JUser: :_load: Unable to load user with ID: 887

Townhomes one of few additions to Sylva housing in a decade

When Art Pohl moved to Jackson County from Florida 10 years ago, he imagined a golden retirement filled with lazy days of playing golf. But after a few years of living the dream life, his wife wondered just how much golf one man could play.

“I was up here playing golf and enjoying myself and my wife said, ‘You are too young to do nothing. Why don’t you do something?’” recalled Pohl, 61.

Pohl, a residential developer and contractor by trade, had certainly come to the right place to dabble in his former profession. As he contemplated a return to the industry, he studied the housing market in Jackson County and saw plenty of gated mountain subdivisions catering to second-home owners and retirees.

What the county lacked, however, was housing geared toward the professional class who want to live close to the amenities of town. Sylva has seen almost zero growth in its housing stock over the past decade, with development instead focused on the surrounding countryside and mountaintops.

When shopping for land, Pohl stumbled onto the perfect setting for a town home development: a 19-acre tract tucked into a hillside close to downtown Sylva and off Savannah Drive. He created a master plan to build 32 townhomes on the tract. Three years later, the first four units of Laurel Ridge Town Homes have been finished and will hit the market this month.

“I’ve done something here that I hope will spark the town into thinking we need more housing to attract professional people to Sylva,” Pohl said. “I am trying to hit a market of people who don’t want to maintain yards, who want granite countertops and nice hardwood floors. They want a step up at an affordable price.”

At $299,000, the townhomes don’t exactly qualify as affordable housing. But they are at least more affordable than much of what’s on the market.

“They can enjoy this,” Pohl said as he spread his arms, “for what you would pay in the upscale developments for just a lot.”

Although the development is a 15-minute walk from downtown, it has the feel of a private mountain retreat. The townhomes overlook a forested hillside with long-range views peaking through the summer tree canopy. Pohl has set aside 11 acres of the 19-acre tract to be permanently protected.

“The open space gives you the big yard, gives you the view, gives you everything you might want with a five-acre lot but with none of the maintenance and none of the cost. All this is free,” Pohl said, gesturing to the protected forested hillside off a back deck.

Pohl is among the growing number of developers capitalizing on the concept of “cluster development.” Rather than slicing and dicing a tract of land into evenly distributed lots, the new paradigm calls for denser housing concentrated in one area with the rest left relatively undisturbed.

The property was originally zoned for one-acre lots. Pohl faced an uphill battle to get town approval of the denser town home development. Given the steep terrain, carving out one-acre lots across the tract would have required a major cut-and-fill operation and a series of retaining walls and new roads.

“It would have decimated the hillside and the lots would have been so expensive,” Pohl said.

The town ultimately viewed a cluster townhome development as the better option and approved his plan, albeit by a split vote of the town board.

“I took a hell of a gamble that I could go to the town and convince them that they needed it,” Pohl said. “I had some sleepless nights.”

During the year-long process, Pohl found an important ally in former town planner Jim Aust, a major advocate for increasing Sylva’s housing stock and for the cluster development concept.

When Pohl embarked on his development plan, the building boom was in full swing. But three years later, as his first four townhomes hit the market, times are different indeed.

“If the economy would have been where it was three years ago, they would be gone by now,” Pohl said.

Nonetheless, between professors at Western Carolina University and Southwestern Community College — not to mention the standard professional fare of doctors, lawyers, and bankers — Pohl sees plenty of demand for the moderately priced yet posh townhomes. Pohl also sees the townhomes appealing to retirees who don’t want to live in a gated subdivision but rather an in-town neighborhood.

Pohl doesn’t plan on starting to build the next units until the current ones are sold, which he thinks will be snatched up in a few months. Despite his wranglings with the town and the economic downturn, Pohl doesn’t regret coming out of retirement.

“I have absolutely loved this and can’t wait to start the second building. It has given me direction and given me a purpose in life again,” Pohl said. “I love building.”

An open house at the Laurel Ridge Town Homes will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 18. laurelridgetownhomes.com or 828.506.6641.

Long-time Sylva mayor won’t run again

Sylva’s mayor for the past 17 years, Brenda Oliver, has announced that she will not run for re-election this fall.

