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Lake Junaluska annexation

What the bill says: Lake Junaluska would become part of the town of Waynesville pending approval by voters of both Lake Junaluska and the town.

Duly noted: A plan to merge Lake Junaluska with the town of Waynesville has been in the works for three years now, but needs the blessing of state lawmakers.

Behind-the-scenes political forces waylaid its passage in the General Assembly last year and the year before.

But the chances are good this year, according to Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin. Davis easily got the bill passed in the Senate last time, but it stalled when it went to the House.

“I have been given assurances it is going to get out of the House this time,” Davis said. “In fact, I would be shocked if it didn’t.”

If the bill passes, the merger would still be contingent on a special election in November. The merger would have to pass muster with the majority of voters who live at Lake Junaluska, as well as the majority of voters in Waynesville.

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Why be for it: The majority of Lake Junaluska residents support the merger. The town would take over the cost and the headache of trash pick-up, brush collection, street maintenance and, most of all, a repair backlog to its water and sewer infrastructure.

In return, the town would add some 860 homes to its property tax base.

Why be against it: The minority of Lake Junaluska homeowners who are against it say they won’t be better off as a part of Waynesville. They fear the loss of autonomy will be irreversible. They would rather foot the bill for the looming water and sewer line repairs on their own rather than pay town taxes and rely on the town to do it for them.

Sylva parking 

What the bill says: Sylva would be allowed to use wheel locks to enforce willful violators of downtown parking limits on Main Street. 

Duly noted: Sylva passed a law four years ago banning employees of downtown businesses from parking on Main Street while they were at work, in hopes of keeping spots open for shoppers.

Those who violate the rule are ticketed — in a small community, it’s not hard to learn which vehicles belong to downtown employees at the various businesses. But the town has had no way to compel violators to pay the tickets, and thus the parking rule had no teeth.

The bill would give Sylva authority to use wheel locks for repeat parking offenders who haven’t paid a ticket after 90 days.

Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin, said he will get it passed for the town.

Why be for it: Prime downtown parking spots are a coveted commodity, and when workers hog Main Street spots all day, it hurts business for merchants.

“The reason is primarily trying to preserve the parking on Main Street,” said Sylva Town Manager Paige Dowling.

But parking tickets were an empty threat. The town needs a bigger stick.

Why be against it: Coming back to your car to find a boot on the wheel ruins an otherwise good day. Besides, if you’re late for work or it’s raining outside, who wants to walk? And what if you buy a cup of coffee on your way to work — are you a shopper or employee that day?

Brasstown possum drop

What the bill says: House Bill 574, introduced by Rep. Roger West, R-Marble, would suspend all state wildlife laws related to possums between Dec. 29 and Jan. 2 each year so the beloved Brasstown New Year’s possum drop tradition could continue.

Duly noted: This is the third year in a row that a bill has been introduced in an effort to allow the Possum Drop to continue in Clay County. The alcohol-free New Year’s celebration includes a Miss Possum cross-dressing contest and other possum-related events that culminate with the possum drop at midnight. But since the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has been fighting in court to keep Brasstown from using a real possum, the organizers have compromised. Last year they used a pot of possum stew.  

Why be for it: Clay Logan, Possum Drop event organizer, has always argued that the possum is in no way injured during the special event. He said in January that he expects the PETA lawsuit to be settled sometime this year so the live possum can return for New Year’s. 

But there might be other ways around it. Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin, said last year the General Assembly passed a bill making the possum the official state marsupial. To build on that this year, he said a bill might be introduced designating a day of special events to honor and celebrate the state marsupial — and that day just might be Dec. 31.

“We thought it would be appropriate to have a designated time to honor our state marsupial,” Davis said.  

Why be against it: PETA continues to fight the legislation, claiming the midnight lowering of a possum in a Plexiglas cage is animal cruelty and therefore against the law.  

“Under this law, anybody in North Carolina would be able to harm opossums, release them from cages at zoos, lower them in boxes during the much-despised and ridiculed Opossum Drop, or interfere with the drop by removing the opossum,” said Jeff Kerr, PETA’s general counsel, in a previous interview. “It spells chaos and is a return to the mid-1800s, when wildlife was not protected by law.”

Maggie Valley de-annexation

What the bill says: The local bill, introduced by Rep. Michele Presnell, R-Burnsville, would de-annex an entire subdivision, Evergreen Heights, from the town of Maggie Valley.

Duly noted: Without discussing the issue with local government officials, Presnell introduced a similar bill during last year’s short session. Last year’s bill would have only de-annexed one resident — Joe Maniscalco — but Presnell pulled the bill claiming the legislature had a full plate and promising to introduce it again this year. The bill she introduced this year would de-annex 14 residents from the same subdivision.

