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5 stories to watch in 2023

Elected officials and business leaders break ground for the Blue Ridge Commerce Center, an $80 million industrial/warehouse development. Elected officials and business leaders break ground for the Blue Ridge Commerce Center, an $80 million industrial/warehouse development.

Five stories the Lightning is watching in 2023:

  • Comp plan 2045: On Tuesday night, after press time, the Henderson County Board of Commissioners was scheduled to “workshop” the 2045 comp plan and possibly adopt it. Many questions remained ahead of what could be the final vetting and the elected leaders’ blessing. MountainTrue, in an 1,800-word critique of the plan, complained that the Planning Board had retreated from commitments to getting things done, often substituting the phrase that the county would “consider” adopting policies to preserve open land, for instance, for earlier language that directly committed to them. “Unfortunately, the December edits proposed by the Planning Board seem specifically designed to remove any sense of urgency or accountability and make the plan harder to implement,” the conservationists said. We’re watching not just what commissioners say about these broader goals but what they do as time goes on. By itself, the comp plan is made up of maps and words on paper. We’ll know a lot when we see how commissioners vote on a rezoning for a high-density development in an area that the plan sets aside for conservation and low-density growth only. Henderson County’s growth management guide is not the only plan we’re watching. As the year opened, Hendersonville City Council was embarking on one of its own.
  • Water wars: Is this the year commissioners and city council members set aside decades of conflict over water and sewer policies and enter into joint governance of utilities? It could be if the city and county leaders act on the resolution both adopted at the end of 2022 endorsing joint management of the city-owned water-sewer system. Councilman Jerry Smith raised a warning flag about the idea, saying he had seen no evidence of problems with the current management. “It’s the county’s problem that we own an asset that they want to own ,” he said. The above-mentioned comp plan experience showed once again that city-county coordination is needed on the critical issue of growth management — and showed how little it actually happens. High density development on the outskirts of Hendersonville is likely to account for most of the new housing we see over the next 25 years. For purposes of long-range planning for law enforcement, fire protection, K-12 schools and even parks and green space, the city and county ought to be talking with one another before the groundbreaking for these big projects.
  • Upward Road: Speaking of growth near the city center, Upward Road seems to be a prime candidate for commerce and new housing. It’s flat, has a good road system, including access to I-26, and is already served by water and sewer. Blue Ridge Commerce Center, an $80 million industrial/warehouse development, could bring hundreds of jobs — and as many tractor-trailers — to McMurray Road off Upward Road. A fancified convenience store/gas station plaza, a Starbucks and fast-food and ice cream specialist Dairi-O have all won approval to build at the I-26 interchange and investor Bob Quattlebaum’s large clearing still awaits tenants. If we’re forecasting growth, Upward Road is where we’d train our sights.
  • Fun and games: 2023 should be the year that the Board of Commissioners chooses a site and begins design of a sportsplex that would be home to soccer fields, pickleball courts, walking trails and other recreation amenities. Commissioners voted 4-1 in October to spend the last of its American Rescue Plan money — $2 million — on the recreation complex. County staff is looking for land now. Maybe they’ll take a windshield tour of Upward Road.
  • Rails to trails: This year we also should see work begin on the Ecusta Trail and we may even be walking, riding and jogging on the first paved section before the calendar slips into 2024. Support is strong in Henderson County. We’ll be looking to see if Transylvania County leaders finally make a strong endorsement of the trail from Penrose to Brevard, which is roughly the western half. And although another exciting project, the Saluda Grade Trail, is still in the cradle we’ll be watching for signs that the 31-mile rail-trail is moving from concept to concrete.