Oliver, 67, said she has enjoyed serving the town and is optimistic about the direction it is headed. Oliver said she was ready to do something else with her life, and by the same token the town was ready for new leadership.

“I just feel it is time for a change,” said Oliver. “I really feel that Sylva is a good place. We are headed on the right track and it was a good time for someone else to step up.”

Oliver has been on the town board for a total of 28 years, serving as a board member before becoming mayor. Oliver has not been a subject of controversy nor has there been an apparent lack of public confidence in the job she’s doing.

“Brenda was without a doubt one of the most popular local elected officials,” Town Commissioner Maurice Moody said. “Most local politicians have maybe a fourth or half of her tenure. Brenda still has a positive attitude toward the town. If we needed a volunteer I think she would be right there.”

Moody has already stepped up to run for mayor following Oliver’s announcement at a town board meeting last Thursday (July 2).

“The main reason is I couldn’t talk Brenda into staying,” Moody joked.

In actuality, Moody said the move seems like a natural one. With 12 years on the town board, he is the longest-standing member after Oliver.

“I think I can handle it without any difficulty,” Moody said.

The sign-up period for candidates began this week and runs through Friday, July 17. Moody said he will be surprised if no one else files to run for mayor.

Moody has two years left in his term as a town commissioner. If he doesn’t get mayor, he will keep his seat on the board. If he wins, the incoming board would choose a new member to fill his vacated seat as commissioner.

The Sylva town board is comprised of five members and the mayor. The mayor doesn’t get a vote except in the case of a tie.

“That is the one negative thing. I will miss that if I am elected,” Moody said. “But with my personality everyone will know what I think.”

Oliver was the opposite. She rarely took a public stand, but acted more as an arbiter in guiding discussion rather than voicing her opinion on issues.

Moody agrees with Oliver that the town is on the right track. Moody and Oliver have both been advocates of a progressive agenda, which has the support of the majority on the board right now. Moody offers a disclaimer, however.

“That’s not a name we picked. Other people gave it to us,” Moody said.

Moody said he wants to continue the momentum of the current board.

“Sylva is a good place to live and we need to enhance it anyway that we can,” Moody said. “I think there are some good things going on right now and I think we need to continue that.”

For example, Moody wants to advance projects like Bridge Park near downtown and Pinnacle Park in the town’s old watershed.

Town Commissioner Stacey Knotts said Oliver will be deeply missed. Knotts said her deep knowledge of the town and municipal operations have been invaluable to the town.

“Her integrity and deep knowledge of municipal government have been invaluable for the Town of Sylva,” Knotts said. “On a personal level, she has been a great mentor and close friend during my time in office.”

Likely contributing to Oliver’s decision are her eight grandchildren spread out in Texas, Georgia and North Carolina.

Town Commissioner Harold Hensley had favorable words for Oliver as well.

“I try to get along with everybody and I always got along with Brenda,” Hensley said. “We didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of things, but we never had a cross word.”

Knotts and Hensley — while coming from different viewpoints on the board — are both already backing Moody.

“I think he will be great for it,” Knotts said. “He has been a great board member and will do a great job as mayor as well.”

Hensley agreed, even though he admitted he and Moody aren’t always on the same side of issues.

“He definitely knows the ins and outs of the town,” Hensley said. “I don’t know who else will file but I know Maurice and I know he would do a good job.”

Will Sylva vote expose usual fault line?

The race for the Sylva town board this fall could once again gauge the extent of shifting demographics of the town.

Two seats on the board are up for election. Town Commissioner Stacey Knotts confirmed she will run again while Commissioner Harold Hensley said that he probably will.

Meanwhile, a third candidate had thrown his hat in the ring as a challenger: David Kelley, son of the longtime downtown business owner Livingston Kelley. The two-week sign-up period for candidates does not open until next week, when additional candidates may emerge. The deadline is July 17.

Mayor Brenda Oliver is up for election as well, but would not confirm whether she is running again.

“I am not ready to make any announcement yet. I am still pondering,” said Oliver, who has been mayor for 17 years.

A split has emerged on the town board in the past two years with a progressive camp outnumbering the more conservative camp. The most prominent disagreement to erupt was over the firing of former town manager Jay Denton. The conservative camp has consistently opposed town funding for the Downtown Sylva Association and has been less enthusiastic about spending money on amenities like sidewalks and town parks.

