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THE TOP 10: NIMBY Nation, Enough Duff, JCAR's in the Shop

Etowah Valley homeowners packed the Etowah Lions Club building in May to hear about plans for an RV park; the developer later proposed duplexes. [LIGHTNING FILE PHOTO] Etowah Valley homeowners packed the Etowah Lions Club building in May to hear about plans for an RV park; the developer later proposed duplexes. [LIGHTNING FILE PHOTO]

Welcome to the 2023 edition of the Lightning's Top 10 newstories of the year. We're counting them down throughout the week.

5. NIMBY Nation Redux

Taking its place among epic battles that defeated the Duke Power transmission line and the Balfour Parkway was the organized effort by Etowah Valley homeowners this year to vanquish a developer’s plan for a high-density subdivision in the middle of the community’s 27-hole golf course (turning it into an 18-hole course). The original plan rolled out in May by the Wilmington, N.C.-based Tribute Group called for a 343-unit RV park at the golf course; after numerous revisions, the current plan shows 400 duplexes. The development request became the most hotly contested land-use case since the East Flat Rock asphalt plant. The fight gave birth to the Etowah Valley Preservation Society, which has hired real estate appraisers, traffic engineers, safety experts and two law firms. Even so, the county planning board OK’d the duplex development — which did not require rezoning — and a Superior Court judge dismissed the homeowners’ civil lawsuit seeking to reject the new housing as contrary to Etowah Valley golf club’s founding principles. Next up? Maybe incorporation. “We understand that development will happen in Etowah, but we believe it is time for those of us who live in Etowah to have a say in how this development is managed rather than county officials,” preservation leaders said in their most recent newsletter.  They’ll form a committee next month to “work on all facets involved with incorporating.”

4. Enough with the duff

Covering 434 acres, the Poplar Drive wildfire was a fraction the size of other fires in the mountain wilderness. The Party Rock fire in 2016 burned 7,000 acres in the Chimney Rock-Bat Cave community. But the Poplar Drive fire threatened more developed property and was a challenge to contain because of the extended drought. At one time, the wildfire threatened 75 homes. Forest rangers blamed organic material smoldering as deep as 10 inches underground — called duff —  for the stubbornness of the fire. The incident drew hundreds of firefighters from dozens of fire departments across the state to the Kyle's Creek community to extinguish the blaze. On Nov. 16, the N.C. Forest Service announced that it had charged a Florida man with a debris burn on Oct. 26 that reignited eight days later, causing the wildfire. His name —  not making this up! — was Duff Swan. The potential fine for the misdemeanor offense — not making this up either — was $50. Across social media, a scoff storm ensued.


3. JCAR’s in the shop

Everyone agreed that Henderson County’s courts and jail need a major expansion. Agreement on the $215 million price tag for the proposed new JCAR (Judicial Center Addition and Renovation) was … not so much. If the complete plan as presented in September were to be built, we’d get “a full gut” of the existing 98,000-square-foot courthouse, a new five-story courthouse with nine courtrooms, renovation of the 60,000-square-foot jail and a new two-story 50,000-square-foot cellblock. A project of that magnitude is looking unlikely, given that three commissioners have expressed reservations about paying for a “Cadillac” make and model of JCAR. Commissioner Daniel Andreotta compared the ambitious new construction-renovation plan to a minister’s reaction to congregants’ pleas for a magnificent new cathedral. “They were wanting a new building and he said, ‘I have great news. We have the money for our new building. The bad news is it’s still in your pockets.’” If we were a betting organization, we’d bet commissioners won’t act on JCAR before the March 5 primary, during which two incumbents face challengers.