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Edney proposes sweeping changes to zoning code

Big changes in zoning would be in place if the Henderson County Board of Commissioners were to accept recommendations by one of its own.

Commissioner Michael Edney announced last week his support for proposed zoning code changes that would vastly expand where residential uses would be permitted, eliminate an “antiquated” one-acre zoning category and eliminate conditional-use zoning. In a reference to the East Flat Rock asphalt plant, Edney also said he wanted to amend the county’s rules to prevent zoning applicants from repeatedly filing and then withdrawing rezoning requests.

Commission Chair Bill Lapsley said the board took no action to send the ideas to the Planning Board for review.
“We were not aware of these until he read them,” he said. “It hadn’t been brewing. I think we were all somewhat surprised when he brought them up. We didn’t give any direction to send it to the Planning Board. We didn’t vote on it.”

Apparently there was a miscommunication.

The Edney proposals did go to the Planning Board, which was scheduled to talk about them at its regular meeting on Thursday.



Housing in any zone

“I think single-wide manufactured homes are an entry level into home ownership and the way we’re zoned right now there are not many places where they could go at all,” Edney said last week at a regular board meeting. “I’m not suggesting you can put a singlewide beside a mansion in Flat Rock. If someone owns some industrial zoned property, instead of going back through all the process of rezoning why can’t you put a singlewide an area that’s zoned industrial.”
Commissioners created a problem by zoning rural land for industrial use in an attempt to attract manufacturing, Edney said.
“I want to change the ordinance to allow residential structure in any zone,” he said. Years ago, on Upward Road and McMinn Road, for instance, “We zoned some stuff industrial because that’s kind of what we wanted but then the landowners wanted to come let grandkids live there so we changed it back to” residential zoning. “I’ve got no problem allowing a residential home in an industrial zoned area if that’s what the folks want to do if they own the property. If you owned it and don’t have any plans of selling it and you want to keep it in the family, put a house trailer, whatever, there, why not?”
The R-40 zone is duplicated elsewhere in the zoning code, Edney said.
“That’s antiquated pre-code. It only applies to certain part of the county,” he said. “It’s the only one-acre lot and basically it was (created for) Flat Rock and then Flat Rock incorporated.”

‘Negotiating with developers just looks bad’

Commissioners have made use increasingly of conditional zoning that gives the board the authority to extract concessions from applicants.
“I want to do away with conditional zoning altogether,” Edney said. “It’s been nothing but a nightmare and a headache between asphalt plants and Tap Root dairy. It puts this board in a position of negotiating with developers and it just looks bad.
“We can define the zoning areas — either you’re in or you’re out. If you open up and allow folks to build houses wherever they want to, that does away with that and it doesn’t put us in a position of (negotiating with developers). We’re going to be accused of being bought off anyway, no matter what, but with conditional zoning, it allows for that appearance.”
Commissioners OK’d the Tap Root rezoning after the developer agreed to more than 70 conditions relating to everything from street widths to parking to a clubhouse and pool.
“We eliminated some of the hazards that are actually in River Stone with regard to the narrow roads and the parking,” Commissioner Rebecca McCall said. “This wouldn’t give us that option.”
“So when you define your districts,” Edney responded, “you define the things that are important to you — the setbacks, all that sort of stuff. Here’s what the rules are going in instead of making them up as we go.”

‘Not right to be held hostage’

Earlier in the June 7 meeting, an East Flat Rock resident, Terrie Garren, called for the zoning code change that Edney later recommended. Neighboring homeowners mounted an intensive campaign to oppose the rezoning request for the asphalt plant, only to have applicant Jeff Shipman withdraw it twice days before a vote of the Board of Commissioners.
“It's not right to hold a community hostage continuously,” Garren said. “We're giving our time, our money — we're paying our taxes. We are good citizens living in this town and we don't feel like we should be held hostage over his situation or anybody else's. It's not right for them to be allowed to play games with our lives. Henderson County should have in place rules to protect us all."
Edney proposes a rule change to “add a provision that you can only withdraw your application one time as a freebie. If you withdraw it a second time you’re treated as if it was denied or something to avoid this in-and-out sort of thing.”
County Attorney Russ Burrell, who had researched how other counties treat withdrawn applications, found a model from Guilford County that Henderson County could adopt.
“If you withdraw it a second time you treat it as if it had failed on a vote and that time period (to refile) might be two years instead of the current one,” he said.
In an interview later, Edney said he did not intend for the ideas to be incorporated into the comprehensive plan rewrite, which is just getting started and will take more than a year.
“I’m saying these are things we’re going to be dealing with hopefully in the next few months,” he said. “I think those things have got to be addressed by the Planning Board. We need their input and suggestions and recommendation. They may come up with things I haven’t thought about and change my mind.”