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LIGHTNING EDITORIAL: It’s time to scrap special-use permits

An overflow crowd of homeowners turned out to hear details of a proposed RV park at Etowah Valley Golf & Resort. An overflow crowd of homeowners turned out to hear details of a proposed RV park at Etowah Valley Golf & Resort.

If the Big Hungry shooting range, storage units on Crab Creek Road or a residential drug treatment center in a rural Saluda mansion did not prove the need to dump special-use permits from Henderson County’s zoning code, maybe a proposed RV park will.

Hundreds of homeowners in and around Etowah Valley Golf and Resort have organized to oppose a zoning request by a Wilmington, N.C.-based developer to create a 343-unit camping park in the middle of the golf course. Plans submitted to the Henderson County planning department seek approval for a new 45,000-square-foot two-story clubhouse plus a 6,500-square-foot two-story leasing office on 57 acres. The links’ 27 holes would be reconfigured into an 18-hole golf course. Plans also call for 2½ miles of new roads to serve the redesigned resort. Particularly alarming to residents, too, is the proposal to construct a 30,000-square-foot two-story sewer treatment facility behind Salty Landing restaurant on U.S. 64.

The proposal was scheduled to come before the county Zoning Board of Adjustment on Wednesday, although the county’s director of business and community development, Christopher Todd, told an overflow crowd of homeowners at Etowah Lions Club on May 16 that the case will likely be postponed while both sides lawyer up for the long haul. And a long haul it promises to be.

Unsurprisingly, the proposal has set off the familiar homeowner uprising with all of the accoutrements of an aggressive public awareness campaign: yard signs, lapel pins, letters to the editor, environmental and traffic studies to rebut the developer’s claims of “no harm here,” and real estate appraisers testifying that home values will crater.

Either side could shell out $100,000 or more — as Crab Creek homeowners did in 2021 to block a 20-acre self-storage development — to pay legal guns for hire. The attorneys will pound the table, cite the law, commission studies, call expert witnesses, examine and cross-examine, redirect and recross engineers and affected landowners, fire objections and feign outrage, ad nauseum, until the exhausted, bleary-eyed (volunteer) Zoning Board of Adjustment members finally make the call. In the shooting range, storage unit and rehab center cases, hearings stretched over many nights and consumed hours. One might ask, Is there a better way? We can think of none except for scrapping special-use permits altogether.

As long as the county’s zoning ordinance allows disruptive land uses in residential zones, this pattern of passionate and exhausting campaigns is going to continue to take place — over and over.

The standard the zoning board must consider under the county ordinance for approval or denial is whether a project would:

  • Not materially endanger the public health, safety or welfare
  • Not substantially injure the value of property or improvements in the area
  • Be in harmony with the surrounding area.

No doubt the “No Etowah RV Park” campaigners would argue that it’s a slam dunk to decide all three questions in their favor. But developer Matt Maynard, who has a contract to buy the resort, has the right to make the case that the project will be a well-managed and attractive addition to the county’s tourism offerings.

As long as these disputes take place in a quasi-judicial setting, the process will be a marathon grind, ending with one side infuriated, both sides lighter in the purse.

We suspect the only reason our elected commissioners have ignored this aggravating serial circus is that they are off the hook. Appeals of a ZBA decision go to Civil Superior Court, not the Board of Commissioners.

The elected leaders have before them at this moment a rewrite of the county comprehensive land-use plan. They ought to take the opportunity to zero in on the section on special-use permits in residential zones and, when they find it, click highlight, delete.