’s quarries in the region.

If it weren’t for the Allens Creek quarry, paving in Haywood County would cost a premium to haul in asphalt and gravel.

“When you have to truck the product that far it gets very very expensive,” Mason said.

Harrison Construction owns seven quarries — one in each of the seven western counties. Together, all seven quarries employ 80 to 90 employees, down from 150 to 170 at the peak of the building boom.

Opponents acknowledge the quarry’s role.

“There ain’t a driveway in Haywood County that don’t have Harrison stone on it,” said Michael Rogers, a neighbor fighting the quarry expansion.

Strand project kick started with state grant

Hidden behind 16 feet of Main Street storefront, the inside of The Strand Theater looks like a cave. The floor slopes down to a black stage surrounded by tall, black walls. Old theater chairs are stacked on the wall closest to Wall Street.

Tools, random pieces of furniture and a few lights are scattered around the interior. A ramp leads up to the balcony, which is little more than wooden beams overlaid with plywood.

But all of that is about to change.

“I can see it all,” developer Richard Miller said, looking around the vacated building. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Miller has renovated several other properties, including buildings at the corner of Church and Main Streets. He acquired the theater in a trade for apartments and condos last year, he said.

The theater has been closed since the early 1980s, and opening The Strand again will cost about $1.4 million, Miller said. His next step is raising $1 million from investors who can contribute between $50,000 and $250,000. Waynesville has secured a $300,000 grant from the state’s Main Street Solutions fund to renovate the theater.

“We are offering a chance to own a piece of Waynesville and a piece of Waynesville’s future,” he said.

Kevin Sandefur, founder of Headwaters Brewing Company, said he thinks the renovated theater will draw more tourists.

“I think it will be a huge draw to the downtown area because there’s not an attraction on Main Street,” he said.

Sandefur will be opening a microbrewery in the theater. He also won $8,000 in the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce Business Start-up Competition this year to buy brewing and bottling equipment so he can start selling his beer out of The Classic Wine Seller on Church Street, which is also owned by Miller. The area at the Strand will serve as a small distribution center, he said.

He has established five beers he will serve at both the Strand and The Wine Seller, including a rich, robust chocolate porter; an Irish red; an ale that’s one of his favorites; a hoppy, citrusy IPA; a lager; and his award-winning Black Eye Rye.

Sandefur said he also plans to create specialty beers flavored with local produce. He said he’s both excited and overwhelmed by the grant.

“It puts a sense of urgency on my plans,” he said. “But if anyone can do it, we can.”

Sandefur is a full-time emergency room nurse at Harris Regional Hospital. He works three 12-hour shifts a week but plans on spending some of his own time on the construction since he has a contractor’s license.

“I feel I can invest some time and sweat equity into it,” Sandefur said.

The first steps will be leveling the floor that slopes down to the old stage and fixing the plumbing, Sandefur said.

Sandefur’s brewery will be located beneath the existing balcony. The balcony overlooks the old stage and is perpendicular to Main Street. Although the old stage will be removed and replaced by a kitchen, the balcony will stay.

The old balcony will be walled in and turned into an art gallery. Another lower balcony, opposite of the existing one, will be built over the kitchen with restaurant seating.

An affordable Italian restaurant will occupy the center of the first floor, and a new stage will be built on the wall adjacent to Main Street.

Miller said he envisions a variety of performances, including Sunday morning gospel music accompanied by brunch.

Although the Main Street grant is a start, Miller said he and others will not receive the money until the building’s renovations are complete.

“It’ll be a good thing to have a building that’s been empty for 25 years open,” Miller said. “It’ll bring a lot of new life to downtown.”

From the time the project has enough investors to start construction, it will take 14 months to complete, Miller said.

Perdue gets enthusiastic welcome in Waynesville

Gov. Beverly Perdue visited Main Street Friday to announce that Waynesville received a $300,000 grant from the state’s Main Street Solutions fund to help with The Strand Theater renovations.

