Project will restore courthouse’s grandeur
While the feeling of stately grandeur evoked by Jackson’s historic courthouse has remained over the years, many of the original features of the building have not. Little by little, the courthouse architects, McMillan Smith and Partners out of South Carolina, hope to peel away layers of renovations and return some of the historical detail to the structure.
The three-story old courthouse was built in 1912 in a neoclassical, neotraditional style of architecture, says lead project architect Donny Love. A concrete foundation, unusual for the time, was poured, and wooden beams, including hemlock, were trucked up the steep hill to form the structure. It probably wasn’t an easy process, Love says.
“It would have been difficult, especially for the time, to build in that location,” he says. “With the types of equipment they had, it would have been seemingly difficult to transport the materials to the top of the hill and place them.”
The original building was actually red, not the stark white it is today. Most of its features were very much in keeping with the trends of the early century, including two story columns and a second story porch. Intricately carved banisters ran along each stairwell, and detailed wood trim covered the walls. Arches provided architectural detail common to the period.
But around the 1960s, the building underwent some heavy modifications. The wooden detail was removed, and staircases and the balcony overlooking the courtroom were replaced. The floor was covered over. Such updates were common in that era, Love says, and were meant to provide buildings with a more modern look — but they also erased some of the original detail.
“If they make it through that time period, often they’re not renovated and the original detail is still intact,” Love says.
The Jackson County courthouse hadn’t escaped that fate. The county hired Love’s firm to restore the building and design the library wing that will connect to it. But there was a challenge — there weren’t any original plans to draw from.
“There weren’t blueprints. Back then, they didn’t do a lot of drawings,” Love says.
Love’s firm had to go back and measure each room. As for determining what the original courthouse actually looked like, Love and his colleagues lucked out.
“The courthouse in Madison County was built by the same architect from essentially the same set of drawings,” says Love. “We visited that one to get an idea of what this building looked like before it was modified in the 1960s.”
The Madison County Courthouse had not undergone the same renovation cycle that Jackson County’s had, so it’s served as a roadmap for the architects in recreating the historical detail of Jackson’s.
Not every detail will be restored in the current renovation process, estimated at around $1 million for the courthouse alone. The large clock that hangs on the front of the courthouse, for instance, will stay, though it wasn’t part of the original structure. Initially, the area where the clock was likely had a skylight for the courtroom, Love says. The area was closed up, and the clock was placed on the building.
Other parts of the courthouse will look noticeably different than they do today. Plans call for replacing all the stairs leading up to the building, and placing streetlights along them as was the case originally.
With the groundbreaking of the new library last Saturday, work is already under way at the courthouse. One of the biggest challenges encountered so far is the stabilization of the site, which sits atop a steep hill. Plans call for the library building to come up to the edge of the hill, so a large retaining wall has had to be built.
“We’ve had to make the slope work with the building,” Love says.
Despite the challenges, Love says working on an old building, even one that doesn’t exactly resemble its historical self, is endlessly fascinating.
“It’s always neat to go in a building and try to understand what took place in it,” he says. “I think in this building, there wasn’t very much of the historic building left, but nevertheless you can still get kind of a neat feel for what it must have been like to sit in those offices and look over the whole town.”
Erosion laws put to the test
Haywood County’s sediment and erosion control policies are the subject of a bitter legal battle poised to set statewide precedent.
A landowner slapped with a $175,000 fine by the county is fighting back with a lawsuit claiming he is being held hostage by the county’s overbearing enforcement of erosion laws.
The two-and-a-half week court case heard in Haywood County Superior Civil Court concluded last week (May 5). A decision now rests in the hands of Judge Laura Bridges, but will likely not be made for several weeks.
The landowners, Ron and Brian Cameron, built a 1.5-mile road network on a 66-acre tract in the Camp Branch area of Waynesville. They claimed the roads were for logging and were exempt from county erosion laws. The state allows such an exemption, based on the premise that logging reaps a much smaller economic return than development. Should loggers be forced to comply with the more rigorous erosion standards that apply to developers, it would effectively discourage logging.
The county claims the landowners were falsely hiding behind the forestry exemption, however, with no real intention to conduct logging. After building their road network, the Camerons drafted and submitted a development master plan calling for 18 lots, registered a subdivision name with the county and applied for a septic tank evaluation.
The landowners revealed their motives by these forays into development activity, according to the county. The Camerons lost their forestry exemption and were retroactively fined for two years worth of erosion violations dating back to the initial construction of the alleged logging roads.
Both sides in the case argue that a terrible precedent would be set if the other side won. If the county wins, landowners everywhere will shy away from logging, for fear they could never change their mind without their motives being questioned and triggering retroactive fines.
“We believe the county’s actions are discouraging forestry,” Craig Justus, an attorney for the Camerons, said during closing statements in court last week. “Essentially it would make forestry an unsatisfactory option. It would almost force landowners into developing.”
On the other hand, if the county loses, it would provide a road map for developers who want to exploit the forestry loophole.