The subdivision was annexed into the town in 2009 without opposition from any residents. Many of the residents now petitioning to be de-annexed weren’t even living in the subdivision in 2009. But ever since it was annexed, Maniscalco has been fighting the town to get de-annexed without much success. He even went so far as to forge a town of Maggie Valley resolution stating that his property had been de-annexed and tried to submit it to the register of deeds at the Haywood County Historic Courthouse. He faced several felony forgery charges in 2013 for the incident and ended up pleading guilty to four lesser charges.

Presnell’s bill didn’t make crossover but she said it was her understanding that the local bill didn’t need to make crossover to continue to move forward in the General Assembly. The bill hasn’t moved since being referred to the Committee on Finance on March 19. 

Why be for it: Residents of a Maggie Valley subdivision argue that the town isn’t able to service their neighborhood because the road is too narrow for a snowplow or other service trucks to turn around safely. After visiting the neighborhood, Presnell agreed that the road was too narrow to allow service trucks to turn around safely. 

Why be against it: Maggie Valley Mayor Ron DeSimone and three of the four aldermen are adamantly opposed to the bill to de-annex the Jonathan Creek subdivision. While residents claim the town can’t service the road, DeSimone said the town has been providing services since 2009 without a problem. He admits that the road is narrow, but so are most of the town maintained roads in Maggie Valley. 

DeSimone said it is a regular practice for town service trucks to have to back down a narrow road to plow snow or make other road repairs. Fire trucks also are accustomed to backing down a mountainside road and that happened last year when Maniscalco’s home caught fire after being struck by lightning. 

The town board sent a letter to the General Assembly opposing the legislation. The bill passed a first reading but hasn’t moved since March when it was referred to a committee.

Franklin gas station annexation

What the bill says:  Senate bill 218, introduced by Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin, would remove certain restrictions on satellite annexations for the town of Franklin. The law currently states that if any portion of a subdivision is going to be annexed, the entire subdivision has to be annexed. However, this local bill would remove that requirement only for Franklin.

Duly noted: The Franklin Board of Aldermen decided to ask Davis to introduce the bill in March after discussing a satellite annexation issue back in January. Steve Isaacs, president of Pioneer Petroleum Company, requested the voluntary annexation of property at 44 Lowery Lane off U.S. 441 South so he can construct a new gas station. Having his gas station located in the town limits would allow him to sell alcohol and also receive better insurance ratings. 

The property didn’t meet satellite annexation qualifications because it is technically located inside a subdivision even though the subdivision covenants expired more than 20 years ago. Since the former subdivision is becoming more of a mixed-use area, the board voted unanimously to ask for the exemption to accommodate future growth. 

While the bill didn’t make crossover, Davis said local bills didn’t have to make that crossover deadline to be able to move forward. 

Why be for it: Davis said he anticipated that the bill would pass without any problem. Passing the bill would allow the town of Franklin to proceed with the annexation process for the gas station, but it doesn’t automatically mean Isaacs will receive the annexation. 

“It will allow this project to move forward,” Davis said.

Why be against it: No one has offered any possible downside to allowing this particular exemption for Franklin since the subdivision hasn’t been under covenants for more than 20 years. 

Tribal Alcohol Beverage Control

What the bill says: House Bill 95, sponsored by Rep. Roger West, R-Marble, states that Cherokee’s Alcohol Beverage Control Commission has the same powers as the state’s ABC commission, which would allow the commission to issue permits for special events, breweries and distilleries. 

Duly noted: The Qualla Boundary was dry until 2009, when a referendum vote allowed it to be served at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort. Voters overwhelmingly voted down a referendum question to allow alcohol sales reservation-wide in 2011. In the same year, both the Legislature and Tribal Council passed laws to set up the Cherokee ABC Commission, which would handle alcohol sales to the casino. An oversight in the state law, Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin, said, meant that it didn’t spell out that the tribal commission would have the same permitting powers as the state commission. The current bill is an effort to correct that, and the upshot would be that the commission would be able to offer a few different kinds of permits without a referendum vote — namely, one-time permits for special events and permits for places like breweries that manufacture alcoholic products but do not sell them on site. 

Why be for it: “It’s a good thing because it fulfills both the intent and the spirit of the original legislation that passed in 2011.” — David Huskins, lobbyist for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians ABC Commission 

Why be against it: “The people voted that alcohol would only be on the casino premises only — at the casino building. That’s what the people said. There’s not supposed to be no exceptions.” — Denny Crowe, pastor of Old Antioch Mission Baptist Church

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