Hensley, 72, a retired maintenance director for the school system, has led the conservative camp. Knotts, a 37-year-old stay-at-home mom whose husband is a Western Carolina University professor, has largely sided with the progressive camp.

Hensley agreed that he and Knotts are different types of candidates.

“She’s a young woman and I’m an old man,” he joked.

Hensley said he speaks up for a demographic of the town that could be left underrepresented if he was no longer on the board.

“I am not a lone wolf with an agenda of my own. I try hard to be a good steward of taxpayers’ money. That is my number one platform,” said Hensley, who prides himself on being a stickler when it comes to town spending.

Knotts cited several accomplishments of the past four years; in particular, curbside recycling, the Pinnacle Park grant, the renovation of Bryson Park, and the Bridge Park project.

“I would love the chance to complete a number of additional projects such as the Dillsboro to Sylva sidewalk, the Fire Department building renovation, additional trails in Pinnacle Park, economic development, and most importantly preserving the rich history and culture in the town of Sylva,” Knotts said.

Knotts got more votes than Hensley when the two appeared on the same ballot four years ago. Like this time, there were two seats up for election on the board. Both seats happened to be vacant, however. One board member had decided not to seek re-election. The other dropped out of the race after being charged with embezzlement from her church.

It created a shoo-in for both Knotts and Hensley, although Knotts got more votes: 205 to Hensley’s 164.

Knotts worked hard during the campaign by going door to door to introduce herself to voters. Hensley said he would not actively campaign if he runs.

“If I’m on there another six months or four more years, I’m not going to be out there doing a big campaign of knocking on doors. If they want me they want me, if they don’t they don’t,” Hensley said.

Kelley could create an entirely new dynamic. Kelley has observed the split nature of the board, but says he hasn’t consistently agreed with one side or the other.

“I have been where I could see both sides and going either way on different issues,” Kelley said.

Voters who perceive Knotts and Hensley to be in opposing camps could allocate one of their votes to Kelley.

In the vote over Denton, Kelley said he would have sided with Hensley to keep Denton.

“I think it could have been handled better,” Kelley said. “He had good intentions for the town and just screwed up.”

Denton’s misstep was investing money in funds not allowed by the state, which stipulates only the least risky funds be used to park town investments. Denton said he had merely been trying to get the best interest rate. Town leaders had little patience, however, as the mistake came on the heels of a miscalculation by Denton when ordering a foot bridge for a town park that cost $100,000 more than expected.

Kelley is also not a fan of the current level of financial support the town provides the Downtown Sylva Association, to the tune of $12,000. He thinks that may be too much.

When it comes to long-range planning, however, Kelley is more in tune with progressives on the board who would like to plan for growth.

“It doesn’t hurt to have some educated people thinking about the future,” Kelley said. “You got to look long-term, what is going to happen with the cause and effect of everything.”

Kelley, 32, works at his dad’s store, Livingston Photos.

Danny Allen, an alderman on the board for several years until two years ago, said he did not foresee a run again this year.

“I am not planning on it at this time,” said Allen, who is still battling health issues. Allen said many people have been pestering him to run, however.

State wants assurances before approving loan for Sylva fire department

The town of Sylva continues to be plagued by a financial mistake made last year in which $2 million in town funds were invested in accounts not allowed by state statute.

At the town commission meeting last week, Mayor Brenda Oliver informed the board that the Local Government Commission is not going to process a loan application for the fire department expansion until the LGC is satisfied proper procedures are in place to prevent future mistakes.

Interim Town Manger Chris Crater said the LGC is supposed to approve a loan of $2.3 million for the fire department expansion that is scheduled to go to bid in May.

The LGC was also concerned that the town is not adequately documenting credit card expenses. Carter said he wrote back to the LGC last week stating that the town now has procedures in place for investing public finds and documenting credit card use. In regards to the investments, Carter stated in his letter that the town commissioners immediately addressed the issue once it was discovered by transferring the funds to allowable accounts. Carter added in his letter to LGC that the town has a comprehensive set of policies dealing with cash management. The policy states that the town may only invest public money into the North Carolina Capital Management Trust and fully insured FDIC accounts.