“Developers will say ‘I’m going to build a big road system and tell them it is for forestry.’ Then four years down the road, they can say ‘You know I don’t want to log this property. Now, I want to develop it,’” countered Reed Hollander, an attorney for the county, during his closing statements. “No logging ever takes place and in the meantime those roads have sat out there eroding and causing damage to the environment, and yet nobody is out there to regulate it because the county’s hands are tied.”
There are three legal challenges pending over the issue. The one heard in court this month was filed by the Camerons in hopes of restoring the forestry exemption and getting them off the hook for compliance with county erosion laws. A second suit against the county is seeking damages and suffering. A third legal appeal is pending in Raleigh over the amount of the fines.
One or the other
When the Camerons began constructing a road system on their property in late 2005, they did not initially seek out the forestry exemption. They simply hired a crew and started grading without applying for permits, either to the county or the state forestry division.
The grader hired by the Camerons realized there wasn’t an erosion control plan being followed and called Marc Pruett, the county erosion control officer, to report it.
Pruett headed out to the Camerons’ property for an inspection. After a couple hours of walking up and down the freshly carved roads, making notes and snapping dozens of photos, he met with Ron Cameron.
Pruett had uncovered several erosion and sediment violations at the site. The exposed soil and steeply graded slopes lacked safeguards to keep erosion out of the streams, he said. Cameron had also failed to file a sediment and erosion control plan, which is a violation in itself.
When Cameron met with Pruett that day, he inquired about the forestry exemption. Pruett explained it was an either-or proposition: forestry or development. Cameron told Pruett during the property inspection he wanted to build a house on the property one day.
“He did tell me that flat footed, eyeball to eyeball standing right there on the ground,” Pruett said during testimony. “He told us he was considering building a house on the property and doing some logging. I explained those are two different things. It really couldn’t be both.”
If Cameron was building the road to reach even one house site, it wouldn’t count as forestry, and Cameron would have to comply with the county’s erosion control laws. If, however, Cameron’s sole intent was logging, he would be exempt, but would have to sign an affidavit to that effect.
“We require the affidavit basically to keep everybody honest,” Pruett said during testimony.
Cameron did not sign the waiver, but instead returned a month later with an erosion control plan and the intention of complying with county ordinances. But a few weeks later, Cameron changed his mind and wanted to go under the forestry exemption after all. In the summer of 2006 Cameron’s roads were officially classified as logging roads by the N.C. Division of Forest Resources.
“At that point, it was off my radar. Once the forest service has got it, we move on to other work,” Pruett said.
Making a master plan
Over the course of the next year, while still operating under the forestry exemption, the Camerons begin setting the stage for developing the site, according to the county.
They hired a development planner to draft a master plan for the tract. The first plan called for 11 lots. The Camerons then hired a second development planner to draft another master plan. Created by Brooks and Medlock Engineering firm in Asheville, it showed 18 lots on the 66-acre tract.
In fall 2007, the Camerons submitted that master plan to the county planning office. When the master plan landed on the desk of County Planner Kris Boyd, it rang a bell. While Boyd isn’t directly involved in sediment and erosion control, he works just down the hall from Pruett. The two regularly keep each other appraised of the plans and permits funneling through their respective offices.
In this case, Boyd remembered Pruett’s past inspection of the Camerons’ property and his pursuit of a forestry exemption. The appearance of a development plan raised a red flag to Boyd, however. He passed word to Pruett, who started investigating the issue.
“We were told this property is for forestry, but here comes a residential development master plan into the office. That calls into question what are the roads for,” Hollander, the county’s attorney, said in court.
The master plan made Pruett wonder whether the roads were ever intended for logging in the first place.
“I scratched my head and tried to figure out what to do,” Pruett said. “I determined at least in my mind when someone walks into a county office and pays fees to have a plan approved for 18 lots on the entire 66 acres, to me that is an intent to create a subdivision.”
In addition to filing the master plan, the Camerons had applied for and conducted a septic evaluation of their property. They also registered a subdivision name with the county.
Also in the interim, the Camerons sold a 3-acre parcel off the larger tracts. The separate parcel was never part of their forestry exemption, but the alleged logging roads happened to lead right past it, making the lot more valuable.
“What do they do under this time they are under a forestry exemption?” Hollander asked. “They’ve hired not one but two companies to do a residential development plan and they’ve sold property for residential purpose. At the same time they are doing no forestry activities whatsoever.”
Hollander pointed out that Brian Cameron is a developer in Atlanta, while his father, Ron, is a real estate broker.
Justus, the Camerons’ attorney, said the septic tank application has nothing to do with whether the roads were constructed for logging.
“My client always said there might be a possibility in the future that he might build a house somewhere on this 66 acres. Then why is it a shock for you to see a septic tank test on the property?” Justus said in court.
Just “exploring options”
In late 2007, Pruett contacted the state forestry division and shared the news of what Pruett viewed as forays into development. The forestry office ultimately pulled the logging exemption, thrusting the property under the jurisdiction of the county erosion control ordinances in January 2008. For the past two years, however, Cameron had dodged county oversight and all the while caused erosion to the streams, Pruett said.
Pruett inspected the property and wrote up a lengthy report on the erosion status of the roads. The county issued a violation notice outlining a litany of erosion control measures that needed to be complied with right away.
