A community effort to bridle unhampered growth in Cullowhee took a step forward with the Jackson County Planning Board formally approving the process.
The board’s unanimous vote on Thursday (Dec. 13) was not a vote for or against the concept. Rather, the vote serves as a green light for the community to continue discussions about the possibility of community-based planning, or zoning.
“We’ve heard from the commissioners and they aren’t going to do it unless the vast majority of people want it,” said Zach Koenig, chairman of the planning board.
County Planner Gerald Green said a series of community meetings this spring established unmanaged growth as the most significant area of concern in Cullowhee. Since then a group of community members have studied the possibility of community-based zoning, which is already in place along the U.S. 441 corridor in Qualla and in Cashiers.
Doing the same in Cullowhee would require the signatures of one-third of property owners who would be in the planning district. The designated zoning area would be at least 640 acres in size and be made up of at least 10 individual tracts of land.
One board member expressed the wish that zoning not be forced down the throats of people living in the community. Board member Mark Jamison responded that the effort, from the get-go, has been community led.
“It hasn’t been a county-led effort at all,” he said. “It’s the people in the community who are driving this.”
Board member Richard Frady said the planning board could serve the Cullowhee community as a resource and sounding board as it moves through the process.
Koenig suggested Cullowhee look toward Cashiers as a possible model.
“It seems to be working,” he said of that community’s zoning regulations.
Cashiers created its plan in 2003 to govern commercial development. The community has two districts: a “village central” and a general commercial zone. Jackson County commissioners created a five-member planning council, which reviews development guidelines along with the county planning board. The council votes on requests for conditional uses and variances in Cashiers.
The plan detailed growth regulations, including building setbacks, lighting and sign standards.
In other business the planning board discussed the N.C. 107 scenic byway proposal. A group of Western Carolina University students have proposed the stretch of highway from the old Cullowhee Road intersection to the South Carolina state line receive the designation.
Green said there were people in Cullowhee and Cashiers who were quietly trying to build support and the class “pushed it to the forefront before those working on it were ready for it.”
Koenig said that he wanted more public input from the Cashiers area on the proposal.
“That’s really my only concern,” he said.
Board member Joe Ward said he would like to see a questionnaire sent to property owners gauging their response to the proposal.
The board decided to ask the WCU class to survey the communities about interest in a scenic byway designation.