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MountainTrue pans comp plan draft

The environmental organization MountainTrue has issued a pointed critique of Henderson County's draft 2045 comprehensive plan, rebuking Planning Board for making a series of edits that it says weakens environmental protection and land conservations and retreats from a broader commitment to farm preservation.

In its Dec. 5 meeting, the Board of Commissioners held a public hearing on the recommended draft of a new land-use plan intended to guide growth for the next 25 years. Commissioners acknowledged that they needed more time to absorb dozens of changes the Planning Board had made before it voted to recommend the plan on Dec. 1.

In a 1,880 open letter to the commissioners, Mountain True Southern Regional Director Nancy Diaz made numerous recommendations after working with MountainTrue staff and volunteers "to analyze the shortcomings of the current draft of the Henderson County Comprehensive Plan," the organization's communications director said.

Among the points:

  • The comp plan "weakens the hand of the county" by retreating from stronger farmland protection goals. The Planning Board's final pass inched away from an earlier draft's commitment to create agricultural conservation easements, substituting a recommendation to “consider the creation” of a fund. "The 'consideration' of a farmland preservation fund was proposed in the last Comprehensive Plan," Mountain True noted. "It’s time for the County to adopt more ambitious and committed wording."
  • The Planning Board draft backed away from encouraring “the preservation of open space and conservation areas" by protecting steep slopes, again amending the wording "to just 'consider encouraging.'"
  • A policy to "adopt best practice design standards for new construction within the Wildland Urban Interface” was downgraded to an “encouragement.”
  • In a “History of the County” section, the new draft dropped a reference to the Cherokee and Catawba tribes and to the “forcible relocation” of Native Americans westward via the Trail of Tears. "As a result, the Planning Board has taken an acknowledgment of a shameful chapter in our nation’s history and erased it completely," the letter said. "While intentions may not have been to hide, MountainTrue would not want the County to appear to be obscuring this part of our history."
  • The proposed plan does too little to protect farmland and open space from commercial and industrial intrusion. "Despite strong support for the preservation of open space and working farmlands, the designated suitable areas (for commercial use) include sensitive natural areas, prime farmland, and key transition zones between protected lands and low-density residential areas," MountainTrue says.
  • The Planning Board on Dec. 1 deleted the comp plan's only mention of climate change, ignoring the fact that the region is "experiencing more frequent, extreme rain events — what used to be classified as '100-year floods' are now happening every five or ten years," the nonprofit said. "At the other extreme, when droughts do occur, they are expected to be hotter and longer, increasing the risks of a repeat of the destructive wildfires of 2016 — which forced the evacuation of 1,000 people in the areas of Bat Cave, Chimney Rock, and Lake Lure." The dropped sentence read: “As the frequency of extreme weather events increases, flooding, landslides and drought-induced fires are likely to become a more regular occurrence.” The commissioners should restore the climate change language, Mountain True recommended, and also strengthen the county's commitment to "policies and procedures that will improve the resiliency of the County to wildfires, flooding, and landslides.”