“We decided Waynesville would be one of the best places in the state to invest $300,000,” Perdue said. “That’s not a lot of money, but it’s a jump-start in this economy.”

Eight other towns across North Carolina received money from the fund, totaling $1.95 million.

“It’s pretty cool what you can do with something old to ignite the growth in small towns across North Carolina,” Perdue said.

“I believe fundamentally that the more Main streets we can see grow and prosper the way you’re prospering, the more of that we can do across North Carolina, the better off we’ll be for economic development.”

Buffy Messer, director of the Downtown Waynesville Association, estimated 150 people packed into the Haywood County Arts Council’s Gallery 86 to hear Perdue’s speech.

As the governor entered the gallery, chatter and The Bean Street Boys’ bluegrass music filled the room. Zeb Ross, Levi Ross, Connor Lucky-Smith and Keegan Luck-Smith, ages 13 to 16, have been playing together for seven months.

“We’ve had audiences, but nobody like the governor,” banjo player Levi Ross said.

On the sidewalk outside, local and national Tea Party members used the governor’s visit to protest high taxes and government spending, including the Main Street Solutions grants.

“It’s an opportunity to reinforce with our state leaders that we’re concerned about state spending and what they’re spending it on,” Waynesville Tea Party member Lois Venardi said.

Venardi and other protestors said they did not disagree with the renovation of the theater.

“I think there’s other ways it could be done without using taxpayers’ money,” she said.

After her speech, the governor went to Just Ducky, a clothing and gift store for children, to shop for her grandchildren.

Waynesville bookstore changes ownership

Waynesville residents may soon notice the sign on Main Street’s Blue Ridge Books & Café switched out for a new one that says just Blue Ridge Books.

The name change will be the most conspicuous sign of the switch in ownership that occurred this week.

On Tuesday, co-owners Robert and Betsy Baggett officially handed the reins over to general manager Jo Gilley and children’s buyer Allison Best-Teague.

Gilley was the first employee hired when Blue Ridge Books opened its doors in 2007, while Best-Teague transitioned into the store after it merged with Osondu Booksellers last November.

Robert Baggett, majority owner of Blue Ridge, said after spending many years running a 225-employee printing company in Atlanta along with Blue Ridge Books, he was more than ready for retirement.

Baggett sold his Atlanta business in March but retained the Waynesville bookstore. It was only in May that he decided to retire completely from business and sell the store.

At 61, Robert Baggett plans on spending most of the year in North Carolina while boating in Florida in the winter. His sister Betsy will relocate to Florida, where her twin daughters and granddaughters reside.

Also in May, Margaret Osondu, former owner of Osondu Booksellers and director of operations at Blue Ridge books, announced that she was no longer employed at the bookstore. The terse email she sent out to her newsletter subscribers on May 10 did not provide further explanation.

The Baggetts had earlier purchased property on the corner of Boundary and Walnut streets intending to move Blue Ridge to a new location with more parking. However, the store will remain in its current location due to “cost reasons.”

Robert Baggett has torn down two houses on the property and plans to put the land up for sale. “It’ll make a nice three-unit shopping center,” Robert Baggett said.

The future

After deciding to retire, Robert Baggett concluded that Gilley and Best-Teague and Gilley would comprise the best team moving forward. The two were thrilled with Baggett’s offer.

“It was a dream job to work in a bookstore, but owning one is beyond a dream,” said Gilley.

Best-Teague said she has thought about owning a bookstore ever since she worked at Sloan’s Bookstore in Waynesville, which transformed into the Waynesville Book Company before once again morphing into Osondu Booksellers.

Best-Teague fondly remembers that her son literally took his first steps in that bookstore and how she and her husband dreamed of one day owning the business.

Gilley has experience as office manager in a Charlotte bookstore, while Best-Teague has worked in bookstores since the early ‘90s, including at a women’s bookstore in Durham and a large independent bookstore in Raleigh, Book buying responsibilities will be shared, though each co-owner will bring her own specialty.

