Because of my natural inclination to see the best in people, I find it hard to even hint at such an unflattering possibility, but (sigh) someone must ask the question. For the good of humanity, then, let it be me.
Did commissioners make like chickens last month when they dumped the responsibility for tough decision making on a subordinate government group, whose members they appoint? Someone more cynical than moi might think so. This follows commissioners’ 4-1 vote to grant a student-housing developer’s request for a sewer-and-stormwater easement. Chairman Brian McMahan stood alone in not supporting Mallory and Evans Development’s request to cross publicly owned land along South Painter Road.
The fate of the universe now rests upon Cullowhee Community Council, a zoning-regulatory board. Well, perhaps I overstated the situation a wee bit, and I do abhor the dramatic, don’t you? The safety of thousands of people rests upon Cullowhee Community Council … that’s all.
Along with being a glass-half-full person, I’m famous for my timidity when it comes to telling others what they should do. I shun the responsibilities of ordering people about, as my co-workers can attest. It seems so, well, presumptuous and bossy. (They are always telling me, “Quintin, it’s OK to have opinions about things. You’re just too sweet for words. People are going to run right over you. Stand up for yourself!”) So, setting aside my bashfulness for the good of humanity, I must (shudder) step up to say:
Vote down that development. It is nuts to add almost 400 more students to an area lacking sidewalks, near where a pedestrian died almost exactly a year ago.
Mallory and Evans Development’s offer to extend sidewalks along South Painter Road to Monteith Gap Road (the building site is across from Cullowhee Community Gardens) is not enough. Not by a long shot. The Scottsdale, Georgia company stands to make a bundle if successful in pushing through this development. A relatively short stretch of sidewalk does little damage to the company’s return profits.
Cullowhee Community Council’s hearing on June 15 involves a series of questions members will answer en route to granting or denying a conditional-use permit. For Mallory and Evans to win the go-ahead, Cullowhee Community Council must find that adding 40 units, a total of 388 beds:
1) Does not materially endanger the public health or safety.
2) Does not substantially injure the value of adjoining or abutting properties.
3) Is in harmony with the scale, bulk, coverage, density, and character of the Cullowhee community.
4) Is appropriately located for transportation, water supply, fire and police protection, waste disposal and similar facilities.
5) Does not cause undue traffic congestion or create a traffic hazard.
Ladies and gents, members of the jury, I suggest the development proposed for South Painter Road in Cullowhee fails on two counts: one and five.
It is not safe. It would create a traffic hazard.
For the good of humanity, I am obligated to point out commissioners’ vote to grant an easement was not really about an easement. It is much, much more.
Whether intended this way or not, whether symbolic only or not, commissioners Ron Mau, Mickey Luker, Boyce Deitz and Charles Elders provided local government’s endorsement for more unbridled development around Western Carolina University. This building boom largely benefits out-of-state companies at the expense of local residents and students.
NC Promise is coming. Beginning in the fall of 2018, tuition for in-state students at WCU drops to $500 and, potentially, for out-of state to $2,500 – a point now being debated in Raleigh – compared with today’s $1,946 and $7,143, respectively.
WCU officials are predicting a surge in enrollment. If that happens, guess what will follow? More privately built student housing in Cullowhee. I humbly offer this modest proposal to our elected leaders: Wake up. Get to work. Pass some zoning ordinances that mean something.
It’s your job to make the hard decisions for the greater good. This is why we elected you.
Quintin Ellison is editor of The Sylva Herald.