Lake Junaluska divisions about the future still linger

By Vicki Hyatt | Aug 01, 2014

Though residents at Lake Junaluska have been discussing their future form of governance for more than three years, the issue is still an contentious one, as was evidenced by a property owners meeting earlier this month.

In one of two regular meetings held each year by the Lake Junaluska Property Owners Organization, a resolution proposing to explore other options than annexation lead to a raucous discussion in the Christian community.

The meeting turned so unruly that even the proposal’s author, the Rev. Paul Starnes (ret.) ceased participating.

“When I made the proposal, something akin to a riot erupted,” Starnes said. “I really was shocked. I was making it in a conciliatory spirit to arrive at some consensus that was larger than what we have now.”

Starnes said he raised the issue near the end of the homeowners meeting in an attempt to further explore options other than annexation — the direction now being pursued as Lake Junaluska attempts to find a way to address aging infrastructure and other issues in the residential community of about 750.

His resolution suggested a renewed effort to convince the Southeastern Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church to reverse its decision that ceased financial support of the lake and only now contributes funds to retire debt.

“I would have liked to see them meet with SEJAC to make a passionate plea,” Starnes said in a phone interview. “They’ve supported it for over 100 years. I would like to find a way to continue Lake Junaluska as a genuine Methodist community where the church makes the rules, not the town.”

Starnes said the easiest money he raised as a pastor was for Lake Junaluska, and believes a grassroots effort to reconnect with Methodist churches in the conference would lead to more financial support.

Starnes' resolution suggested further discussions with the Lake Junaluska Sanitary District, using a private contractor for garbage services and asking whether the county commissioners would fill in gaps regarding road maintenance and law enforcement.

Jack Ewing,  Lake Junaluska Assembly executive director, speculated that the lack of a solution after all this time is adding to friction.

“Like all communities, even though we are somewhat unique in our makeup, we don’t hold exactly the same opinions on every topic, and this was an example of where people expressed them intensely,” he said.

Although the security was asked to stand by after the discussion heated up, Ewing said they never entered the room.

Ed LaFountain, chairman of the homeowners association, said all viable options to annexation were considered,. He noted after the annexation bill didn’t pass the General Assembly last year, a group was established to address issues of reconciliation and look at options that might be available.

“Unequivocally, individuals who opposed annexation didn’t bring any of those to the table,” he said.

LaFountain said there will always be people who disagree about issues and predicted that it will be difficult for healing and unity to be achieved if a minority persists in preventing the community from moving forward.

“We’re very interested in finding the best way ahead and to have a infrastructure here that will support Lake Junaluska Assembly, the conference center and the homeowners over the next 100 years,” he said. I don’t believe it is possible for our community to do nothing. That is to ensure the community will fail.”

Starnes was stunned with the chain of events his remarks set off and said through his 41 years as a pastor, he never developed a thick skin. While he still thinks the time between now and the next legislative session could be well spent trying to find a solution to heal the divide, he’s not likely to lead the charge.

“I didn’t retire here fight with my neighbors,” he said. “I retired here to be part of a Christian community.”