Gilley is an avid reader of murder mystery authors and adores handing out biscuits to dogs that walk in with their owners.

Meanwhile, Best-Teague is passionate about children’s books and enjoys holding readings for babies under 3 on Tuesday mornings. When Best-Teague reads on her own, she chooses memoirs of people who aren’t famous.

Both learned a great deal about their new business while doing a throughout inventory of the bookstore recently.

“When you have to put your hand on every book in the store, then you come up with ‘We need more of this and less of that,’” said Best-Teague.

With all the upheavals this past year in the Waynesville bookstore world, both Best-Teague and Gilley are ready to go forward with their new venture and settle into a new routine.

“We’re just excited about focusing on the books,” said Best-Teague.

“We can make the store our own and fine-tune things,” added Gilley.

Even with the lingering threats of e-books and online retailers, both are hopeful that the personal contact that only a local bookstore can offer will help carry the business for years to come.

New venture welcomed by downtown business community

Downtown Waynesville merchants hope a plan to remodel the old Strand theater as an entertainment venue, restaurant and microbrewery will return the former icon to a Main Street magnet once again.

“We are excited about it. We think it is certainly needed here in Waynesville,” said Tom Massie, owner of Massie Furniture. “I think it will bring a lot of people downtown at night who will be exposed to Main Street and see things to come back and buy.”

Those who grew up during the heyday of Friday night features and Saturday matinees remember the line at the former Strand movie theater stretching a block and a half down Main Street. In the days before television, many people went religiously every time a new picture came to town, recalled Bette Sprecher, who grew up during the era.

During the post-World War II years, there were even dueling downtown movie theaters stationed across the street from each other. The Strand remained in operation until the early 1980s when attendance eventually withered too low to remain operational.

“TV kind of ruined the theater business,” said Massie.

Ed Kelley, owner of Ridge Runner Naturals gallery on Main Street, can’t wait until the new venue at the former Strand opens its doors.

“I have been saying this for ages, that the Strand needs to be turned into a brew pub kind of place,” Kelley said. “I think it will enhance what we already have to draw people here.”

Kelley is a musician and appreciates craft beers, so he will likely be a regular. But as a business owner directly across the street, he’s already plotting how to tap into the presumed bump in downtown nightlife.

“I think I will get trickle down from it,” Kelley said. He hopes the evening foot traffic will inspire merchants to stay open later.

“Waynesville pretty much rolls up the sidewalk at 5 or 6,” Kelley said. “I think it will give people some options of things to do in the evenings, which is something we seem to lack.”

It may also motivate more redevelopment.

“If people see things happening, that is good PR, and that can actually enhance somebody’s perception of what Waynesville is or is going to be,” Kelley said.

That’s exactly the outcome Buffy Messer, the director of Downtown Waynesville Association, was hoping for when chasing a grant to make the Strand venture a reality.

“The project will spur more interest and growth not only in our downtown, but also in our community,” Messer said. “An economically vibrant and growing downtown is not just good in itself — it is vital for a prosperous region.”

Besides, merchants could use some rosy news, she said, not only due to a two-year recession but a winter hammered by snowstorms that kept shoppers holed up at home.

“It was just a really rough winter. The snow came every Friday. It killed their weekends,” Messer said of the merchants. There are certainly signs 2010 will mark a turn-around based on downtown development in recent months. In addition to half a dozen retail shops and a couple new professional businesses, two large anchor buildings have been filled. Main Street Artist’s Co-op moved into the space vacated by Furniture Village and Davis Clothing opened in the former Towne Square space, which had been vacant two years.

There have been two new restaurants to open as well, Nico’s Café and soon Café 50, both of which remodeled downtown spaces in recent months.

While Waynesville’s downtown has been a shining model for Main Street revitalization and the envy of small towns across the state, the once-beloved Strand has remained shuttered. Then a dose of good fortune arrived in February. The state announced a pool of grant money through the new Main Street Solutions Fund, designed to drive economic development by assisting small business owners in downtowns.

