By Kristin Fox
President Abraham Lincoln once said: “The best way to predict the future is to create it yourself.” Like other areas of Western North Carolina, facing growth and change is certain for Cashiers. Rather than growing by default, the Cashiers community has taken steps to control future growth making the choice “to create” or grow by design.
At the recent work session of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, representatives from Cashiers gave the board an update on the Cashiers Community Collaborative, created upon the recommendation of the Urban Land Institute Advisory Services Panel. Stephanie Edwards, Executive Director, and Glenn Ubertino, President, of the Cashiers Area Chamber represented Cashiers with the update to the board. Ubertino also serves as the Chair for the Cashiers Area Community Planning Council and the Cashiers Community Collaborative.
Sponsored by the Cashiers Area Chamber, the ULI Panel began their work in Cashiers in February by conducting in-person interviews and meetings with local residents, business owners and other Cashiers stakeholders. The program brought nationally-recognized professionals to Cashiers for an unbiased, expert analysis of local planning and development opportunities and challenges.
The mission of the ULI Panel is to provide leadership in the responsible use of land and in creating and sustaining thriving communities worldwide. The advisory services program conducts panels on a variety of real estate and land use subjects providing independent objective, candid advice on important land use and real estate issues.
“It was a privilege to meet so many people who care about the health and character of their community,” said ULI Panel Chair Ed McMahon. “Going forward, the real question for the Cashiers area is not whether it will grow and change, but how. Progress does not demand degraded surroundings. With high standards and a dedicated citizenry, Cashiers can grow without losing the places and characteristics that people love.”
In May 2021, the ULI Advisory Services Panel released their final report on Cashiers. The panel made five major recommendations: (1) Create a long-term conservation plan to permanently protect critical natural areas, steep slopes, green spaces and scenic views; (2) Build a robust network of pathways, trails, and sidewalks to promote walkability within the village core; (3) Work with state and county government to accelerate construction of critical infrastructure, including transportation, broadband, water and sewer; (4) Create an organization focused on bringing in more diverse housing (both for sale and rental) to address critical workforce housing needs; and (5) Work proactively with major landowners to ensure development respects local values and community character in scale, design and architecture.
Following the panel’s recommendation, the Cashiers Community Collaborative was created. The primary mission of the collaborative is to build affordable housing and mixed-use development, and its secondary mission is to coordinate the specific infrastructure projects identified by the other organizations. The collaborative is a nonprofit community development corporation created to identify and manage funding options for the purchase and lease of diverse products in an expanded housing market. Building attainable housing and promoting mixed-use development will help to address the critical workforce needs in Cashiers.
The purpose of the collaborative is not to duplicate the efforts of the many not-for-profit and quasi-governmental entities in Cashiers and Jackson County, but rather to build affordable mixed-income and mixed-use projects. The Village Green, the Summit Charter School, the Boys and Girls Club, the library, and other community initiatives are successful examples of a spirit and willingness to invest in the community.
“We look forward to working with community stakeholders in the future to ensure we address inevitable growth with proactive strategies that, as the ULI Panel advises, ‘ensures the qualities that have made Cashiers special will not be diminished,’” said Ubertino.
In June, the first Cashier Community Collaborative organizational meeting was held with representation of the Cashiers Area Community Planning Council, Chamber Board, Cashiers Historical Society, Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust, Develop Cashiers Responsibly and Vision Cashiers. Priorities were established so that financial and other assistance from local, state and federal governments and other funding sources will be solicited in a unified manner to avoid biased competition. Additional stakeholders and supporters will be invited to participate in the initiative as plan details develop.
“Our purpose of this group is to be unified in our efforts particularly as it relates to funding and community projects,” said Edwards. “We agreed early on the plans should be well coordinated as we move forward. We hope to eliminate competing or confusing priorities especially when coming before the board.
The collaborative will provide periodic updates publicly via email, media outlets and presented at monthly Cashiers planning council meeting typically held on the fourth Monday at 5:00 p.m. at the Albert Carlton Cashiers Community Library. For more information, see Jackson County Planning Department jacksonnc.org.
A digital version of the ULI Advisory Services Panel – Cashiers NC publication is available at www.CashiersAreaChamber.com.