Details must be ironed out in Assembly, Waynesville merger

By Vicki Hyatt | Mar 13, 2013
Photo by: Vicki Hyatt Marcy Onieal, Waynesville town manager, and Buddy Young, long-time director of Lake Junaluska Public Works, share a laugh following the Assembly board of director vote in favor of voluntary annexation.

As Lake Junaluska Assembly moves toward annexation with Waynesville, there’s a number of details that will need to be worked out.

The specifics won’t be part of the enabling legislation, however. Waynesville Town Manager Marcy Onieal said the bill is being introduced by Sen. Jim Davis, and Rep. Joe Sam Queen, the two legislators that represent both Waynesville and Lake Junaluska. The proposed legislation is modeled after other annexation statutes and simply includes language that extends the Waynesville boundaries.

While there is an anti-annexation sentiment in the General Assembly, many agree, leaders from both the lake and the town say a voluntary annexation measure, especially one supported by the local legislators, should pass without a problem.

Passing the bill won't be the end of the process, Onieal said, because there's plenty of other issues to discuss — things such as what streets are included, the various zoning requirements that state law requires to be adopted within six months and the citizen participation. Those details will be spelled out in a memorandum of understanding that will be developed jointly by the two entities.

Lake Junaluska Assembly Executive Director Jack Ewing often compares to the new form of governance at the lake to that of a college campus operates. The annexed area would encompass residences, privately owned property and all the Lake Junaluska Assembly property, including the dam and the lake. However, the Assembly-owned holdings will not be taxable as they are part of a religious organization. Instead, the  Assembly will submit a payment in lieu of taxes — an amount to be worked out in the memorandum of understanding. The Assembly is also responsible for maintaining both the lake and the dam as well as its other properties.

Some people have speculated that the recreation spaces would become a town of Waynesville owned park, but this is not correct, said Lake Junaluska Assembly Marketing Director Ken Howle. The public areas that are now part of the Assembly would continue to be under the organization’s control, much as is the property of a college campus within a community. The town would control only that which is mutually agreed upon.

Onieal said many in Lake Junaluska are already active on boards and committees within the town, and anticipates that the Assembly’s community council would continue to function.

“We’re not trying to change the character of Lake Junaluska in any way,” Onieal said. “That’s why it will be important for the community council elected by the property owners to remain active.”

Some of those opposing the annexation dislike the permanency and fear the unique community that's formed around the lake will be lost.

Onieal said technically it is possible to reverse an annexation process, though it would be hard to do and would require legislative approval to reverse the act.

As for the community, the majority of those who responded to surveys and weighed in on the issue say the future will be more secure by being part of a larger entity.

Ron Clauser, chairman of the committee that studied and conducted meetings about the governance options for the past year, said the annexation would allow the assembly and its staff to focus on its core mission "to be a place of Christian hospitality where lives are transformed through renewal of soul, mind and body."

As the Assembly moves forward in its expansion plan, Clauser spoke of the importance of the capital campaign facing the community.

"By being part of Waynesville, it is possible that more people will support the campaign," he said.

The board acknowledge the philosophical division the annexation discussion had created, and even those who opposed the nature acknowledged the need to work together to solve the issue. Paul Starnes, who spoke at a Thursday meeting on behalf of those opposing annexation, explained there is a lot of "raw emotion" connected to this issue, which must be dealt with.

"We are a Christian community," Starnes said. "Our faith calls us to respond with respect and love."