“It was the first opportunity we had been given in years for small business,” Messer said. “I couldn’t look back and say I didn’t try.”

Messer and the owner of the Strand, Richard Miller, toiled day and night to complete the application. The grant required an exhaustive business plan and putting it together by the 30-day deadline was be tricky. Luckily, key pieces were already in place. Joey Massie, the Strand’s owner before Miller, had a similar plan to transform the space into an entertainment venue, restaurant and bar. He even had architectural drawings for the interior remodeling work and a business plan. Massie never got the project off the ground, however, because the renovations were cost-prohibitive.

Massie’s architectural drawings and business plan provided a foundation for the application. Meanwhile, a local beer brewer, Kevin Sandefur, happened to have a comprehensive business plan in his pocket for the brewery angle. Sandefur created a business plan the previous year in order to enter the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce Business Start-Up competition.

“We wouldn’t have made it if there hadn’t already been some paperwork in place,” Messer said.

Competition was stiff. There were 29 applications requesting $7 million — but only eight were awarded and $1.95 million given out.

The Strand venture will obviously compete with other downtown restaurants and bars. Jennifer Ewart, owner of Nick and Nate’s, a popular Main Street pizza restaurant known for its outstanding selection of microbrews, wonders whether there will be enough business to go around, particularly during winter months. Nick and Nate’s generally has a wait list going by 6 p.m. during the height of summer tourist season, but the winter months are “very slow,” Ewart said, citing that as the true test facing the Strand venture.

County cuts to recreation saddle towns with added costs

In the eyes of Canton’s town leaders, the status quo in recreation funding just isn’t cutting it.

For years, the town of Canton has had to maintain an aging public pool and has struggled to obtain stadium lighting to allow night games at the International Paper sports complex, which could cost as much as $400,000.

Yet since the start of the recession, the town has received not a penny from the county to support recreation. Residents from all over the county, not just within town limits, use town facilities like the pool in Canton and the recreation center in Waynesville. Yet town taxpayers are left footing much of the bill without county support.

That prompted Canton’s mayor, all four of its aldermen and its town manager to show up to the last Haywood county commissioners meeting, requesting that recreation funding not only be restored, but also that it be doled out fairly.

“We feel like we’re not getting all the funding that we’re possibly entitled to receive,” said Canton Alderman Kenneth Holland.

Until the recession struck, Haywood County annually sent $30,000 Canton’s way for recreation, while sending $70,000 to Waynesville for the same purpose.

But last year the county eliminated recreation contributions for Canton and Waynesville and has revealed no plans for restoring it.

“The needs have been great, but funds have been few,” said Canton Mayor Pat Smathers.

Canton leaders say they feel shortchanged geographically. The resolution that the Canton board formally presented alleged that there were few programs “if any” and no facilities operated by the county recreation department in Canton and the rest of eastern Haywood County.

On the other hand, the county has begun planning a $6.3 million sports complex in Jonathan Creek after already completing the first county-developed park in Allens Creek. Both projects are in western Haywood County.

Canton’s board of aldermen have requested that the county once again allocate funds to individual towns and school recreation programs, rather than to the county recreation department.

“At least on this end of the county, there’s a perception, ‘Hey, what’s the county rec department doing here?’” said Smathers.

But Claire Carleton, county recreation director, denied that there was any favoritism for the western half of Haywood.

“Each entity has got to stand up and prove their needs,” said Carleton. “No matter where they’re coming from, east, west, it doesn’t matter.”

While county commissioners were sympathetic to the Canton board’s request, they stressed that the recession has left their hands tied when it comes to appropriating funding for recreation.

As a Canton resident, Commissioner Skeeter Curtis is well aware of the town’s recreation needs, but he said the county is down to bare bones with the tough economy. Curtis also pointed out that the Town of Canton is “well-represented” on the county recreation board, which has a significant say in which projects the county moves forward with next.

