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County denies rezoning for Tracy Grove gem mine

Henderson County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday denied a rezoning request to allow a gem mine attraction on Tracy Grove after the applicant indicated to the county that he could not accept the conditions that would limit the development.


County Attorney Russ Burrell recommended that commissioners take no action unless the applicant had agreed to the conditions. Commissioners had proposed 12 conditions, four of which the applicants could not support, Commissioner Bill Lapsley said. That being the case, Chairman Grady Hawkins made the motion to deny the rezoning request. Applicants Michelle and Matt Banz did not attend Wednesday's meeting of the Board of Commissioners and had indicated they would not attend.

Lapsley did not describe the 12 conditions or the four that the applicants had rejected. In the Sept. 3 meeting of the board, Matt Banz said the gem mine business would not be viable if it had to close at 6 p.m., a condition commissioners supported.

The Banzes 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 said are popular with families with young children, school groups and youth groups.

More than a dozen homeowners opposed the rezoning in a public hearing on Sept. 3 and again on Wednesday, saying that a tourist attraction drawing traffic, noise and night-time activity was incompatible with the rural residential area on Tracy Grove Road north of I-26.

Dennis Dorn, a homeowner near the property, said as a commercial developer when he shops for land for building he looks first at the surrounding zoning to make sure “it fits the area.

“You guys did a good job, spending thousands of dollars, putting commercial zoning where it belongs and residential zoning where it belongs. We need to put commercial where it belong and residential where it belongs.” The gem mine is not compatible with the surrounding area, he added, because “because of the safety issue, the roads, the devaluation of property.”
Brian Gulden, an attorney who represented homeowners opposing the rezoning, said the county’s comprehensive land-use plan requires that rezoning “shall be determined by the Dana community plan.” That plans shows commercial expansion on Upward Road and Sugarloaf Road but not on Tracy Grove Road north of the interstate highway.