Lake Junaluska, Waynesville to merge
LAKE JUNALUSKA — At a Friday meeting, the Lake Junaluska Assembly board of directors overwhelmingly supported merging with Waynesville.
The decision is a culmination of a year-long study effort, and one that also has the blessings of a municipal study task force, the Assembly community council, the Assembly Public Works Committee and the Waynesville Board of Aldermen.
The board's action came on the heels of a community meeting held Thursday where more than 100 lake residents showed up to hear the results of the property owner survey on the issue.
The next step will be a final vote expected on Tuesday from the Waynesville governing board to weigh in on the assembly resolution. The deadline to officially introduce the legislation making annexation possible is Wednesday, March 13.
Waynesville Town Manager Marcy Onieal said the bill will include the standard legislative language that extends the town's boundaries to include the area encompassed by the Lake Junaluska Assembly community.
Any agreements on how the annexation will be implemented will be spelled out in a Memorandum of Understanding to be hammered out between the leadership of both entities.
A second vote of the Assembly board approved the annexation effective date as Aug. 31, 2013, and the third vote asked that the Town of Waynesville governing board adopt a resolution in support of the Assembly motion requesting annexation. An additional request put forth by board member Bishop Larry Goodpaster asking the Assembly officials to take proactive steps to heal the hurt relationships and brokenness that has arisen within the community during the year-long study process passed unanimously. Goodpaster suggested going so far as to bring in professionals if necessary.
"We need to move forward in a Christian way and find ways to bring about reconciliation," he said.
Property owners have mixed feelings
At the Thursday community meeting, Lake Junaluska Assembly Executive Director Jack Ewing presented the survey results showing that 65 percent of the respondents agree or strongly agree that merging with Waynesville is the preferred alterative for a future governance model.
Surveys were sent out to 811 property owners asking if they were aware of the task force’s work and how they heard about it. The last question asked those owning lake property to rank their response in five ways — strongly agree, agree, undecided, disagree or strongly disagree. The three-part question asked whether respondents were comfortable with remaining an unincorporated community; pursuing incorporation as a stand-alone municipality or pursuing voluntary annexation with the town of Waynesville.
The 60 percent survey response rate was one that far exceeded expectations, Ewing said, who noted the survey conclusions are only a part of the year-long study about the assembly’s future.
The assembly board of directors formed a community task force to thoroughly study future options — a move prompted by the costly infrastructure needs facing property owners, particularly for water and sewer lines. The task force has met 10 times to consider options, and Ewing said the focus has primarily been on the annexation options for two reasons.
The legislative time frame to consider incorporation required a November decision while the voluntary annexation option can still be pursued this year as part of the regular General Assembly session this year. If this year’s deadline is missed, the process will be delayed two years.
Doing nothing, said Buddy Young, director of Lake Junaluska Public Works, is a poor option. A fair estimate of the cost of needed work is $6 million, but a cobbled together approach to cover immediate is conservatively pegged at $1.8 million. The lowest figure possible was used when the information sheet accompanying the homeowner surveys was sent out. That comparison showed the cost to illustrate the cost difference for three options was based on a home valued at $200,000 using 5,000 gallons of water per month.
The annual cost for staying as is and doing minimal improvements was $1,821; incorporating as a town would cost $1,632 and being annexed into Waynesville would cost $1,261.
The information explained that without being part of a formal governance unit, there is no ability to borrow funds so payments can be spread out over time. Additionally, the Assembly would not be eligible for federal or state grants, loans or purchasing contracts if no governance change was made, and instead would have to accomplish improvements on a pay-as-you-go basis.
Fears of identity loss
Following Ewing’s explanation of the process and the survey results presentation, those in the community were invited to speak. While there were several supporting the annexation option, many expressed concern the process was moving too fast and feared Lake Junaluska would lose its identity if it were absorbed into Waynesville.
Chris Derrick, an Asheville attorney who lives at the lake, questioned whether the resident survey process was adequate to satisfy the General Assembly’s requirements that an annexation be voluntary.
The board and the assembly do not have the authority to represent property owners, Derrick said, and maintained the legislators would instead be looking for a straight up or down vote on annexation.
Task force member Joe Stowe, Jr., countered that 60 percent of the lake’s property owners are part-time residents, and as such, aren’t registered to vote in Haywood and wouldn't be part of a formal election on the issue.
Derrick said the nonfiscal costs of annexation were too high and likened it to the story where Esau sold his birthright to Jacob (Genesis 25) for a bowl of stew.
“Waynesville is getting a public park and what we are giving up is our heritage,” he said.
Ron Clauser, who chaired the task force, stopped short of calling the many breaks along the road to annexation divine intervention, but said windows of opportunity certainly opened when they needed to.
Paul Starnes said he retired to Lake Junaluska to enjoy his neighbors, not quarrel with them. He started out favoring annexation, but said had second thoughts when he heard the raw emotions of those opposing the measure — "the grief that something is dying" — that he decided to be the voice of those who didn't feel they were being heard.
A suggestion he said he didn't believe was seriously explored was one of merging with the Junaluska Sanitary District, or perhaps for the Assembly to form its own sanitary district.
"We need time to fully explore options," he said.
Jack King said he was bothered because the decision for annexation seemed to be purely based on financial need.
"We ought to be responsible for ourselves," he said, asking the question that if money wasn't an issue, would annexation still be pursued?
He, too, pleaded for more time not only to work through solutions, but to reconcile and heal. While there may be a window of opportunity to move forward, is doing so swiftly more valuable than the spiritual reconciliation that could occur by slowing down, he asked.
"Our historical tradition and heritage does not support annexation," he said.
Task force member Mary Allen Conforti was the lone dissenting vote against annexation, preferring incorporation instead.
At the meeting, she said her main opposition to annexation was its permanency. In minutes from the task force meeting, Conforti said incorporation would require a strong sense of enthusiasm from fellow property owners.
“I will not stand in the way of annexation,” the minutes quote Conforti as saying, “but I choose to believe that Lake Junaluska does have the people, the skills and the potential to become its own municipality.”