“If there was money, I would stand up for the people of east Haywood,” added Curtis. “But I’m on both sides of the fence now, I can see both sides.”

Meanwhile, Commissioner Kirk Kirkpatrick emphasized that “contrary to popular belief,” no construction work had started on the Jonathan Creek park. Kirkpatrick also pointed out that in the past, the county supplied $321,000 to help construct the sports complex in Canton. Haywood County also transported fill from the Beaverdam Industrial Park to grade the sports complex at the county’s cost.

Commissioner Bill Upton said Canton is actually in the lead when it comes to having a complete sports complex. For now, the Jonathan Creek sports complex exists only on paper.

“If they ever get their lights, they’re way ahead,” said Upton.

Bridging the divide

Canton’s town leaders claim that 65 percent of the people who use the public pool in Canton come from outside town limits. Similarly, the town of Waynesville reports that about 70 percent of people who use its recreation center do not live in town.

Though user fees generate some revenue, town property taxes play a significant role in propping up both the Waynesville recreation center and Canton’s outdoor pool. In essence, town taxpayers are subsidizing those two facilities for the entire county.

The Town of Waynesville reports that it makes $695,000 operating the recreation department, including the recreation center. In contrast, the recreation department faces $2.2 million annually in expenses, from paying off debt on the recreation center to paying regular operating expenses. It’s up to town taxpayers to help make up the difference with $1.1 million of contributions from property taxes in the 2010-2011 town budget.

For now, Waynesville residents pay the same monthly fee as county residents at the recreation center, though town leaders have toyed with the idea of charging higher fees for county residents living outside town limits in the past. The idea has proven to be a logistical challenge.

“That becomes a total nightmare when someone’s coming in to check in,” said Wells Greeley, Waynesville alderman.

The easiest way to receive support from county taxpayers who live outside town limits was to receive direct funding from the county. With the total cut in recreation funding from the Haywood county taxpayers though, towns are now left to their own devices.

“It is a challenge every year to devote the money to our recreation, but it’s a vital part of every municipality in Haywood County,” said Greeley.

Carleton said while recreation is crucial for both the mental and physical health of citizens, most government officials see recreation as a non-essential service. The county recreation department has seen major funding cuts of its own since the recession hit.

“That’s just the way it’s always been, from the national level all the way down to Haywood County,” said Carleton. “It’s a widely known fact, the first thing that’s going to be cut is recreation.”

Carleton would not say what she thought was the best way to divvy up the recreation responsibilities among county and town recreation departments. But she added that the most important points are to not duplicate services and to work together.

Waynesville Mayor Gavin Brown agreed that governments philosophically shouldn’t be competing with each other.

“I hate that east-west argument,” said Brown. “I thought we had got over it ... that kind of diatribe and that kind of mentality gets you nowhere.”

However, Brown said he, too, would like to see recreation funding restored to municipalities. More than that, he would like to see the county work more closely with the towns.

“If the county wants to be in recreation, it should sit down with everyone to decide how we want to spend the citizens’ money,” said Brown. “What we need to do is sit down and discuss things, and that’s not going on now. That is the biggest problem.”

Artists join forces through co-op to gain visibility

Steve Lampl paints with acrylics and loves to golf. But last year when he had shoulder surgery, he had to put golfing on hold. That’s when he decided to organize The Mainstreet Artists Co-op Gallery.

A year later, the co-op has grown to a total of 20 artists and has moved to a larger location — a prime storefront on Waynesville’s Main Street left vacant when the Furniture Village closed last year.

“We are very pleased with the space,” Lampl said. “The traffic flow is great. We feel like we have to be on Main Street.”

On the first Saturday the gallery opened this season, more than 300 people walked through the art displays, said Char Avrunin, an original member of the co-op and oil painter.

The co-op has a three-member jury to select new artists, but the gallery is already full. The last artist who will be added this season is a fine quilt-maker.