The town had invested the $2 million into mutual funds that were not allowed under state statute because they are considered too risky. Furthermore, Carter noted in his letter that former Town Manager Jay Denton, who was responsible for the investments, was terminated over the matter.

As for the credit card issue, Carter stated in his letter that the town commissioners addressed that issue by amending its policy in December. Carter said on Monday, April 6 that he had not heard a response from the LGC. Mayor Oliver said she thinks the LGC will see that the town has addressed the issues and approve the borrowing for the fire department expansion.

New Sylva manager’s salary below state average of similar-sized towns

Though some are complaining that the salary for the recently hired Sylva town manager is high for her level of experience, the compensation is below the state average for towns in that population range.

For towns with a population of 2,500-4,999, the average salary is $71,446, according to a N.C. League of Municipalities survey from last July. The new Sylva Town Manager Adrienne D. Isenhower will make $60,678 a year.

Sylva has a population of about 2,500, while Canton, which hired a new town manager last week and has a population of 4,200, is paying the position $77,002. The new Canton manager, however, had been assistant town manager for about eight years and is a past Maggie Valley town manager, said Canton Mayor Pat Smathers.

Also of concern is Isenhower’s amount of experience.

Sylva town board members Harold Hensley and Ray Lewis voted against hiring her because they think she lacks experience, especially in key areas of managing a budget.

Isenhower has three years of experience with the city of Lenoir as well as internships.

Smathers said he thinks that is ample experience to move up to being manager for a town the size of Sylva.

“To be a city planner in a city the size of Lenoir and then move on to a manager position in a town the size of Sylva is a natural progression,” said Smathers.

As the population of a town increases, so does the salary for the manager. For instance, the town manager in Waynesville, which has a population just under 10,000, makes $110,768 a year.

The salary for the town of Bryson City, population 1,492, is $51,958.

Hensley and Lewis questioned why the new manager would make more than former manager Jay Denton who was fired in September. Denton was making $53,000 a year.

Denton also questioned the thinking of commissioners Stacy Knotts, Sarah Graham and Maurice Moody on paying the new manager more than he was getting paid.

“If I was sitting on that board I would think that was high,” Denton told The Smoky Mountain News.

Denton said salaries should be based on experience.

“In my expert opinion that is a fair salary for an experienced manager. They fired me when I was doing a good job and providing services,” said Denton. “And they hired someone with no experience in management.”

Denton said he started out making $45,000 three years ago, and he has a master’s in public administration like Isenhower, but he also had almost three years of experience as the Jackson County manager.

“The board gave me pay raises based on what they thought I should make for the performance I was giving them,” said Denton.

Salaries are also based on the size of a town’s budget and the number of employees it has. Sylva has about 27 employees and a $2.26 million budget.

Ninety percent of a town manager’s job is managing a budget, said Denton. The budget he put together last year was very tight and the town will have to dip into its reserve fund to cover the new manager’s salary, according to Denton.

Hensley said he supported David Steinbicker of Sylva for the manager position because he is a lawyer, CPA, and oversaw a $37 million budget for the Jackson County Board of Education.

He can’t understand why Graham, Moody and Knotts would support Isenhower over Steinbicker.

“It’s beyond me,” Hensley said. “I’m dumbfounded.”

Knotts would not elaborate on why she didn’t support Steinbicker, saying it’s a personnel matter.

Mayor Brenda Oliver did not vote on the town manager but said she thinks Isenhower will do a great job. Oliver particularly liked Isenhower’s planning background and thinks the salary is “appropriate.”

Oliver also liked that Isenhower graduated from Appalachian State University. Oliver said ASU has one of the best public administration master’s programs in the country.

Denton, who graduated from Western Carolina University in Sylva with a master’s in public administration, said WCU’s program is just as good, if not better, than ASU’s.

New Sylva town manager brings planning background to the table

The Sylva Town Board on Friday voted 3-2 to hire a new town manager with a background in planning.

The board hired Adrienne Isenhower to replace former Manager Jay Denton who was fired in September. Isenhower is currently a planner for the city of Lenoir, population 17,000. She has a master’s degree in public administration from Appalachian State University.

