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Lake Junaluska may be in for big changes

Questions of annexation, incorporation discussed in study
By Stina Sieg | Mar 14, 2012
The Waynesville Mountaineer

LAKE JUNALUSKA "” Since 1913, Lake Junaluska has been a treasured spot for people to spend their summers, go to camp, attend conferences or even live year-round. It has long been considered a special place but it has never, officially, been a town. That could soon change.

As the lake nears its 100th year, those living in the unincorporated community that surrounds are being asked to weigh in on the future. A study has outlined four options: become an incorporated town, be annexed by a neighboring town (Waynesville being the logical choice), transfer control of water and sewer to Waynesville "” or to simply leave things be.

These are not easy questions, admitted Lake Junaluska Assembly Executive Director Jack Ewing, but they are important. It's not clear if Ewing himself has an opinion on the matter, but he stressed it wouldn't matter anyway. The ones with the deciding power here are community's property owners and the assembly's board of directors.

"This is such an important decision for the community of Lake Junaluska," Ewing said. "It's going to require the agreement and support of the community, even though we're an unincorporated community."

He added that his goal is to make sure that everyone who cares about the place understands the decisions it's facing. That's why he recently commissioned the study on all these questions. Available for the public to view online, the study gives the pros and cons of each potential decision with no whiff of a slant one way or the other. The question of cost is conspicuously absent, which was intentional. Ewing explained he wanted to give community members a big-picture view of the situation before delving into cost concerns.

"If the community decides to stay the stay we are, we just want them to understand the significance of what that choice means," he said.

Though in essence that would keep the status quo, Lake Junaluska property owners would end up seeing new costs come their way as the community's aging infrastructure underwent predicted, pricey repairs. Property owners already pay "service charges," which act like town tax and provide funding for streetlights, streets, storm drainage, security and administration. If things stay the same, these charges could increase substantially.

While incorporated towns have funds available for such repairs, Lake Junaluska, and other unincorporated communities like it, has no such money. Becoming a recognized town or part of Waynesville would change all that, while not affecting the Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center. The Southeastern Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church would still run it, but the church would have no direct governance over the rest of the community. Depending on whether annexation or incorporation was chosen, Lake Junaluska would have its own governing body or would fall under Waynesville's jurisdiction.

Ewing is bringing up the issue now because he wants to address repair needs before they arise and the community's property owners are suddenly stuck with a big bill.

He and other community leaders don't want to be "reactive to a crises," he said. "We want to be proactive in as best a manner you can."

From an outsider's perspective, annexation or incorporation might seem like logical steps, but anyone intimately acquainted with Lake Junaluska knows that such big changes are sure to cause controversy. Buddy Young, the assembly's director of public works, explained that this subject is bound to be touchy for residents, especially when it comes to the question of annexation.

"This will be an emotional issue as much as a financial issue in this community," he said.

Though these decisions are hard, Young praised Ewing for discussing them. These issues have been mentioned on and off for years, but it took Ewing's initiative to bring them to the forefront recently.

"This is the direct result of the leadership of Jack Ewing, challenging staff to think strategically and look at the big picture," he said.

Whether locals appreciate this out-of-the-box thinking as much as Young will remain to be seen. Ewing, who visited the lake for decades before he moved there, said that he understood the fear associated with such big, potential changes.

If Lake Junaluska officially becomes part of Waynesville, "people would feel a sense of loss," Ewing admitted.

In the long run, however, he can't imagine Lake Junaluska would really lose its identity. Like Hazelwood and countless other incorporated towns across the area, his beloved lakeside community would mostly stay the same in the face of annexation or incorporation, Ewing explained. He sounded sure of it.

In his words, "It will always be Lake Junaluska" "” no matter what happens next.

For more information on potential changes at Lake Junaluska, view a recent study athttp://www.lakejunaluska.com/community-plans/.

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