We were recently alerted to a new, proposed high-density development in Cashiers, NC, very near the headwaters of the Chattooga River. Cashiers Village II, LLC has proposed a major development that would be located on a predominantly steep and forested 55-acre tract at the southeast corner of the Hwy. 107 and Hwy. 64 intersection, known as “The Crossroads,” in the center of town. Cashiers Village II/”Cashiers Hillside,” would include a hotel, mixed use commercial buildings, and residential structures, altogether totaling 914 housing units and 1,473 parking spaces. The extensive land disturbance and leveling of the topography in this area, which includes a portion of Chattooga Ridge and is within 500 feet of the source waters of the Chattooga River, would present serious erosion and sedimentation risks to the river. As a recent and highly relevant example, the redevelopment of the nearby High Hampton property has resulted in substantial sedimentation into Fowler Creek, a formerly pristine tributary to the Chattooga in Cashiers.
Many in the Cashiers community were alarmed to learn of this proposed development only a few days before the Cashiers Community Planning Council’s public hearing about it on Nov. 16th. Represented by Roberts & Stevens, P.A., the Chattooga Conservancy allied with the Gana-Sita Property Owners Association and several others to challenge the developer’s Special Use Application at the public hearing. Our attorney successfully argued for more time to review the application and associated issues, and the Cashiers Community Planning Council granted a continuance to January 6th. The January 6th quasi-judicial public hearing before the Cashiers Planning Council was limited to evaluating, and approving or denying “standing” for all the individuals and groups who had requested it. A total of 9 individuals and 1 organization — the Chattooga Conservancy — were granted standing by the planning council, allowing us to participate fully in this issue.
What Does The Withdrawal Of The Cashier Hillside Development Application Mean?
Congratulations, again, to the community, and THANK YOU so much for all the support you’ve provided! The developer’s withdrawal of the application shows what can achieved when we all work together.
What’s next? The fight is not over! In his application withdrawal letter, the developer’s attorney made it clear that his client would be resubmitting a new plan in late March or April 2021. This means that we only have a short time to prepare for round two of this fight. We anticipate that the plan will not substantially change and will pose the same problems for the Cashiers community and the headwaters of the Chattooga River.
What can you do today?
- Donate to the Cashiers Legal Defense Fund. The legal defense fund was critical in building the resources necessary to pay for expert witness reviews and legal representation. With the new project submission expected in just a month or two, additional funds are needed! Funding will be used for independent experts, who can identify the negative impacts this project will have on Cashiers’ traffic, water, wastewater treatment, and water quality in Cashiers Lake and the Chattooga River. We cannot protect Cashiers through participating in these quasi-judicial hearings if we don’t have the financial resources to do so.
- While the application has been withdrawn, Jackson County staff are proposing “technical” amendments to the zoning code that are expected to remove the building cap size in Cashiers, which would make it easier for this developer to get approval of his next application. Specifically, the Jackson County attorney and Planning Department staff feel that the inclusion of a 5,000 sq. ft. building size limit in the current ordinance was a “mistake.” Nonetheless, this building size limit is part of the ordinance as adopted by the Jackson County Commission and is consistent with the guidance in the Cashiers Small Area Plan. Contact Members of the Cashiers Planning Council and Jackson County Commissioners and let them know that you oppose removing the building size cap in Cashiers. The zoning rules should not be changed during the middle of the game to benefit an out-of-town developer. Contact the Cashiers Council Members and Jackson County Commissioners and let them know that you oppose removing the building size cap in Cashiers!
- On Monday, March 22nd at 9am, the Cashiers Planning Council will be holding a public meeting (via Zoom) where the council is anticipated to propose removing the current building size limits altogether! Please attend this meeting to voice your opposition to removing the current building size limits, and ask that they instead start a community process that will comprehensively look at whether changes to the code are necessary.
To simply delete the 5,000 sq. ft. building size limit without adopting substitute building size limits would be a big mistake, from the perspective of good planning, good zoning, and maintaining the existing character of Cashiers as it grows. Instead, ask that the Cashiers Planning Council move forward with the better alternative of beginning the process of amending the ordinance to provide for alternative building size limits consistent with the “shall be small in scale” provision of the ordinance and the vision of the Cashiers Small Area Plan, and that this process include full community involvement.