“I think she has great qualifications, and her background fits us perfectly,” said Commissioner Stacy Knotts.

Knotts noted that the board was looking for a manager with a planning background. Sylva currently does not have a town planner, after philosophical differences led to the departure of the former town planner last fall. The town board opted not to hire a new planner, but instead look for a town manager with planning expertise who could fill both roles.

Lenoir News-Topic Local Editor Paul Teague has covered Isenhower’s work with the planning department and said she is a “top flight person.”

“She will do an outstanding job for Sylva,” said Teague. “She knows her stuff.”

Teague said Isenhower pays attention to detail and “eats, sleeps and breathes municipal government.”

Teague said he knew it wouldn’t be long before Isenhower left for an advancement in her career. Isenhower has done much to improve Lenoir’s downtown, Teague added.


Vote not unanimous

Town Commissioners Harold Hensley and Ray Lewis voted against hiring Isenhower, saying she lacks the experience necessary for the job, particularly in managing a budget.

“I didn’t think she had the experience,” said Hensley.

Hensley noted that Isenhower just graduated from college in 2006 and has only been working as a planner for the past few years. Hensley said Isenhower has no experience in finances that he knows of.

“For the taxpayers’ money it seems like we should have gotten someone with more experience,” Hensley said. “The people on the losing end are the taxpayers of Jackson County.”

Since the position was advertised in the fall there were 98 applications received, according to the town clerk’s office.

Hensley also disagrees with the new manager making $60,678 a year when former manager Denton made $53,694. And Hensley said, “Jay had lots of experience.”

Commissioner Lewis has similar complaints as Hensley.

“I didn’t think she had the experience,” said Lewis, questioning her salary. “I think that’s a little high for as much experience as she has.”

Lewis said Isenhower has no experience with town finance or budgeting and that he doesn’t know how she can do the job without those skills.

Commissioner Sarah Graham admitted that Isenhower has no experience directly managing a town budget. But Graham said she thinks Isenhower will do an excellent job.

“She’s got the qualifications we are looking for,” said Graham.

Those qualifications include a master’s degree in public administration, and experience working as a planner. Planners from larger cities often advance their careers by moving on to be manager of a small town.

“This will be her first position as a city manager,” Graham stated.

Asked why Isenhower is making more than Denton, Graham said, “Because that’s what we’re offering the manager this time around.”

The reason she is getting paid more than Denton is that Isenhower is really filling two jobs — one as manager and one as planner, said Knotts.

Maurice Moody agreed that Isenhower was the best applicant.

But he admitted that she probably does lack experience in budgeting. “I don’t think budgeting is her strongpoint,” said Moody.

But Moody said there is already a well-qualified individual in the finance office handling most of those issues, whose official title is assistant finance officer and tax collector. While ultimately budget oversight lies with the town manager, Graham said Isenhower has “ample experience” to perform that role.

Isenhower could not be reached for comment. She is scheduled to begin in May.

Other than Isenhower’s current job, she also had an internship with the city of Lenoir in 2006, an internship with the town of Troy in 2004 and an internship with the town of Boone in 2003, according to her resume provided by the town.

Task force aims to fix future traffic snarls

A Jackson County task force has entered the nitty-gritty stage in its quest to fix traffic congestion on N.C. 107 in Sylva.

The group has begun compiling a long list of possible solutions to the congestion. Once complete, it will turn the list over to the Department of Transportation to assess whether and how much each idea could help.

The solutions fall into one of two categories. One is to alter the design of N.C. 107 to handle more traffic. The other is to divert cars off N.C. 107.

Jackson County is split into two basic camps of how to solve traffic congestion on N.C. 107. One advocates building the Southern Loop, a cross-county highway that would bypass the main drag of N.C. 107 and tie in with U.S. 23-74 north of Sylva. Initially conceived as a large-scale freeway, road planners now say it could be a boulevard or even simple two-lane road.

The second camp wants to redesign the existing N.C. 107 and use smaller side roads to handle some of 107’s traffic.

Just how much congestion the task force is tasked with solving has been the subject of debate over the last several months (see related article.) The latest prediction claims there will be around 1,000 to 2,000 cars too many using N.C. 107 during the peak commuter hours by the year 2035.