The Camerons countered that they should not have lost their forestry exemption. The development master plan was nothing more than an idea they were exploring.
“In a down timber market they were merely exploring options on other uses of the property,” Justus said. “A land owner has a right to explore options without losing forestry exemptions. We should never have been kicked out of forestry based on planning documents.”
The Camerons tried to get their forestry exemption restored. They even withdrew their application for the development master plan. They also signed the county’s affidavit stating their intention was forestry.
But the county claimed it was too late, that the Camerons had already revealed their motives and couldn’t simply duck back under the forestry exemption.
The Camerons filed a lawsuit against the county in protest. When it became clear the Camerons weren’t going to bring the roads into compliance with the erosion law, the county issued its $175,000 fine.
Justus claims the county is trying to make an example of the Camerons, and only slapped them with the fines after the Camerons fought back with their lawsuit.
“Why? Because we didn’t acquiesce. We got whacked because we didn’t capitulate,” Justus said. “There are reasons why we don’t want to be placed into the county’s world until we want to be there by choice.”
The Camerons never conducted any logging on the property, a point the county chalks up in its corner.
The Camerons didn’t formally hire a forester until after they were embroiled in a disagreement with the county over their motives. The county claims the belated engagement of a forester was nothing more than the Camerons trying to cover their tracks.
“At that point they can’t unwind the clock,” Hollander said.
The Camerons claim it is inconsequential whether they actually logged anything.
“They county says, ‘Ah-ha! You haven’t cut any timber. You must not have meant the road for that purpose,’” Justus said. But the forestry exemption isn’t contingent on when, if ever, logging is actually conducted. While the Camerons haven’t conducted logging, they likewise haven’t engaged in development activity either, other than on paper.
“There have not been any house sites on that property. There are no driveways placed off the road. A surveyor hasn’t gone out and staked and put pins on every lot, not even one lot,” Justus said.
The Camerons had reasons for not logging right away, namely a depressed timber market, according to forester David McGrew who created the timber plan. McGrew said the Camerons’ roads were built with an eye toward logging — although he wasn’t hired until more than two years after the roads were already built.
The Camerons had talked to a forester in 2003 shortly after the purchase of the property to sign up for forestry property tax breaks. Landowners can get tax breaks by claiming forestry, but to do so requires filing a forestry plan with the county tax office. The Camerons hired a forester in 2003 to write the plan for tax purposes.
That plan revealed there would be no economic return in logging the upper half of the property, particularly because building a road to reach the timber would be difficult.
“This area would be a very sensitive area to harvest due to the soils, rock formations and topography,” according to testimony of William Teague, a forester in Haywood County. “Road construction would be very expensive and difficult due to underlying bedrock. I felt the cost of logging would not have an economical return in portions of (the property) due to access problems.”
Good business sense?
If the Camerons’ motive behind the roads was logging, they are poor businessmen indeed, Hollander argued. They spent $200,000 building roads to access timber worth only half that. Some roads went to tracts that clearly weren’t candidates for logging.
“There has got to be another explanation. It makes no sense if their end goal was forestry,” Hollander said.
When the Camerons hired a grader to start building roads, their only criteria was that it lead to the top of the property.
“He wasn’t told it was for forestry. He wasn’t told, ‘Make sure you get roads to this area because that’s where the better trees are,’” Hollander said. “He’s just told carte blanche go up to the top of the property. He’s giving them weekly invoices and the cost is ticking up and up and up. It makes no sense for two intelligent successful businessmen.”
By the same token, if the Camerons’ aim was to build development roads under the guise of forestry, they didn’t do a very good job of that either. Many of the roads they built wouldn’t work for a development.
“Not only would additional roads have to be constructed in order to implement the subdivision plan, there also would have to be substantial additional work done in order for any of the logging roads to be converted into subdivision roads,” said Kevin Alford, an engineer who provided testimony for the Camerons.
Alford went so far as to say none of the roads appeared to be subdivision roads to him.
When the Camerons hired a development planner to create a master plan, they weren’t adamant about using the existing roads.
“He realized they might not be up to the county codes for subdivision roads, and they might need to be changed,” said Paul Sexton, the development planner.
Ultimately, only half the road network was incorporated into the development master plan. The rest are either too steep or too narrow.
Tim Howell, an officer with the state forestry division, testified that in his opinion, the Camerons’ roads were indeed logging roads. Howell ultimately proved one of the Camerons’ best witnesses. He testified that the roads looked like logging roads, not development roads. He testified that there was nothing unusual about building logging roads to timber tracts that weren’t financially viable. He testified that it was fine to build logging roads and never log, yet remain under the forestry exemption.
Justus asked Howell if he made a mistake by granting the forestry exemption in the first place, and Howell said “no.” A landowner changing their mind down the road or exploring other options doesn’t make the initial designation wrong, he said.
Howell also testified that he would gladly place the roads back under a forestry exemption again, but was held up from doing so until the county relinquishes its enforcement claim over the property.
