Maggie Valley residents concerned for safety
Last week’s Maggie Valley Board of Aldermen meeting was riddled with complaints from residents of a development on Jonathan Creek Road about an alleged encampment of people in the neighborhood.
Several women took to the podium during the public comment section of the meeting to raise concerns about their safety within the Bethel Village neighborhood, as well as the safety of those taking up camp.
The first woman to speak from the group, Lindsey Ebaugh, complained of property damage, trespassing, increased traffic in and out of the neighborhood and men walking up and down the road day and night.
Bethel Village is within the town limits of Maggie Valley.
While Richard Bates’ nonprofit Camp Bethel started the development in 2012, it was later taken over by Mountain Projects ’ Smoky Mountain Housing Partnership. The small, affordable homes were built with volunteer labor and donated projects to keep costs down for residents.
“I have had trespassing on my property. I have addressed these individuals. I’ve also made phone calls to the individual who owns the land with no response, that’s been three or four times,” said Joanie Hancock during public comment. “The scary part about it for me is I am a single mom, and I have two, very young boys who love their neighborhood and the dynamics of the neighborhood have changed drastically.”
Mayor Mike Eveland told the women that he had been made aware of the situation and that there were two avenues to address the situation.
“One of course is the police department and what legally is being done there in terms of trespassing, those kinds of things. That’ll be something that the police department will handle, and I’m sure that over the next X amount of days, that you will probably be seeing some presence, maybe some police coming by to talk to you, all that kind of thing, just to make sure that we understand what’s happening there,” said Eveland. “There is a second thing that we already have in the works, that’s the ramifications and stuff like that with the property and the person that owns the property, what their rights are. So we are aware of this and y’all are coming to the right place to talk. We’re going to be there with you and we’re going to do what we can do to help.”
The land that is home to the encampment is owned by Camp Bethel, the same nonprofit that helped create the affordable housing development. The nonprofit is still run by Richard Bates. Bates declined to comment on the situation or respond to the comments made by the women who live in Bethel Village.
“I have had experience with the person that owns the property, it has not been great,” said Patsy Wells in public comment.
Wells stated that the encampment of people now living at the end of the Bethel Village development had relocated there from the Bethel Resource Center on South Main Street. In April, the resource center was cited for zoning violations. Bates would not confirm or deny the allegation that the encampment had simply relocated to the property adjoining Bethel Village.
Another resident told the board of aldermen that although residents of Bethel Village development were speaking up now, the issues had started over two months ago.
According to Town Manager Nathan Clark, the town was aware of the situation in Bethel Village by the end of June when they began receiving complaints.
Chief of Police Russ Gilliland said that prior to the July 13 meeting, Maggie Valley Police had responded to incidents of suspicious people, as well as one case of property damage that led to the arrest of Michael Irons. Gilliland also confirmed that there were several tents, as well as a portable toilet on the property.
“We increased our patrol in the area, we’ve got direct lines with people living down there they can call us, get with us. You either call 9-1-1 at any time, or if they wanted to call me directly, they can. I give them my number, my cell number to give me a call, if it’s a non-emergency type thing,” Gilliland said. “We have done some profiles on the people that we know have been coming in and out just to get an idea of, you know, sort of what we’re dealing with.”
The next step, according to Clark, is for the town to decide if this is an allowable use of land, based upon the town’s current zoning ordinance.
“I think it’s kind of a strange thing to allow people to set up on your property,” said Clark. “Those are the issues that we’re kind of looking at. It’s just something that we know we don’t really have a lot of experience in. And the zoning ordinance is just not necessarily, as far as I can tell at least, explicit on how to handle that. So the town attorney and the legal team will help guide us through those more complex issues.”