The projection was formulated using DOT models and growth formulas, and massaged with help of the task force.

Some members of the task force remain concerned over the growth assumptions plugged into the model. The pace of growth witnessed over the past 25 years may not hold true for the next 25.

“Then this overage you are trying to address may not be accurate,” said task force member Susan Leveille.

Those in favor of the Southern Loop want to make the future congestion look worse to justify the road, Leveille said. Likewise, those who don’t want to build the Southern Loop want to downplay future congestion.


Diverting traffic

The name of the game is figuring out how to deal with 1,000 to 2,000 more cars than the road can handle. That’s where the brainstorming process and solutions pitched by the task force come in.

Those opposed to the Southern Loop hope to shows the overage can be handled without building a new highway. Those in favor of the Southern Loop claim the only way of dealing with that many cars would be building the new bypass.

The Southern Loop isn’t the only way to divert cars off 107, however. There are other ways to lighten the load. One is a system of smaller network roads: a system of shortcuts, more or less.

Another option for lightening the load doesn’t involve the roads at all. For example, if more students and faculty lived in Cullowhee, they wouldn’t be driving up and down N.C. 107 to get to campus. The county could enact land-use strategies to encourage more residential development around Western, according to Pam Cook, a DOT transportation planner working with the task force.

“That would be something that only elected officials can change, but that can certainly be evaluated,” she said.

Another option to get cars off the road is a commuter bus between Sylva and Western Carolina University in hopes of decreasing cars on the road.

When it comes to altering the design of N.C. 107 to handle the traffic overage, solutions being pitched include rerouting intersections, adding lanes and congestion management strategies.

Some solutions, when packaged together, can actually result in exponential improvements. For example, an intersection redesign could increase carrying capacity by 2,000 cars and an extra lane by another 2,000, but when done together could carry an extra 5,000.

“We’ll try to strategically group those,” said Ryan Sherby, community transportation coordinator for 10 western counties.

A whole category of solutions falls under the umbrella of congestion management. Congestion management can streamline traffic and increase what the DOT calls the “carrying capacity” of the road. But the congestion strategies might not be included in the numbers game aimed at coping with the projected overage, Cook said.

But the techniques are being considered. A team that specializes in congestion management visited Jackson County and performed a cursory analysis of N.C. 107 last year at the behest of the local DOT. The report from their visit is not yet out, but could be promising, Cook said.

“They may not solve all the deficiencies but would certainly make things operate more smoothly,” Cook said.

Cook said the team would like to make a second visit to examine a few options more closely.

The public can join in the brainstorming as well. Anyone with a solution they think the task force should put on the list to run by DOT can contact Sherby at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 828.586.1962, ext. 214.


Stop-and-start process now rolling

Jackson County task force members are excited with the new stage of their work. The task force was formed six years, but faltered for much of its existence due to a revolving door of DOT staffers, including long windows with no staff person assigned to the task force at all.

“I feel like we are just getting started with what I thought would be happening five years ago,” said Susan Leveille, a task force member and representative of the Smart Roads coalition. “We have been sitting listening for such a long time, and for a long time we had a void of nothing. I am very glad that we finally have an opportunity for input that seems to be genuinely part of the process.”

The current DOT staffer assigned to the task force marks the fourth since its creation, and each one essentially started again from scratch upon taking over. But the latest at the helm, Pam Cook, appears to be in for the long haul and the task force is finally showing concrete progress.

Cook said every solution pitched in the brainstorming stage will get evaluated.

“Every thought needs to be considered. Some can just be considered by discussion, some thoughts will be evaluated through a model, others we’ll have to go out into the field and see if it is feasibly possible to connect this road and that,” said Cook, who specializes in community transportation planning. “There is not a bad idea.”

Churches pool to offer refuge for homeless in Sylva, Waynesville

A homeless shelter has opened in Sylva to provide an escape from the frigid nights.

The shelter, located at Lifeway Church in Sylva, is the only homeless shelter in Jackson County. It will remain open through March.

About a month ago several local organizations met to discuss the need for a homeless shelter amid fears the spiraling economy would leave people with nowhere to turn.

Local churches have committed to staff the homeless shelter in Sylva with volunteers.