The county pulled out a heavy-hitter in its camp, too, however. Mel Nevils, the section chief of land quality with the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said the county was justified in assuming erosion enforcement of the property.
Nevils said if a landowner is building a road that theoretically could be used for logging but has the dual purpose of serving development, then it should follow the erosion control standards for development.
“Even though the roads may be used for logging that is not the end purpose for the roads,” Nevils said. “If anything other than forestry is going to happen, those roads come under sediment rules the minute they are put in.”
Nevils said in his opinion, the Camerons’ roads weren’t intended solely for logging. In the Camerons’ case, Ron Cameron admitted from the beginning that he wanted to build a retirement house for himself on the property.
In Pruett’s testimony, he shared albums of photos documenting erosion violations. He cited freshly graded earth bulldozed right up to the creek bank. Slopes lacked silt fences to keep erosion back. Ditches weren’t properly lined with rock to slow the scouring effect of water. Basins intended to trap sediment were clogged up, compromising the ability to catch incoming silt as it washed toward the creek. Shot-gun culverts dumped out in a free-fall fashion, eroding the creek banks below, according to Pruett’s testimony.
Justus wanted to know whether Pruett had any photos of sediment actively running into the stream.
“Show me where there is a plume of sediment leading from any road going into the creek,” Justus said. “You don’t have any photo of sediment physically going off the road into the creek.”
“I don’t have a video of sediment actively washing into the creek,” Pruett admitted. But Pruett said he could put two-and-two together based on mud in the creek below exposed soil and scoured slopes.
“It’s a fair assumption to say water runs downhill,” Pruett said.
Justus countered that creeks and ponds are naturally muddy on the bottom. However, Pruett said that most creeks in the mountains have rocky bottoms and aren’t supposed to be silted up.
Justus said the county exaggerated erosion at the site. In one site inspection, Pruett’s paperwork only classified the erosion as “slight.”
While the Camerons were exempt from the county’s erosion laws, they still had to comply with the lesser standards laid out by the state forest division, which they did.
“Forestry is not an exemption from protecting water quality. It’s just a different set of standards that apply to people who are conducting forestry,” Justus said.
If loggers were treated like developers and made to comply with a more rigorous standard for sediment control, the cost of doing so would effectively deter logging. State lawmakers recognized this in creating the forestry exemption, Justus said.
Justus argued that the Camerons should not be subjected to a $175,000 fine by the county while they were under the forestry exemption.
“That’s very significant to us and one reason this case is important,” Justus said of the fine.
Further, the Camerons should be allowed to stay under the shield of forestry rather than dragged under county jurisdiction, Justus said.
“There are 600 pictures here of what Marc Pruett says is wrong with this property. If we lose this case, that’s the world we are going to be put into,” Justus said. “They are going to hold us responsible for every dirt clod in the stream. We don’t want to do that. We simply don’t.”
When to comply?
Justus claims it is the right of any landowner to ponder possibilities. Drafting and submitting a development master plan was just that: an exploratory move. The Camerons ultimately withdrew the master plan and decided not to go forward.
“As a property owner we can’t get kicked out of forestry merely by pursuing options,” Justus said.
Justus argued that landowners aren’t told that filing a master plan could trigger a loss of their forestry exemption.
“The rules need to apply clear and objective thresholds, so a landowner knows if you go this far, this is the consequence,” Justus said.
The county claimed the Camerons were trying to back-peddle.
“Whether the roads can be used for forestry is not the question. The question is why were they built at the time they were built,” Hollander said, pointing to the development master plan as proof. “They pushed to get those plans done and into the county office and ultimately withdrew them when they realized what the consequences would be.”
Justus said the Camerons were being subjected to the whims of the “rule of man” rather than an objective playbook of laws.
“The rule of man is something that happened in cubicles and behind closed doors,” Justus said. “That’s government officials saying ‘I woke up on this side of the bed and decided this.’”
The county argued that Pruett’s job is to enforce erosion laws, a power granted by the state and the county. Not to do so would be shirking the county’s responsibility to the environment.
“They don’t have a right to pollute. They don’t have a right to put sediment in the creeks,” Hollander said. “All the county ever wanted is to get that site stable to prevent continued erosion.”
Haywood County nixes old Wal-Mart purchase
It looks like the Department of Social Services in Haywood County won’t be getting a new home after all. Haywood County commissioners decided against purchasing the old Wal-Mart building, which would have housed DSS as well as the health department, in a closed session last week (May 4).
“The commissioners decided that now is not the right time in light of everything else what we’ve had to do as a county in response to the global economic crisis,” said County Manager David Cotton.
County officials were seeking a USDA loan between $10 million and $11 million to fund the purchase and renovations to the building.
Finding a new home for DSS has long been on the county’s to-do list. The department is housed in a decrepit, crumbling old hospital, and is so cramped for space that some closets double as offices.
The old Wal-Mart would have been less expensive than building on a new site.
“In our capital improvements plan, we’d actually identified needing $20 million to $25 million to buy a piece of land and build from scratch,” Cotton said.
The old Wal-Mart purchase is not completely off the table, Cotton said. He said the company that owns the building, RBC Ventures, is still open to the idea of if county officials change their mind.
