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LIGHTNING EDITORIAL: Comp Plan 2045 presents opportunity for solutions

It’s hard to divine at this point the ultimate meaning of the populist uprising over land-use at a meeting of the Henderson County Board of Commissioners on Sept. 6.

Traffic patterns — and highway hazards — come to mind:

  • Either the population at large is on a collision course with two commissioners’ crusade to deregulate land-use;
  • Or two or more trains of thought are merging into a more or less harmonious one-way avenue to manage growth, contain sprawl and conserve land.

Although Commissioner David Hill’s successful campaign to deregulate how many storage units homeowners can place on their property could be a one-off, Hill is on the record as a skeptic about land-use regulations in general. After commissioners endured a withering barrage of admonition and condemnation about what a poorly crafted 2045 comprehensive land-use plan could mean for apple farms, open land, traffic and pollution in that Sept. 6 meeting, Hill alone raised the banner of property rights.

“This is not an easy task, to control growth,” he said. “We have to respect people’s property rights. This is America. You know, we do have rights and government is not to come in and overrun those rights.”

It’s not all bad that someone on the board speaks for landowners’ rights. Hill’s property rights advocacy would have been a welcome tonic when commissioners forced 70-some heavy-handed conditions on developers who sought a rezoning to allow the Tap Root dairy subdivision.

Commissioner Michael Edney’s proposal to eliminate restrictions on construction in floodplains in commercial zones has quietly vanished — at least for now. In any case, it must have been impossible for commissioners to ignore the cocked eyebrows and murmurs from the conservation caucus, stormwater engineers and emergency management experts.

“Many of us disagree with Commissioner Hill about the rights of the individual taking precedent over anyone else’s rights,” retiree Joe Elliott told commissioners during public comment time in their Aug. 17 meeting. “Chipping away at the land development code is not what we need. We want strong rules that will guide growth and development in the future.”

If we avoid a collision course between laissez-faire policy and the populist demand for strong growth management, maybe we will instead blaze a path to common ground. There’s evidence that could be taking shape. At a Comp Plan 2045 public input meeting on Monday night, Edneyville farmers and other residents got a glimpse at a farmland conservation idea. It has a cool acronym — APPLE, for Agriculture Preservation & Protection of Land and Economy. Like all good ideas, APPLE has many fathers, among them Mark Williams, the AgHC leader, and his board of directors. On a parallel track, state Rep. Tim Moffitt is in the process of drafting a statewide bill to create a program to protect farmland from development.

This fork in the road from an outdated land-use plan to a new one has also given rise to talk of another good idea — a Henderson County land conservation fund. There are numerous models around the state and country of how one could work; interest groups are sure to pitch plenty of ideas of what a land conservation fund could pay for. Let’s blue-sky a handful. If we’d put the words farmland protection, Ecusta Trail, Saluda Grade Trail, flood prevention and pickleball in the ballot question, the measure would pass overwhelmingly. Too broad? Maybe.

But big ideas, solutions to the problems that come with our inevitable growth and the imperative to drive safely in the same direction — that is where we stand today. As they enter the decision-making stage of a plan to guide growth, the economy and quality of life for next 20 years, elected leaders ought to identify and embrace common goals and stamp the plan with the words to enact them.