The shelter is working in partnership with the Community Table to provide meals.

Lifeway Pastor Mike Abbott doesn’t know how many homeless people there are in the Sylva area, but said, “We definitely have homelessness.”

With the winter being so cold this year, there needs to be a place for them, he said. The shelter opened about two weeks ago, and as of Sunday (March 1) no one had stayed there.

He said the homeless may not realize it’s there or they may have gone south or to Buncombe County by now. The shelter is open from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. seven days a week.

Abbott said the plan is for Lifeway to host the shelter again next year with it opening Nov. 1.

“I’m excited that in a relatively short period, community organizations and churches were able to come together and accomplish opening this up,” Abbott said. “This speaks well of the community. A lot of good people made this happen.”

The shelter can accommodate about 20 people and there is additional space for women with children and families, he said.

Mountain Projects Executive Director Patsy Dowling said the economy is causing people who normally wouldn’t need help to seek assistance.

“More people are losing their jobs and their healthcare,” she said. “The faces of people in need are changing.”

Many people who have lost their jobs and need food stamps can’t get them because they have assets that preclude them from qualifying, she said.

Laid off employees are having trouble paying their rent and can’t get help because the rental assistance program waiting list at Mountain Projects is “years long,” said Dowling.

Utility bills are becoming harder to pay for people affected by the economy.

Churches in Haywood County have banded together to open a homeless there, too. Space is being provided at Camp New Life.

Dowling spearheaded the community meetings to bring the homeless shelters to Jackson and Haywood counties. Her interest was sparked in December when there was a homeless couple in Waynesville that needed a place to stay.

There was nowhere in Waynesville and nothing available in Asheville. She felt bad that the only thing Haywood County could offer the couple was gas money to get to a shelter in Tennessee.

“We should have a place for people to get back on their feet,” she said.

Asked if she thinks it took too long to get shelters open in Jackson and Haywood counties, Dowling said she is not going to look back.

She said there is also a need for food and clothing, noting that the Community Table may expand its hours and her church in Tuckasegee may open a food pantry.

Dowling has a long list of heartbreaking stories, including a 61-year-old woman who can’t afford heating oil and groceries.

“I hear so many stories of people who were making $20 an hour last year and now are walking into my office with utility disconnect notices,” she said.

Sylva board rift heats up

Split votes are becoming increasingly common on the Sylva town board, throwing into question whether the board can meet its stated goal of agreeing on a new town manager.

Town commissioners Harold Hensley and Ray Lewis often vote together against commissioners Stacy Knotts, Sarah Graham, and Maurice Moody.

Hensley and Lewis voted against funding the Downtown Sylva Association, opposed improvements to Bridge Park, support hunting in the Fisher Creek Watershed, and were against steep slope regulations.

Hensley offered little explanation on why he thinks there are split votes.

“I’m not going to comment on that,” said Hensley. “I like to have unity instead of division.”

Hensley suggested that, “Maybe mine and Ray’s ideas are wrong.”

Moody said he, Graham and Knotts are “probably” more progressive than Lewis and Hensley in certain ways. He would not elaborate on how he thought they were more progressive.

“I’m not going to say anything that could be construed as being critical,” said Moody.

As for Moody saying he, Knotts and Graham are probably more progressive, Hensley said, “I guess he’s right.”

“I’m not going to get into tongue lashing,” Hensley said. “I’m trying to keep a lid on this. I don’t think it would do anyone any good to get into an argument, so if that’s the way he feels, that’s the way he feels.”

Hensley said it depends on what Moody means by “progressive.” Hensley said if it means spending money on unnecessary things, Moody, Graham and Knotts probably are more progressive, but if it means watching out for the taxpayer money, it probably means he is more progressive.

Graham said she would never vote to spend taxpayer money on something that doesn’t benefit the town.

Asked if she thinks Lewis and Hensley hold the town back, Graham said, “I’m not going to say.”

She noted that one of the bigger issues that Lewis and Hensley have opposed the other board members on is funding the Downtown Sylva Association. Lewis and Hensley have voted against any town funding for the Downtown Sylva Association for the past three years, running counter to rest of the board.

The DSA received $12,000 from the town this year, and Graham said the money goes toward downtown revitalization and supporting small businesses.

