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Commissioners delay action on gem mine attraction in Tracy Grove

Faced with conflicting opinions from neighbors and questions about what conditions the rezoning applicant would accept, the Henderson County commissioners Tuesday night delayed action on whether to allow a gemstone mine attraction in the Tracy Grove community at I-26.

Applicants Michelle and Matt Banz asked the county to rezone a 5.8-acre tract of land from R2R residential to conditional commercial for the business that would include a 6,336-square-foot building with offices and a gift shop. The attraction would have two recirculating gem mining flumes, walking trails, a picnic area, bus parking and 33 spaces in a paved parking lot. The family operates gem mines in Chimney Rock and Greenville, South Carolina, that they say are popular with families with young children, school groups and youth groups.

Commissioners said the rezoning request was like others they had seen that required them to balance an applicant’s property rights against opposition from surrounding property owners. Homeowners along Tracy Grove Road organized to oppose the rezoning, saying the gem mine would bring traffic, turnarounds in their driveways and urbanization that’s out of character with the country feel of the area.
“This is one of the more difficult issues we face, in trying to find a fair solution in two different zoning areas that have different requirements on them,” Commission Chair Grady Hawkins said. “We certainly understand property owners that are adjacent and the applicant.”
Dennis Dorn joined his neighbors in pointing out that I-26 represents a natural dividing line between commercial and residential land uses.
“When you cross the interstate bridge all the commercial is on that side,” he said. “That is definitely commercial. You cross over I-26 it’s totally residential. It’s farm homes, it’s apple orchards. I just totally feel like it doesn’t fit. There are a lot of parcels within a half mile, maybe three-quarters mile that would be a much better location for it.”
Attorney Brian Gulden, who represented homeowners who live near the property, urged the board to deny the request as a spot zoning forbidden under state law.
“It’s small tract surrounded by a vast area zoned R2R,” he said.
Other neighboring homeowners spoke in favor of the rezoning, however, saying a controlled use with minimal disruption would be better than a parade of unknowns if the property remains on the market. Although it’s primarily residential, the county’s R2R zone allows a variety of commercial uses such as storage buildings, campgrounds and dog kennels by right and other more objectionable uses as a conditional use with County Commission approval.
After a public hearing that lasted 75 minutes, Hawkins asked commissioners if they were prepared to vote or needed more time.
“You’ve got property owners on one side” that oppose the rezoning, Commissioner Bill Lapsley said. “You’ve got property that are adjacent on the other side that are supportive of it. I’d like to have some time to think some more about it.”
Commissioners seemed stumped on how to handle a series of conditions the Planning Board recommended for the rezoning, including hours of operation and a vaguely worded demand that the applicant protect homeowners from “any adverse effect.”
The board directed County Attorney Russ Burrell to draft language covering the proposed conditions. Under a change in state law within the past two months, Burrell said, the board can approve a conditional rezoning only when the applicant has signs off in writing on the conditions.