TDA debates where to draw line for events that may not benefit entire county
Should a private business receive taxpayer money to stage an event?
That was the question of the hour at two recent meetings of the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority as the board discussed how to dole out its dollars.
The debate was prompted by a funding request from the Waynesville Inn Golf Resort and Spa. The resort had snagged the interest of the Western North Carolina Porsche Club and enticed them to hold a car show on the property in July. The group had never had an event in the mountains west of Asheville, so representatives from the resort saw it as a prime opportunity to attract a new breed of clientele.
“We’re trying to bring some different kinds of business to this county,” Waynesville Inn owner Dave Stubbs told the TDA board. “Our feeling is you have to have that targeted. You can’t just say, ‘come to Haywood County’ — you’ve got to have a specific thing going on. We’re trying to take the lead to design and sponsor a specific event.”
TDA members seemed impressed with the idea.
“I think we’ve got an opportunity to really reach out and do something new,” said board member James Carver.
But would the Porsche show really benefit Haywood County as a whole, TDA members wondered? After all, the whole event would be hosted on the grounds of the Waynesville Inn, with meals and a special room rate included in the package.
“I think what you’re trying to do is certainly admirable, but I think the point is there are many events that come into town but they’re not based at a hotel and the money isn’t going to a hotel,” said board member Marion Hamel.
Hamel continued to argue her case the next day at a meeting of the TDA finance committee, which was coming up with funding recommendations.
“The problem is, you’re setting a precedent,” she said. “We have turned down so many ads and events because it doesn’t include everybody, and we’re in danger of setting a precedent we can’t afford to set.”
Board member Jen Duerr said that attitude, long prevalent in the TDA, was doing the area more harm than good.
“I think that’s what’s holding this area back,” she said.
Chair Alice Aumen said she saw a need for the TDA to be more flexible in its thinking.
“Let’s see if we can make it fit rather than saying no, because I think that makes us look very close-minded,” Aumen said. “If someone has gone to all the trouble to bring in this event, they deserve something.”
TDA Executive Director Lynn Collins told the board to think twice before turning down an event that someone else had done all the effort to attract.
“If somebody out there is willing to take on some of this stuff and help us expand our reach and our markets, then we need to think seriously about letting them help us,” Collins said.
Board member Ken Stahl said that despite good arguments in favor of funding the Porsche event, doing so would still raise some questions.
“We have a problem if we directly subsidize a private enterprise and then they directly benefit from it,” said Stahl.
The board eventually settled on a compromise: it would fund the Porsche event, as well as another event being held at a Maggie Valley hotel, for the events’ inaugural year only.
Green Initiative a great fit for Haywood County
The Haywood County Chamber of Commerce’s Green Initiative is one of those projects that is good on many different levels, not the least of which is the admirable goal of reducing the impact the business community has on the environment.
The Green Initiative, which is being headed by Haywood Community College President Dr. Rose Johnson, is aimed at establishing a methodology by which businesses can earn a “green designation” from the chamber of commerce. A chamber committee has been working for months to set up the criteria, and the categories include recycling, water and energy.
Those businesses that earn this designation will benefit in many ways. Aside from doing what is right, it is likely that many potential customers will appreciate their efforts and choose to do business with them. As this program is formalized, more businesses will likely follow suit and try to earn the designation. That’s a direct benefit that makes the investment to attain the green designation worthwhile from a business perspective.
The fact that the chamber of commerce has put in the time and effort to set up the Green Initiative speaks well of the organization. In too many cases those in the business community pit profit and sustainability efforts against one another. What is becoming increasingly clear is that the opposite is true. Companies that save energy and cut waste make more money, and though it’s impossible to have zero impact, it is a worthwhile effort.
This initiative is one component of a critical mass of sustainability efforts currently being implemented in Haywood County. These include:
• The county Economic Development Commission is formalizing a list of tax incentives for green energy companies to entice them to open shop in the county. The catalyst for that effort was the request for a tax break by a huge solar farm being built near Canton, a project that will be among the largest of its kind in the Southeast once completed.
• Haywood Community College and Dr. Rose Johnson are taking steps to make that institution a center for environmental learning. Staff members are working to implement course offerings that infuse the college’s forestry, wildlife, construction, nursery and other programs with cutting edge sustainability courses and practices. In addition, the college is working to make itself a leader in all these resource-saving areas.
• And Stephen King, the county’s solid waste director, has been a part of the Green Initiative and is a champion of recycling efforts. He has brought great ideas that have helped the county recycling program and is also working to tap the methane at the county’s landfill and harness it for energy use.
There will be intangible benefits for Haywood County for being at the forefront of the green movement. Some areas in the Northeast and out West may be further along, but Haywood County and others in this region are staking a claim as a leader in the Southeast. That is good for quality of life and for businesses.
The chamber’s Green Initiative taps into a truth that’s very important for those of us living in this region. The forests, streams and air are what make this place special, what give the mountains their special, almost spiritual appeal.