“I wish we could be more cohesive at times,” said Graham.

But she said she thinks the differences on the board are representative of the population of the town.

Knotts said each board member was elected by the people of Sylva to vote “the way we see fit.”

The board is now trying to hire a new town manager.

Moody said he would like the vote to be unanimous when the new town manager is chosen because each board member has to work with the manager.

Graham also hopes the vote on the new town manager can be unanimous.

“It’s an important move for the town,” she said. “I hope we can agree.”

In the most recent 3-2 vote Hensley and Lewis voted against making improvements to Bridge Park, while the others supported the upgrades.

Hensley said he couldn’t support the town spending $79,000 with all of the economic problems facing the country.

“Maybe I’m a little too conservative,” said Hensley.

Lewis admitted that he and Hensley don’t see eye to eye with the other board members. But he wouldn’t say he and Hensley do a better job.

Another issue that has resulted in a 3-2 vote was terminating the former Town Manager Jay Denton. Hensley and Lewis voted to keep Denton, while the others voted to fire him.

Moody said anytime there is a group there is going to be “some give and take and compromise.”

As for why Hensley and Lewis vote opposite of the others, Moody said. “I think they see things differently.”

However, Moody said there are times when he, Lewis and Hensley vote together and Knotts and Graham oppose.

In fact, Moody said he doesn’t necessarily think it is a bad thing that there are split votes on the board.

“You need various viewpoints,” said Moody. “People have different backgrounds. I think everybody is doing what they think they ought to do.”

A long and winding road

Sylva’s current library opened in 1970 and is 6,400 square feet. The debate over where to locate a new library lasted more than eight years, with commissioners finally deciding to build it as an attachment to the historic and beloved Jackson County Courthouse.

• 1999 – County leaders decide to tear down the historic Hooper House on Main Street to expand the library, but opposition mounts among those who want to save the historic structure.

• Dec. 2000 — Those fighting to save the Hooper House prevail. Renovation to the Hooper House gets underway to serve as the home for the chamber of commerce, Jackson County Travel and Tourism Association, and Sylva Partners in Renewal. Library supporters are left looking for a site for a much-needed library expansion.

• May 2003 — The idea to partner with Southwestern Community College for a joint library on the SCC campus in Webster has been gaining steam. County commissioners see the SCC joint venture as a way to save money, but it creates deep division among those who want to keep the library downtown. A public hearing on the issue attracts more than 200 people, most against the joint library.

• Jan. 2004 — Jackson commissioners, spurred by opposition to the joint SCC-Jackson County library proposal that culminated in the creation of a group called Build Our Library Downtown (BOLD), put plans on hold and appoint a task force to select a new library site.

• March 2004 — N.C. Board of Elections denies Jackson’s request to hold a non-binding referendum to gauge public sentiment on the idea of a joint library with SCC.

• July 2004 — The search for a library site has left task force members, commissioners, town leaders, opposition groups, and the Friends of the Library members torn. Many favored the historic courthouse, but it was dismissed as unfeasible. Finally, commissioners settle on a parcel located near the site of the old Western Sizzlin’ steakhouse in Jackson Plaza. The Sylva town board agrees to contribute $105,000 to the cost of the property. The property was purchased in September, but many still oppose the site. Even the town considers it a compromise, keeping it close to town but not in downtown proper.

• June 2007 — Jackson commissioners pledged $4.2 million to build a new library, but the location is again being questioned. The board had significant turnover during the last election, with three out of five members being new. Commissioners William Shelton and Tom Massie agree to set aside the money but re-open the debate about where to site the library.

• Oct. 2007 — Library site selection debate finally ends with a 3-2 vote by commissioners to construct the library next to the historic courthouse overlooking downtown Sylva. The renewal of the courthouse property as a potential site for a new library was spearheaded by Commissioner William Shelton.

• June 2008 — Architectural plans for the new library on courthouse hill are well-received by library supporters and project continues to move forward. Cost, including historic courthouse renovations, are pegged at $7.9 million.

• Jan. 2009 — County commissioners pledge to move forward with construction despite recession. Fundraising for the library furnishings reaches its half-way point.

Smokey Mountain News Logo
Go to top
Payment Information


At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.