Lampl said the jury selects artists on the basis of quality, salability, price points and how they will meld with the rest of the gallery.

Nancy Howell Blevins is new to the co-op this year. In order to be accepted, she submitted a portfolio, including pictures of her art and a statement about what she would bring to the group.

Blevins hand dyes silk scarves and paints with watercolor.

“There were no other silks or watercolors with styles like mine,” she said. “The committee was looking for something different.”

Blevin recently taught Avrunin how to paint on silk.

“The artists in this community are wonderful about sharing their techniques with each other,” Avrunin said.

Unlike other artists in the co-op, Avrunin works mainly on commissioned portraits. She uses her gallery space to showcase her skills to potential clients. Avrunin’s past subjects include golfer Arnold Palmer and racecar driver Leilani Munter.

Although she majored in art during college, Avrunin earned her master’s in educational communication and became a manager for Chrysler Satellite Network in Detroit.

She became mysteriously ill in 1995 and spent about a year in bed, she said. In 1998, doctors at John Hopkins Hospital diagnosed her with a rare neurological disease.

“I asked God what I should do next,” she said. “He said, ‘Paint my people.’”

Like Avrunin, George Dixon is also an original member of the co-op. He displays his color photography in the gallery. He primarily shoots nature but also some architecture.

“I’m trying to capture the natural beauty of Western Carolina before it’s developed away from us,” he said.

Before retiring, Dixon was a physics professor. Long before he became the photographer he is today, he understood the optics and technology that make cameras work.

Dixon got his first “good camera” when his oldest child was born, he said. He’s sold between 30 and 40 prints since he joined the co-op last year.

“It’s been a complete delight,” Dixon said. “None of us are getting rich at this, but it’s fun.”

Members of the co-op pay a fee that goes to cover rent and other expenses. When an artists’ work is sold in the gallery, all the money goes back to the artist.

“It’s been a positive experience for me, and I love to create,” Blevins said. “I appreciate having an outlet where I can present my scarves for sale so I can support my habit.”

Artists staff the gallery themselves, working a half day once a week or a full day every other week. Many of the co-op artists are at the gallery for Art after Dark on the first Friday every month.

“I think what we are doing is a positive thing for downtown Waynesville,” Blevins said. “It is good for me because I love my little town.”

For more information, call Steve Lampl at 828.452.4592, or stop by 93 N. Main Street 10 a.m. to 5 p.m, Mon.-Sat.

The artists

The original co-op members include Char Avrunin (oil, watercolor and silk), Gretchen Clasby (acrylic and watercolor), Jeanne Colburn (acrylic and watercolor), George Dixon (photography), Pam Haddock (watercolor), Sandy Lampl (acrylic and oil), Steve Lampl (acrylic), Margaret Roberts (acrylic and collage), Sharon Smith (acrylic and watercolor), Bill Smith (photography), David Stone (acrylic) and Carolyn Taylor (watercolor).

The new additions are Nancy Howell Blevins (hand-died silk), Rebecca Hellman (glass fusion), Anita Painter (graphite portraits), Terance Painter (pottery), Terry Thompson (jewelry) and Dan and Wendy Wright (stained glass and copper).

Grant propels Waynesville skate park, but the price tag is still daunting

Ten-year-old Waynesville resident Zeb Powell has exclusive, 24-7 access to a skate park in town — it’s in his driveway.

Powell got hold of a half-pipe, rails and multiple ramps when the indoor BP Skate Park closed down last fall. But as it turns out, having a park to yourself isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

“He loves doing it with other people,” said his mother, Val Powell. “By himself, it’s just not as much fun.”

Zeb is one of many skateboarders in Waynesville waiting for the long-promised public skate park on Vance Street, near the Waynesville Recreation Center.

For now, skaters still have to deal with a town ban on skateboards on sidewalks and most town streets. Violators face a $50 fine and the possibility of having their boards confiscated.

