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Cullowhee Revitalization Endeavor and WCU meet with Forest Hills village leaders to discuss annexation, development possibilities

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.

Brian Railsback, a member of the Cullowhee Revitalization Endeavor, presents information about the organization and its interest in supporting a possible annexation of land into the village of Forest Hills.

Brian Railsback, a member of the Cullowhee Revitalization Endeavor, presents information about the organization and its interest in supporting a possible annexation of land into the village of Forest Hills.

Forest Hills leaders and community members listen to presentations related to exploring a request to annex parts of Cullowhee.

Forest Hills leaders and community members listen to presentations related to exploring a request to annex parts of Cullowhee.

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VIDEO: Clip from Aug. 3 meeting at WCU

Members of the Cullowhee Revitalization Endeavor shared at a Forest Hills village
meeting held at WCU what inspired them to form the nonprofit organization and why
incorporation or annexation by Forest Hills would help forward the organization’s
mission. Speakers include, in order of appearance, CuRvE members Brian Railsback,
Chris Blake, Mary Jean Herzog and Jeanette Evans.

IMAGES: Presented by PBC+L Architecture of Cullowhee now
and the look and feel of what could be developed

Compilation of renderings suggesting the possible "look" and "feel" of development in Cullowhee. (Images from PBC+L Architecture presented at Forest Hills meeting)

Compilation of renderings suggesting the possible look and feel of development in Cullowhee. (Images from PBC+L Architecture presented at Forest Hills meeting)

Photo of business area on WCU campus (From PBC+L Architecture Presentation)

Photo of business area on WCU campus (From PBC+L Architecture Presentation)

Concept of possible development in business area on WCU's campus (PBC+L Architecture)

Concept of possible development in business area on WCU

Bridge on Old Cullowhee Road over Tuckaseigee River (From PBC+L Architecture Presentation)

Bridge on Old Cullowhee Road over Tuckaseigee River (From PBC+L Architecture Presentation)

Concept of proposed development of bridge on Old Cullowhee Road over Tuckaseigee River (PBC+L Architecture)

Concept of proposed development of bridge on Old Cullowhee Road over Tuckaseigee River (PBC+L Architecture)

Concept image of what is possible in the Old Cullowhee Road area (PBC+L Architecture)

Concept image of what is possible in Cullowhee (PBC+L Architecture)

Concept view of proposed Town Center at WCU (PBC+L Architecture)

Concept view of proposed Town Center at WCU (PBC+L Architecture)

Concept of proposed Town Center at WCU (PBC+L Architecture)

Concept view of proposed Town Center at WCU (PBC+L Architecture)

Concept view of proposed Town Center at WCU (PBC+L Architecture)

Concept of proposed Town Center at WCU (PBC+L Architecture)

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

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