February 11, 2021 Update:
At the end of a long day of quasi-judicial proceedings on January 25th, the developer proposed revising the Cashiers Hillside development plans to reduce the density of some of the residential portions of the project. The changes were such that the Jackson County Planning Dept. would not have been able to review the proposed revisions by the next scheduled February 22nd quasi-judicial hearing. Then on February 9th, the developer notified Jackson County that they were withdrawing their current application for a special use permit for the Cashiers Hillside development. This latest news is the result of strong community participation, and demands that the developer and Cashiers Planning Council follow the rules—thank you!
This news is encouraging, BUT the developer has stated that “We look forward to renewing our request for development approval in the very near future,” and a new plan application is expected this spring. In preparation for a forthcoming plan, we will continue to work with partners in the Cashiers community to strengthen the arguments against this massive development. Contributions to the Cashiers Legal Defense Fund are needed to continue this work!
Meanwhile, we are asking the public to keep up the pressure and continue to follow the latest:
Contact members of the Cashiers Planning Council to talk to them about your thoughts on why the developer’s proposal was so dangerous for Cashiers.
The Cashiers Planning Council and Jackson County Planning Board are expected to propose amending the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) regarding guidelines for total square feet and building footprint, to resolve discrepancies with previously approved buildings that exceed the current UDO guidelines, such as the Boys & Girls Club and a building on the Village Green. The amendment process is expected to include a push for bigger buildings. Email or call the County Commissioners, the County Planning Board members, and the Cashiers Planning Council members to let them know that any amendments to the Cashiers zoning ordinance need to be carefully considered and should not eliminate building size limits. If the 5000 square foot building size limit were to be amended, it should be done in a way that recognizes the differences between civic buildings, retail buildings, hotels, parking decks, apartments, condominiums, townhomes, and single family detached houses. It should also do more to recognize the difference between the true village center and its low-slope areas and steeper slope areas that are on the perimeter of the true village center. This legislative process is expected to start in March with a Cashiers Planning Council public meeting. Please be prepared to participate!
- Three Cashiers Planning Council members’ terms are expiring in May, which will create the opportunity for new members to serve and bring new perspectives to the table.
We are also suggesting that residents of Cashiers consider incorporation. Controversies like the Cashiers Hillside fight often mobilize communities to organize and incorporate, to allow more local control by empowering citizens to elect a local representative government (mayor, city council members). The incorporation process takes time, but this could have a major impact on how future development proposals are handled in Cashiers.
Thank you again to all who have contributed to the Cashiers Legal Defense Fund to help fight the proposed Cashiers Hillside development! Check back here for updates, subscribe to our Chattooga Currents newsletter for regular program updates and action alerts by email, and visit Develop Cashiers Responsibly for additional links of interest and more!
January 25th Hearing Update:
On January 25th, the Cashiers Planning Council heard arguments on the merits of the proposed Cashiers Hillside development. The “quasi-judicial” hearing started with our attorney, John Noor of Roberts & Stevens P. A., making a motion for the head of the Cashiers Planning Council to recuse himself due to a purported conflict of interest, and another motion to dismiss the developer’s application altogether because it violated provisions of Jackson County’s Unified Development Code. Both motions were dismissed. Then, after a presentation by the Jackson County planning staff, one of the developer’s design team members testified at length about how the massive project was perfectly suited for the Cashiers community. Our attorney, John Noor of Roberts & Stevens P. A., cross-examined him for a while, when it was revealed that some last minute changes to the development plans were in the works.
The head developer Stephen Macauley testified next, and announced that [at the last minute] he was planning to reduce the density of some of the residential portions of the proposed development, but claimed that drawings and other such details were not ready yet. Mr. Macauley also said that he now had stormwater, sewer and earth-grading plans in hand (to date, we have not been provided with these documents). The Cashiers Planning Council allowed the hearing process to proceed; however, note that it is highly irregular and unusual for a special use development application to be allowed to undergo major changes midway in the quasi-judicial hearing process.