Oct. 25—Growth and development topped the list of issues discussed by Maggie Valley town board and mayor candidates during a forum hosted by The Mountaineer last week at the historic courthouse.
There are two candidates running for mayor: sitting Mayor Mike Eveland and challenger Janet Banks. Two aldermen seats are up for election, with a field of three candidates: challengers Tim Wise and Allen Alsbrooks and sitting Alderman Alderman Phillip Wight, who did not attend the forum.
While the candidates fielded questions on everything from Ghost Town to tourism, development has emerged as the central issue in this year's election, as it did in the town election two years ago when pro-planning candidates swept the ticket. At least one new face will be joining the town board, as Alderwoman Tammy Wight is not seeking re-election.
A video of the forum can be found at themountaineer.com.
Development along Jonathan Creek totaling around 300 new homes to three different subdivisions has been a source of controversy in Maggie. The newest, calling for 150 homes, was annexed into the town limits this month despite being four miles out J-Creek. Candidates were asked "Do you believe there is a cap on how far the town limits should be extended out J-Creek or whether the town should exert more controls on J-Creek development?"
"They've asked to be annexed by our town. They've followed all the rules. It fits in every criteria. Do I personally want to see farmland disappear to build subdivision? No. But as an alderman I have to respect the issues of the property owner and respect the plan that the town has put forth."
"For the most part, I disagree with how the town is growing. When you spot-annex a property that is four miles from your nearest border against the wishes of the neighbors, you're not governing, you're ruling. The people and the neighbors of those properties didn't want that to happen."
N.C. Rep. Mark Pless, R-Bethel, intervened in local politics this year by pushing a bill through the legislature that stripped the town of its ability to impose a moratoriums, down-zone a property or enforce zoning in its extra-territorial jurisdiction.
The two aldermen candidates at the forum were asked "Do you believe these actions were beneficial or harmful to the future of Maggie Valley?"
He agreed with Pless' actions and went one step further in saying the legislation should be a statewide rule.
"Having the ETJ stripped away from Maggie Valley is a good thing for the citizens who can't vote in our elections. They couldn't vote for the people who were laying the rules on them and that's my big problem with that. I think that should have been a statewide choice. If we can't have an ETJ, no one should have an ETJ, especially if you can't vote for the people you're being subjected to."
He opposes Pless' actions.
"It was bad for our town and sets a bad precedent. If the ETJ and short-term moratorium are bad practices, why aren't they bad for everybody? Waynesville and other municipalities across our state have an ETJ, but it's bad for Maggie. Why is that? I realize that the legislature has the right to tell the towns anything they want to do, but we should all follow the same rules. I think everyone in Maggie should be bothered by that."
Balancing tourism and residents
"Over the past 25 years, Maggie Valley's population has shifted from being dominated by tourists, then second-home owners, and now year-round residents. How does the town balance the priorities of these three demographics?"
"The first thing is to recognize what Maggie is. We're a top travel destination. We have nice hotels. We have fine restaurants. We have retail establishments. We have entertainment options. But we're also a place for working people and retired people. We're also a place where people live who may work somewhere else. Maggie is all of these things, and we need to embrace that. My plan is to have conversations with all of our chamber of commerce folks, our business owners, as well as our residents and travelers to find out what was done in the past and what ideas we might have going forward."
"That's a tough balance. It's our tourism that gives us our lifeblood because we don't have any other industry to offer. What industries do we want to attract to help offset our continued growth and our continued thrive-ability? How do we balance the people who have retired here and don't want anything at all? The only way we can do that is through continued communication with everyone — not just the people who like us, but the people who don't."
The two mayoral candidates present an interesting challenge for the voters of Maggie Valley. Both have similar stances, making it somewhat difficult to differentiate between the two.
Despite an unsuccessful campaign for mayor four years ago, Banks is no stranger to town government, having served on the town planing board. She said she is running to give Maggie "good, strong leadership."
"I think the voters deserve a choice — always deserve a choice. So, I stepped up to the plate," she said.
Eveland, meanwhile, is a familiar face having served as an aldermen prior to becoming mayor.
"My first four years as your mayor have been challenging at times," Eveland said. "We've stood our ground and have done the best for the folks that live here in Maggie Valley. I can say I'm not a perfect man, but have worked hard to live up to those ideas of those who came before me."
Banks hopes to bring in more opportunities for children and families to spend time in Maggie Valley.
"The platform I ran on four years ago contained a lot of ideas to move the town forward and the businesses forward and do things for children and families," Banks said. "I'd like to complete that mission during the next four years."
Banks said her strength is being able to listen to constituents and network with other towns.
"I have always been a good listener. I go out and talk to the people and find out their opinions and concerns on the issues. I think that's what differentiates me from my opponent," Banks said. "The other thing that I'm really good at is networking — with people in the community, with people in other municipal governments. I think it's very important that a mayor does this. I think it is also very important that the mayor represents the town as an ambassador to those other towns."
Eveland said he strives to move the town forward in a collaborative way despite some of the controversies that have plagued the town board over the past four years.
"We may have opposition at times with our ideas and some of the things we believe in, but at the end of the day, we work well together and we understand each other in terms of who we are and what we're about," he said. "I've always tried to be open-minded and tried to do the right thing. I've always listened to folks and, more times than not, you'll see me in the meetings and I don't have a lot of discussion to go along with the idea or the things that we're doing. Typically, I let the aldermen make the conversations and choices and that allows me to run the meeting, and I speak up when necessary."