Representatives from the Cullowhee Revitalization Endeavor and Western Carolina University met Aug. 3 with village of Forest Hills leaders to explore what might be possible if the village agreed to annex a portion of WCU’s campus stretching northeast along a corridor to Old Cullowhee Road, and a portion beyond campus in the Old Cullowhee Road area.
CuRvE, a nonprofit organization committed to revitalizing Cullowhee along the Tuckaseigee River and Old Cullowhee Road northeast of campus, approached the village, a small incorporated community southwest of campus, about the possibility of annexing some land into the village. The organization was facing significant challenges such as qualifying for government grants and funding for CuRvE initiatives to assist business owners and residents – challenges that could be easier to overcome if part of an incorporated area, said Brian Railsback, a CuRvE member, Cullowhee area resident and dean of WCU’s Honors College. The organization’s vision includes expanding dining, shopping and entertainment venues; building paths that connect to WCU; and cultivating a river park for outdoor enthusiasts, all in a way that reflects the mountain community’s history, culture and natural beauty.
To gather regional information and statistics needed to answer questions from Forest Hills, CuRvE approached the university and was fortunate to begin working with Tom McClure, director of partnership development for the Millennial Initiative, said Railsback. As part of the process, CuRvE members learned more about the Town Center, one of the proposed neighborhoods of interest in WCU’s Millennial Initiative. The Town Center would offer a range of businesses and services on campus within a planned unit development to be developed on land adjacent to Ramsey Regional Activity Center and the Cordelia Camp Building, said Chancellor John W. Bardo. The project could benefit if the site were part of an incorporated area such as Forest Hills, said Bardo. He introduced representatives from PBC+L Architects, whose presentation at the meeting included current photos of Cullowhee and campus along with images (examples below right) that offered a “look” and “feel” possible for the Town Center and campus corridor connecting it to Old Cullowhee Road.
The proposal being discussed includes changing the name of the village from Forest Hills to Cullowhee.
Village leaders and community members asked questions, including how development decisions would be made, the logistics of the process, and the pros and cons for village residents if the village were to annex the land. Some expressed concerns about possible “big box development” and sustainability. Jeanette Evans, owner of the Mad Batter Bakery and Café, and a representative from CuRvE, said that she lives near WCU and noted that annexing the land would enable the people of the community to have a stronger voice in decisions that guided how the area grew – decisions that could affect such things as light pollution. “That would be something I would want to protect in my community – the ability to see the stars at night,” said Evans.
Jim Wallace, mayor of Forest Hills, said there was similar discussion when he moved to the community in 1962. “We were talking about the same things at that time, only we got nowhere,” said Wallace. “We are just updating. Maybe we will get somewhere.”
The next Forest Hills meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 24, at the Jackson County Recreation Center.
By Teresa Killian Tate