“Natural resources are part of the beauty of where we live. That’s why people come here,” said Laura Leatherwood, director of Community and Economic Development at HCC and a participant in the Green Initiative. “We want people to live it personally but we need our business community to live it as well in their practices as they do business throughout the day.”
Tourist industry lines up to tap TDA coffers
Requests for Haywood Tourism Development Authority money this year ran the gamut from the predictable to events making their debut this season.
The TDA generates a pot of money from a 4 percent tax levied each time someone pays for a hotel room in the county. Three percent of that money goes into a general fund to be divvied up among the entire county, while the other 1 percent is divvied up by zip code. Each of the county’s five geographic regions — Maggie Valley, Waynesville, Lake Junaluska, Canton and Clyde — receives an amount of money proportional to the room tax they collect.
Maggie Valley, with its many hotels and motels, generates the most room tax of any zip code, and thus has the most money to give. Its zip code fielded nearly $200,000 in requests. As has been the case in the past, the biggest number of applications targeted festivals, including Run to the Valley Street Rod Show, Maggie Valley Fall Days, Mountain Music Jamboree, a Harley rally, Vettes in the Valley, and a classic auto and truck show. The TDA finance committee recommended funding for each of the events.
Big winners when it came to the TDA’s recommendations were a festival director position, for which $20,000 was recommended. This position is funded by the town of Maggie Valley and the TDA, and there is already a person hired. The Maggie Valley Lodging Association’s request for advertising to motorcycles also made out well, with a TDA recommended amount of $11,600. The money will go to fund a Speed channel advertising package.
The TDA extended conservative funding recommendations to Ghost Town in the Sky, the Maggie Valley theme park that recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Some of the requests were denied funding, such as the park’s Gospel Sundays series and its request for an Industry Partnership with the TDA. The TDA did agree to provide some money for a Ghost Town Media Day, though to the tune of $1,500 rather than the $4,000 Ghost Town requested. Ghost Town’s request for co-op advertising was also granted, though only half of the $10,630 requested was recommended.
Ghost Town CEO Steve Shiver didn’t show up for a public hearing on TDA funding requests, though he was scheduled to speak. Shiver’s absence didn’t appear to help the park’s case. The TDA is already reluctant to extend money to the theme park due to concerns over whether it will be able to open this season.
“On my cheat sheet here, I’ve got a big fat zero” next to Ghost Town, remarked TDA Finance Committee member Ron Reid as the committee went down a list of funding requests.
The TDA fielded a diverse list of requests for Waynesville’s 1 percent money. Among them: $3,000 for a traveling Vietnam Wall, $3,000 to light the Public Art sculpture in downtown Waynesville, $3,000 for an Appalachian Lifestyle Celebration and $3,000 for a Wine and Winter Festival in downtown Waynesville.
The recommendation to award $11,605 to the Downtown Waynesville Association for co-op advertising sparked a debate over where advertising dollars being spent — in this case, some ads are placed in local publications like The Smoky Mountain News, The Mountaineer and the Asheville Citizen-Times. TDA members questioned how effective those venues are for reaching a regional audience.
“Co-op advertising is a great idea, but we’re advertising in all the wrong places,” said Reid.
More of the pie
A variety of events tapped into the TDA’s 3 percent pot of money. The finance committee put its stamp on funding amounts requested for a Haywood County Agricultural brochure, Smoky Mountain 9-ball and Wheelchair Tournament, the Fines Creek Bluegrass Jam, and Maggie Valley’s Miss Maggie program.
Not every request was met with complete approval. A play in honor of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s 75th anniversary was awarded less than the requested amount after TDA members determined that some of the money was going to fund entertainment.
“I didn’t think that we paid for storytellers and dancers. I thought we paid for advertising and brochures,” said TDA Finance Committee member Marion Hamel. “I think it’s a great thing to do, but I don’t think we should be paying for the entertainment.”
The TDA also modified a request for money to help advertise a golf package deal featuring the Waynesville Inn Golf Resort and Spa and the Maggie Valley Country Club. Members agreed to award the requested $150 on the condition that the Lake Junaluska Golf Course be invited to become a part of the deal.
The TDA board will vote on the funding recommendations April 22.
Haywood Chamber of Commerce helps businesses achieve green goals
When most business owners cast their eyes about the office — noting the reams of white paper spilling off the printer, the blinking lights on computers not shut down at the end of the day, the drafty crack under the front door — they know intuitively their workplace falls short in the green arena.
But figuring out what to tackle first and biting off manageable goals is usually so daunting, they do nothing. The Haywood County Chamber of Commerce hopes to change that with the launch of its Green Initiative. The program will help businesses “go green” with an easy-to-follow plan.
“We know that green-collar jobs and green businesses are the way of the future,” said Laura Leatherwood, director of Community & Economic Development at HCC. “We don’t want to be behind the eight ball. We want to be in the forefront. We want people who move here and set up businesses here to realize we support a green lifestyle.”
The momentum of a green community will hopefully feed on itself.
“As Haywood County becomes more recognized for its sustainability efforts, it will be able to recruit other business with similar goals of practicing sustainability,” said Dr. Rose Johnson, president of Haywood Community College and champion of sustainability efforts in the county.
