Growth and development: The big conversation

A broad process of seeking public input on how to address growth and development in the mountains will culminate with a weeklong public workshop in May, and a “tool box” of approaches to solving pressing growth-related issues.

The process, dubbed the Mountain Landscapes Initiative, is a project of the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina. The philanthropic organization has teamed up with the Southwestern Commission, a regional council focused on planning, to start the conversation and develop suggested solutions. The pilot project includes Clay, Cherokee, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon and Swain counties, as well as the Qualla Boundary. The Community Foundation hopes to eventually extend the conversation to 18 WNC counties.

Ben Brown, communications consultant for the Mountain Landscapes Initiative, says it’s time for a broad approach. The far-western counties have few rules regarding growth and development, little enforcement and are being “overwhelmed” by developers, he says. “They don’t have a planning infrastructure to deal with this. Their question is, ‘Where do we start?’”

With the Mountain Landscapes Initiative’s county-by-county approach, residents have been encouraged to work with political leaders to come up with ideas for solutions, says Brown.

What are best practices for building on steep slopes? What’s the best way to protect water quality in the mountains? How can local governments approach land-use regulations while still encouraging economic growth? Those questions, and many more, have already been discussed in meetings in Macon and Haywood counties. Brown said the results have been positive so far.

“We need to build trust in people,” he says. The effort also aims to act quickly with the “tool box” results to reward people for taking part. The weeklong “charette” will be held Tuesday, May 13 through Tuesday, May 20 at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee.

Below are the rest of the upcoming county meetings.

Swain County: Thursday, April 10, at SCC (Old Almond School). Drop in from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., meeting from 6:30 to 8 p.m.

Clay County: Saturday, April 19 at the County Courthouse. Drop in from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., meeting from 3 to 4:30 p.m.

Cherokee County: Tuesday, April 22 at Murphy Library. Drop in from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., meeting from 6:30 to 8 p.m.

Qualla Boundary: Thursday, April 24 at the EMS Building, from 5 to 8 p.m.

Graham County: Saturday, April 26 at the Community Building. Drop in from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., meeting from 3 to 4:30 p.m.

Jackson County: Tuesday, April 29. Drop in from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Meeting from 6:30 to 8 p.m.

For more information, go to www.mountainlandscapesnc.org and www.cfwnc.org.

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