The proposed fenced-in outdoor park will cost somewhere between $275,000 to $325,000 to construct. So far, the town has lined up $120,000 to devote to the project.

Included in that total is a $60,000 state Parks and Recreation Trust Fund grant Waynesville recently received, plus a $20,000 grant from the Waynesville Kiwanis Club. The rest comes from town funds.

With the idea of a skate park stalled for more than a decade, the state grant eluded the town when it first applied in 2009. To boost its chances of winning the coveted grant in the next cycle, the town dipped into its own coffers to fund a design plan for the park — hoping to prove it was dedicated to the idea. The plan worked.

Waynesville hired California firm Spohn Ranch Skateparks to lead the project earlier this year. In March, the firm held a public input meeting with local skaters to help shape the look of the park. The firm will present three potential designs at an online meeting next week.

Recreation Director Rhett Langston says he sees a parallel between skate parks and golf courses. Each should have its own unique character and offer different elements from those facilities nearby. With skate parks relatively close in Asheville and Hendersonville, Waynesville’s recreation department wants to offer something else with its park.

“We want ours to be as nice but also different,” Langston said. “So all skaters can go from one location to another.”

Right now, Waynesville parent Joe Moore said he’ll be thrilled to see any kind of skate park.

“I wish there was more money to make it happen immediately,” Moore said. “The wheels of bureaucracy always move too slow.”

Moore wholly supports the project, though, and is happy the park will have no entry fee. He says he’s not worried about the park being unsupervised by town staff.

“Most parents are not going to drop off their 7- to 12-year-old to skateboard and run errands,” said Moore.

Though Moore originally preferred an indoor park, he would now love to see an outdoor facility with a roof overhead to protect skaters like his son Dylan from wet and snowy weather. He also suggests wooden ramps rather than those made of concrete.

“Skateboarders like to see things change,” said Moore. “Concrete, once it’s poured, it’s always going to stay the same.”

Most skaters who attended the first public meeting supported a hybrid of a bowl and a street park with ramps, rails, stairs and more, Langston said.

Langston, who has been instrumental in moving the skate park forward, was himself a skater in his youth. But that was before the rise of skate parks nationwide.

“We would just fly down the hill in our neighborhood,” said Langston. “We just made do with what we had.”



The Waynesville Recreation Department is selling bricks with personalized messages for a walkway leading up to the park. So far, skaters have raised about $3,000.

Those interested in purchasing one brick for $50 or two for $75, making a donation, or volunteering should contact Rhett Langston at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 828.456.2030.

Haywood arts council to exhibit ‘Haywood Heritage Trail: Quilts of Bygone Years’

Haywood Heritage Trail: Quilts of Bygone Years opening Wednesday, May 12, will feature traditional quilt squares for sale by area quilters and quilting guilds. In addition, several full-sized and heirloom quilts will be displayed alongside tools of the quilting trade like frames, antique sewing machines, and more.

The Haywood County Arts Council gallery show runs through Saturday, June 19.

A special artists’ reception will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, June 4, at Gallery 86. The reception is being held in conjunction with the Waynesville Gallery Association’s Art After Dark where shops, galleries, and businesses remain open until 9 p.m. Regular gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m,, Monday through Saturday.

Participating artists include members of the Cruso Quilting Guild, the High Country Quilting Guild, and the Shady Ladies Quilting Group, among others. Members of both the High Country Quilt Guild and the Shady Ladies Quilting Group are donating proceeds from the sale of their quilt squares to the Haywood County Arts Council for the Haywood County Quilt Trails project.

The gallery exhibition not only helps reinforce the rich tradition of quilting in Haywood County, it also raises awareness of the newly-launched Haywood County Quilt Trails project. The idea is to develop heritage trails comprised of painted quilt blocks that have been installed on barns and buildings throughout the county. Each block tells a unique story about the location or family history. The Shelton House Museum will receive the first quilt square on the Haywood County trail later this summer.

For more information, visit www.haywoodarts.org.

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