The chamber’s Green Initiative is part of a growing critical mass of sustainability efforts taking off in Haywood County. From Haywood Community College to Haywood County government, sustainability practices are being implemented on several fronts.
Thanks to the efforts, Haywood County is positioning itself at the forefront of the green movement.
“If we are marketing our community as a green friendly community, people are going to go, ‘Wow what a place to live. They are already ahead of the curve when it comes to initiating green,’” said CeCe Hipps, executive director of the Haywood Chamber.
While eco-havens like Oregon and Vermont are far ahead of Haywood County, the efforts underway here already make it a leader as far as the South goes, and on track to be a national leader in the future.
“I believe we are laying the appropriate groundwork and are getting important players involved. All of those things combined over a period of a few years are going to make a very dramatic impact,” Johnson said.
Leatherwood said Haywood County is a natural place for sustainability to make a stand and to be on the leading edge of the movement.
“Natural resources are part of the beauty of where we live. That’s why people come here,” Leatherwood said. “We want people to live it personally but we need our business community to live it as well in their practices as they do business throughout the day.”
Simple steps, big difference
The program has been more than a year in the making.
“It seemed all of a sudden that word green was everywhere,” Hipps said. “It was something coming on the forefront fairly strong and a fairly quick pace. We wanted to educate our businesses on this is what you can do to be green and how you can save money.”
The chamber formed a committee to figure out how businesses could jump on board the green movement. That committee in turn formed subcommittees to draft various parts of the plan: water, energy and recycling. A fourth subcommittee is in charge of education, which will provide support and outreach for businesses implementing the plan.
“We designed the green initiative so it is flexible enough to pertain to the smallest organization to the largest,” Johnson said.
Businesses can tailor or personalize the plan to better fit their particular organization, Johnson said.
“There are some simple things that even one-man or two-man businesses can do,” Leatherwood said. “We want every business to be able to participate. If everybody does one small thing can you imagine the collective impact we would have?”
Beyond doing the morally right thing, businesses that decide to go green stand to gain. For starters, they can market themselves as such. Those that complete the program will get “green business” designation by the Haywood County chamber. With an increasingly green-savvy public willing to go the extra mile to support — or extra dollars — to support businesses with an eco-bent, the self promotion as a green-designated business is a big benefit.
From an overhead standpoint, business will save on energy costs and office supplies if employees use less paper, for example.
“We wanted to educate our businesses on this is what you can do to be green — and how you can save money,” Hipps said.
The plan encourages businesses to conduct an energy audit, essentially an assessment of how much energy they use and where they could save it. With an upfront investment, an energy audit can help a business save money on energy costs over the long run, said Buddy Tignor, the director of Haywood Community College’s natural resource department.
And, “The more we all reduce carbon emissions the more likely we are going to be able to at least slow down or mediate the global warming that is taking place,” Tignor said.
Stephen King, the county’s solid waste director and a champion for recycling, helped create the Green Initiative component that targets a business’s trash, resource consumption and recycling.
King said it is hard to break out of old habits, but very simple steps can often make change easier. For example, when King looked for ways to improve recycling participation in the county tax office, he targeted the placement of trashcans. Before, trashcans were placed in a central location, but a lone recycling bin was at the very back of the office tucked in an out of the way place.
“Nobody had to make an effort for trash but for recycling, you had to make an effort. You just have to flip that,” King said.
King moved the recycling can up front, and all the trashcans down the hall and around the corner and low-and-behold, recycling increased.
King, who has been a ringleader in the sustainability movement in county offices, is thrilled to see the business community jumping on board.
“It shows community camaraderie around what they believe in and trying to make it work,” said King. “More people understand what’s going on now than in the past.”
Other chambers of commerce are already looking to follow suit, Hipps said, and no doubt more will be clamoring to copy Haywood as word gets out.
“I imagine there will be a lot of others who will follow in our footsteps,” Leatherwood said.
At some point, the Haywood Chamber would be willing to share its Green Initiative templates with other communities, but until it has taken root and garnered attention for Haywood, they will protect the program, Hipps said.
Funding for festivals and visitor centers hinges on tourism board decisions
The Haywood County Tourism Development Authority will weigh the merits of grant applications from tourism groups over the coming week.
Every year, tourism initiatives, from festivals to visitor center operations, compete for funding from the tourism authority. Haywood County hopes to bring in a little more than $1 million in tourism revenue over the 2009-2010 fiscal year, thanks to a 4 percent tax tacked on to overnight lodging accomodations. The tax carries a stipulation that it must be spent on tourism promotion. How to allocate the money is up to a 12-member tourism board appointed by the county.
Most of the money is used by the tourism authority to market Haywood County as a visitor destination through brochures, magazine ads, billboards, the Internet and various marketing campaigns.
But two pots of money are set aside specifically to fund special tourism projects and festivals by nonprofits and groups throughout the county. Competition for the funds has been contentious in past years — so contenious in fact that it led the county to raise the tax on overnight lodding from 3 percent of 4 percent to provide a bigger pot of money to go around.
