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No good resolution to neighbor dispute over barking dogs

fr dukesDriven crazy by the barking dogs of neighbors, Judy West says she is pulling up her life-long stakes in Haywood County and abandoning her farm, but not without sounding a warning to her fellow county residents: it could happen to you one day, too.

Shining Rock’s permit denied — for now — on Raccoon Road site

fr shiningrockShining Rock Classical Academy was sent back to the drawing board Monday night on its proposed location, continuing a nearly three-month saga on where the new charter school will go.

Cullowhee planning standards passed

fr cullowheeIt’s official: Cullowhee now has zoning standards.

Franklin approves residential loop for commercial zoning

The Franklin Town Board unanimously approved a petition to rezone a small piece of property off Clyde Street at its meeting Oct. 6, but the public comment preceding that decision was far from unanimous.  

“My main concern is if it does become commercial, things may change and some of the improvements we’ve done to our home will start to fade,” Miguel Santos, 15, told the board, “and I would just really appreciate it if it would stay residential for the peace of our neighborhood and our home.”

Weak zoning laws could pave way for dirt-bike racetrack

The Macon County businessman and farmer who stirred up controversy recently by announcing plans to build a dirt-bike racetrack in a residential community said he’s still deciding whether to move forward with the plan.

More than 100 people turned out for a public meeting last month after Herman “Bud” Talley, owner of Nantahala Meats in Franklin and of a 45-acre farm in the Clarks Chapel community, asked the Macon County Board of Adjustment for a variance to the county’s high-impact use law.

A nod of approval would have allowed Talley to build a sanctioned track. He needed a setback exception — reducing a 750-foot buffer zone to about 350 feet — to meet parking and other needs stipulated by the American Motorcyclist Association. Board members appeared poised to reject the request, and Talley backed off in response.

But, as he and his attorney pointed out then, that rejection means he might just move forward with building a legal, but unsanctioned, facility for dirt-bike practice.

The devil is truly in the details on this one. If granted the variance, Talley had promised to build a track that would be used, at most, 16 days a year. Or, he could opt for the smaller practice facility — which would fit within the confines of the setback requirements and therefore doesn’t need a variance — and operate 365 days a year.

Opponents told the Board of Adjustment in December they’d rather gamble on Talley not following through rather than see him open a track under the auspices of county-granted legitimacy.

“I’m in limbo right now,” Talley said this week. “I’m kind of just exploring all my options.”

There’s no particular rush to decide given the harsh winter weather, which has shutdown construction projects across the mountains. Talley has characterized the construction of a dirt-bike racetrack as a last-ditch effort to save his farm.

John Binkley, who lives within earshot of Talley’s property and who has helped organize neighbors to derail the construction of a dirt-bike racetrack, said the loosely affiliated group is monitoring the situation the best they can.

“We’re keeping an eye on it,” he said recently. “No machinery has actually appeared and started digging.”

Binkley added he hopes the situation in Clarks Chapel helps other mountain residents understand why land controls are needed.

“When these kind of things happen, hopefully more and more people catch on,” he said.

Opponents have cited land devaluation and loss of peace and quiet as reasons they don’t want Talley to move forward.

New regulations are a compromise

Editor’s note: This letter was written by Waynesville’s planning director in response to Mary Lamb’s letter above.

Dear Ms. Lamb

Thank you for copying me on your message to Mayor Gavin Brown. I can’t speak for the mayor, but I was frustrated that most of your questions seemed to be aimed at attacking our process rather than genuine questions to gather information about the draft ordinance. Many people have worked very hard to produce the product that you have attacked even before understanding what it contains. My concern at both community meetings was that your insistent, repetitive and argumentative statements were dominating the meeting to the exclusion of comments from other citizens that pertained to the actual content of the ordinance.

Our steering committee was never intended to be demographically balanced. The criteria for selection was experience with the Town’s development regulations. All were appointed directly or indirectly by your elected representatives. All meetings of this committee were open and members of the media did occasionally attend.

As you have the opportunity to review the draft ordinance, I am hopeful that you will appreciate some of the changes even if you don’t agree with others. Please let us know what you don’t agree with, and how in your opinion it can be improved. That is the type of feedback that will be effective in making the ordinance better.

I’m sure you realize that all development ordinances represent compromise, so it’s unlikely that everyone will be completely pleased with the result of the revision. However, the objective of this process as I see it is to produce a set of development regulations that are more user-friendly and more importantly will make Waynesville a better place.

Paul Benson

Waynesville Planning Director

Residents need time to review zoning changes

To the Editor:

Like so many other young couples, my husband and I felt so blessed when he landed a job in this area five years ago and we were able to move and start a family in Waynesville. We had looked at living in Sylva, but immediately were attracted to the historic character and charm of this dear town and seriously impressed with the well-thought out planning of the downtown, where we currently live. 

This interest in being a part of a vibrant, beautiful community led me to attend a meeting hosted by Paul Benson, planner for the town of Waynesville, on Tuesday in which the town’s newly drafted land development standards were presented to the public. Benson explained that over a more than two-year period, a committee appointed by our respected town board reviewed the old land development standards, coming up with a completely new document to be enacted into law — a document that would entirely replace our current standards. 

