Recently, I wrote about the importance of being sensible about the N.C. 107 project. Since then, it seems like collars have gotten hotter, and heels are digging in even deeper. The fact remains that the road as it currently exists is dangerous, and will only worsen as our community grows. “Saying no” is not an option. “Saying no” is what got us into this mess.
Unfortunately, our town’s passions are trying to supersede the expertise of roadbuilding engineers. Just because the NCDOT overrode our suggestions doesn’t mean they ignored them. With their experience, I’m sure they considered the impacts long before we pointed them out.
Safety standards exist for a reason, even if we don’t like the requirements. If nothing happens, years from now when neighbors are dying in needless accidents we’ll be asking why we didn’t do something about it a long time ago. That is too big a price to pay for inaction.
One of the most notable impacts is the 55 businesses that could be displaced.
In recent years, our town has been a constant merry-go-round of businesses moving, changing names and evolving as our community grows. Except for specially designed buildings, businesses don’t need a specific location. Our town’s businesses move and rebrand themselves all the time: Lulu’s, Mad Batter, The Wine Cellar, Lee’s & Legs, Sylva Insurance, Restore, Jackson’s General Store, Print Shak and Signature Brew, just to name a few.
Some argue that widening the road will cause a mass exodus of businesses from Sylva, as if on a specific date, everyone will have to lock their doors and leave everything behind. Owners will have years to make plans for whatever they need to do. Some already have. Even today, there are quite a few vacant buildings and lots, both downtown and along 107, waiting to be occupied, and which will still be there long after the road project is finished. There is room for business, and there is room for the road.
To help this process, the state has budgeted almost $48 million over the next three years to acquire displaced and encroached properties. That’s not the construction budget. It’s more money than you or I will ever spend, put directly into our local economy in exchange for the disruption – to relocate, rebuild, or if someone chooses, to retire – before construction ever begins!
Contrary to popular panic, most of our businesses will still be in Sylva when the dust settles, but maybe not where they are today. And they can be more modern and accessible because of the huge investment being made in this project. Right now, the biggest thing that can harm our businesses is fear.
One sad exception in all of this is the few businesses in leased space which are physically almost impossible to relocate, such as the Valero gas station. There should be provisions for these situations, because the few businesses that fall in this category may have nowhere to go. But there are just a small handful of businesses which fit this description – far fewer than the 55 that are being quoted, and certainly less apocalyptic.
I grew up in a town where this happened from one end of town to the other. Buildings too close to the road were removed. Businesses relocated, and there was still space for many businesses that came afterward. More importantly, this disruption is largely forgotten!
Yes, it will be disruptive, but yes, we will get through this. We’ll do it much more easily if we are guided by reason instead of fear and sentimentality, and embrace the opportunities it will create for our community.
For the record, I own property on a dangerous blind curve on N.C. 107 and I say “YES to the road!” I take my life into my hands every time I try to turn left into our parking lot, facing oncoming drivers going too fast, swinging wide into the turn lane until it’s almost too late to react to the car facing them. I would rather the state buy the properties (not businesses!) on our side of the road to improve this dangerous curve than for someone to die trying to hold onto them.
This too shall pass. Sylva is resilient and we will survive it, just as we have survived everything that has ever happened in our life.
Mark Stein lives in Webster and owns the property at 894 E. Main St., home of The Meditation Center (for the foreseeable future).