That extra 1 percent — roughly $250,000 for the coming fiscal year — is divied up among geographic areas in the county. Each district gets money proportional to the amount of lodging tax collected from that district.
Committees from each of the five districts — Maggie, Waynesville, Lake Junaluska, Canton and Clyde — make recommendations to the Haywood tourism authority on which projects to fund from their respective district. The tourism authority has the final say, however.
On top of the money allocated for each district, the tourism authority sets aside another $100,000 to fund visitor centers and tourism initiatives seeking money from the general tourism budget rather than the special pot allocated for one of the geographic areas.
Noisy and determined opponents get their way with nuisance ordinance
Take note — members of the public with an agenda to push could learn a thing or two from the mass of Haywood County residents who came out repeatedly to protest the county’s proposed nuisance ordinance.
Commissioners voted unanimously at their Monday (April 6) meeting to indefinitely discontinue discussion of the nuisance ordinance in light of mass public opposition.
The nuisance ordinance seeks to crack down on junk on peoples’ property, and prohibits everything from outdoor storage of scrap metal to junked motor vehicles to non-maintained swimming pools. Though the ordinance aims to maintain public health, many county residents attacked it for infringing on their personal property rights.
The Monday meeting marked the third consecutive commissioners’ meeting that was overwhelmed by as many as 200 residents coming out to protest the nuisance ordinance — many of whom had never attended a governmental meeting in their life. The crowd was so large some were diverted into an overflow room to watch via closed-circuit television.
Residents missed work and other commitments in order to take part in the public outcry. Some offered apologies as they nervously stumbled over their public comments, explaining that public speaking was something they had little experience with.
The opposition even went so far as to form its own official group, called ‘We the People,” which attracted a crowd of 100 to its first meeting. Their organization was impressive.
Eventually, residents opposing the ordinance got exactly what they wanted — commissioners killed the nuisance ordinance. It was a display of democracy in its truest form. Even commissioners seemed impressed.
“It is apparent by the number of people in this room that the process works,” said Commissioner Mark Swanger.
“I hope everyone has learned a lot about county government,” remarked Commissioner Skeeter Curtis.
The learning process was evident. People who had never plowed through a county ordinance read the nuisance ordinance front to back several times. Members of the opposition questioned how they could get access to information like minutes, and asked commissioners when and how meetings were scheduled.
The learning curve wasn’t all good. If anything, many members of the public learned most of all that they should pay more attention to what their government is doing.
“It really woke us up — it’s made us realize we can’t trust this government,” said Randy Burris on Monday. “It’s made us realize how quickly our freedoms can be took away from us, and it’s up to us to stand and defined it.”
If opponents of the ordinance stay true to their word, commissioners will have a new breed of watchdog looking out for county interests.
“You have awoken a giant that I hope will stay with the decision that they have made to be attentive to their government for a change, and to watch what’s going on with this county,” said Rusty McLean on Monday.
Of course, it is not the first time mass crowds have turned out in protest at commissioner meetings with a sustained presence, only to have the audience thin out when the issue at hand was concluded. In the past 10 years, commissioners saw repeated standing-room-only crowds on two other occasions. One surrounded construction of the justice center, with debates centering on the price tag and location. Another heated and extended controversy broke out over a proposed maximum security state prison in the county. After both died down, the audience at commissioner meetings returned to nothing more than county staff and reporters.
Haywood proposes incentives for green business
Economic development officials have adopted a policy that will give business incentives to clean, renewable energy projects that locate in Haywood County.
County officials hope the policy will convince green businesses to locate in the region, as well as provide a justification for giving incentives to businesses that don’t create many jobs.
Incentives will be given to solar, wind and hydropower energy projects that generate more than 50 kilowatts of energy. Projects that make use of landfills, brown-field sites, rooftops and other locations with minimal economic value will qualify for an 80 percent break on property taxes over a five-year period. Projects not located on those sites can receive a maximum of 60 percent in incentives.
Officials hope the incentives will make the county more attractive to prospective green businesses.
“Everyone wants to go where they feel welcome,” pointed out County Commissioner and Economic Development Commission board member Mark Swanger.
“If we can put this up on our Web site, we may attract other businesses of that same ilk or nature,” agreed Waynesville Mayor and EDC Board Member Gavin Brown.
The policy comes weeks after scrutiny over the decision by county commissioners to grant business incentives to FLS Solar Energy, a company that plans to build a solar energy farm on an old paper mill landfill in Canton.
The county granted FLS a five-year, 80 percent break on its business property taxes, saving the company $32,000. However, the entire project would only create about 12 jobs, and those would come during construction.
“(The current policy) leaves it open for anyone coming in and saying, you did it for XYZ, will you do it for me?” said Swanger.
The new policy addresses that issue.
“(The policy) is being developed in recognition that while developments of clean, renewable energy sources ... (may) not provide as many permanent jobs as traditional economic development projects ... development of clean, renewable energy projects also provide many intrinsic benefits to the community that traditional economic development projects do not and require little public infrastructure or services,” it states.
For the few jobs that are created by these projects, the policy requires companies advertise and recruit in Haywood County.
County commissioners must approve the policy before it can be formally adopted.