Mr. Benson said that only 10 percent of the current law would effectively be changed; however, the changes he discussed I found to be on very critical issues (parking, setbacks, landscaping, to name just a few). Many of these changes could alter the originally planned landscape, making it appear more and more like suburban strip malls and big box centers of larger cities, not the quaint mountain town we love and that tourists love to visit.

Residents wishing to make changes to improve and protect the character of their neighborhoods have been told that this review process would be their opportunity to organize and make changes.  But even after news outlets have advertised the public meeting times, the public still needs ample time to review, digest and discuss the more than 300-page document that is currently the law, along with the new 200-plus page document being proposed to supersede it. These documents are written in entirely different forms, making it very time-consuming to compare and contrast them. 

Currently, neither Mr. Benson nor his committee have offered the public an easy to read list of all changes from the old law to the new—only summaries they wish to highlight and that are admittedly incomplete.  They are putting the burden of review on the public, a process that again is complicated and lengthy.

Currently, the town planning board is set to begin discussion and possibly even vote on the new standards Monday, Dec. 20. This would only allow concerned citizens two and a half weeks (during the Christmas season) to review it. I would urge interested citizens to contact the Town Board and urge them to delay all voting on this plan until at least March to allow interested citizens time to read, meet and develop their own concerns for consideration.   

What is the vision of Waynesville’s residents for their future? A handful of men only have spent two years revising the original standards which were developed and adopted (in 2003) with both men and women actively involved. Allowing folks a couple of months to give feedback is not too much to ask. The standards adopted by the town greatly affect the beauty, character, economic development and general sustainability of our community. 

What you can do to help:

1. Email or call the Waynesville Aldermen, the chair of the Planning Board and the Town Planner and ask them in your own words to postpone any vote on adopting the Land Development Standards until at least March.

Mayor Gavin Brown, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., 828.452.2491

Alderman Gary Caldwell, 828.456.3138

Alderman Elizabeth Feichter, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., 828.456-6918

Alderman J. Wells Greeley, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., 828.456.7288

Alderman LeRoy Roberson, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., 828.456.7142

Town Planner Paul Benson, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., 828.456.2004

Planning Board Chair Patrick McDowell, 828.508.4932

2. Attend the Waynesville Planning Board meeting at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 20, in the upstairs room of the new downtown police station to ask the entire planning board to postpone their critical vote on this issue until at least March.

3. Forward this letter and info to anyone Waynesville residents you know who are concerned with Smart Growth, historic preservation and maintaining the character and charm of our community. Post information on any Facebook or other social networking site you regularly use to contact your Waynesville friends, family, co-workers and neighbors.

4. Contact me with your other ideas on how we can work fast to take advantage of this window of opportunity for making positive change in our community. A small group of concerned citizens is currently forming to carefully review the new plan and we would love your help.

Mary Alice Lamb

Waynesville

Swain County to air proposed zoning ordinance

In March Swain County commissioners voted to enact a moratorium that put a halt to Duke Energy’s substation project on a hill overlooking the Cherokee mound site, Kituwah.

The moratorium was passed amidst a heated dialogue between the county, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, and Duke about the location of the project. It was intended to give the county time to develop an ordinance that would regulate the construction of telecommunications and utilities facilities on county land.

The Swain County commissioners will convene for a public hearing on the draft ordinance at 1:30 p.m. on June 7. County Attorney Kim Lay wrote the draft ordinance, and County Manager Kevin King said it is the first of three ordinances that together will give the county the power to enforce zoning regulations on building projects.

King said the document that will be considered at the June 7 meeting is a “policing ordinance” that gives the county the right to make sure utilities and telecommunications construction projects comply with its land disturbance regulations.

King said the county would work with outside legal counsel to develop two additional ordinances that would impose certain types of zoning regulations on public utility and telecommunications projects.

The major proviso of the first draft ordinance is its requirement that any project that involves the “construction and demolition of certain structures not otherwise subject to the North Carolina building code” and requires a land disturbance permit must wait six months from the date it files its application to begin work.

Homes, because they are subject to the building code, are not affected by the ordinance. But the language does mean that Duke Energy would not be able to resume the work on its substation for six months, should the board adopt the draft ordinance.

Duke has initiated a $79 million upgrade of its West Mill transmission line, which serves parts of Jackson, Swain and Macon counties. The upgrade entails replacing the existing unobtrusive 66kv line mounted on wooden poles with 17.5 miles of 161kv line mounted on 120-foot steel towers. The proposed 300-by-300-foot substation on a hill overlooking Kituwah mound is part of the line upgrade.

Duke has been in discussions with the county and the EBCI and both King and Principal Chief Michell Hicks have expressed their opinion that the dialogue has progressed to the point that they expect the substation to be moved.

“We’re all working toward the end of the substation project being up there,” King said.

The substation would mar the viewshed of the Kituwah site and the picturesque valley that lies between Bryson City and Ela along the Tuckaseegee River. Both the county and the EBCI have offered Duke alternative sites for the substation.

Spot land-use plan to mark first forray into zoning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Model process

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

The public had plenty to say.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Finding balance

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

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

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

Gibson also talked of trying to strike a balance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Billboards: Tourist draw or clutter?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

What’s in store?

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

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

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

• Dumpsters must be screened and blend with the building.

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

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

Franklin studies upgrades to 1950s zoning laws

Unlike most town and county governments in Western North Carolina, Franklin’s elected leaders had the foresight more than five decades ago to pass zoning regulations.

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