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Forum highlights contrasts on zoning, floodplain rules

Challenger Sheila Franklin and incumbent Commissioner Daniel Andreotta talked about the issues at a candidate forum hosted by the Republican Men’s Club. Challenger Sheila Franklin and incumbent Commissioner Daniel Andreotta talked about the issues at a candidate forum hosted by the Republican Men’s Club.

The two candidates vying for the Republican nomination for the District 2 seat on the Henderson County Board of Commissioners clashed over zoning and over the board’s vote to relax floodplain restrictions when they met in their first debate on Saturday at the Republican Men’s Club.

Incumbent Daniel Andreotta faces challenger Sheila Franklin, a four-term Fletcher Town Council member, in the March 5 Republican primary.

Asked where they see the county in five years based on growth and land-use regulation, Andreotta said the county would be in “a very good place, because we’re not going to stop doing a lot of things that are working well.”

Franklin responded: “In five years, if we don’t fix the zoning a little bit and tweak some of that, we’re going to be in trouble.”

A starker contrast came in the candidates’ responses to a question about flood zone regulations.

Andreotta defended the board’s 3-2 vote to relax flood zone restrictions, saying “next to nothing has really changed.”

“I’m sorry, you got it wrong,” Franklin responded. “I would have voted against it, based on the experts that said don’t do it.”

Here are the candidates’ responses to questions at the forum.

Why are you running for the Board of Commissioners?

Andreotta: “I’m a Henderson County native, lifelong resident and run my business here. My kids went to public school just like I did. I’ve been pleased to serve for about 3½ years as one of your commissioners. To me, everything that government does at any level is summed up in one word, and that word is policy. Policy equals cause and effect. If you can say this is what we’re going to do, this is how we’re going to implement it, this is what it’s going to cost, this is how we’re going to pay for it and this is what it’s going to do for the citizens — that’s a policy. Everything we do we do with your money. Government has no money of its own, only the dollars we take from you, and I have been and continue to be a steward of the taxpayer dollars. I always look to do the most we can with the least of your money.”

Franklin: “When I’m thinking about being an official, my one word is going to be serving. I understand policy is important but for me it’s always been a servant position. I’ve been serving in Fletcher on Town Council, this is my fourth term, my 15th year. I started back in ’88 and ’89 on the incorporation committee and then from there did planning and zoning. I taught at Apple Valley Middle School for 20 years, teaching career and technical education. … I’ve been on economic development for several years. The difference between economic development and economic progress is economic progress is all about your businesses downtown and economic development is about what’s coming to town.” She also serves on joint water-sewer advisory board and on MSD, the regional sewer authority. “So all of those experiences is just to say I show up, I’m dependable and I’m dedicated.”

An audience member asked why commissioners voted to relax restrictions in flood zones.

Here’s background on the amendment. The planning staff memo for the Oct. 18 meeting during which commissioners eased floodway restrictions said this: “The LDC does not currently allow for fill of any kind in the floodway,” and this: “The Land Development Code does not allow for an applicant to initiate a study of the floodway or consider any fill in the floodway area.” Commissioners voted 3-2 to amend the Flood Hazard Reduction section of the LDC. The amendment said: “In the floodway area as indicated on the FIRM (Flood Insurance Rate Map), fill may be permitted in the floodway pursuant to a special fill permit.” The floodway is the area closer to waterways than the floodplain or flood fringe. The Planning Board voted 5-2 to recommend denial of the amendment.

Here are candidates’ responses:

Andreotta: “As part of the 2045 comp plan, we’re trying to do some simplifying in the zoning and in the land-use codes because if you pull them all up, it’s too much. You have two things — a floodplain and a floodway. There is a difference. … We simply changed the wording of the code to say you can come to us case by case with some plans and say I may want to put something in part of a floodplain only, not a floodway. Now why would we do that? Take someone who lives out in the country, a farmer or someone who’s got a lot of land. Often they need to put a structure there that doesn’t need water like a storage shed or maybe a barn. And if we look at their plans —we have a county engineer — we will decide case by case if we think that’s going to be OK or be a problem. … I’m here to tell you next to nothing has really changed.”

Franklin: “I’m sorry, you got it wrong. I just think that when go back from the floodplain issue, and then you have flooding, you’re in trouble. I’m familiar with floodplain and floodway and flood fringe. I’m not an engineer, but if you’ve got an engineer (Commissioner Bill Lapsley) that tells you exactly how you can allow infill and build right on the creek but then he tells you just because you can doesn’t mean you should. And if you have a planning board (to which)  you have appointed members who are experts in different areas, and then you’ve got a fire chief that tells you the 100-year floodplain (standard) doesn’t apply anymore  … you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out when you’re flooding so bad that you shut down most of your town then there’s an issue. I’m pretty staunch about that. I understand people should have rights … It’s just a hard fact you can’t build on everything that you want to build on and so the floodplain issue in October that was voted on — I would have voted against it, based on the experts that said don’t do it.”

Commissioners will soon adopt the 2045 comp plan. Where do you see the county in five years?

Andreotta: “Growth is here to stay. We have a place to live that’s beautiful that we love. It just so happens that others have heard about it as well. When I see the county in five years, if we stay on the trajectory we’re on, we will be in a very good place, because we’re not going to stop doing a lot of things that are working well: Fiscal management. The government shouldn’t control the economy or property values, but we can set a table then get out of the way and let the citizens have a quality of life. We’ll be a healthy, vibrant community, we’ll be a desirable place to live, we’ll have a lot of public safety, good schools, good jobs, good careers, a great college. So in my opinion (we’ll be) even better than we are now — if we do the right things.”

Franklin: “Unfortunately, in five years, if we don’t fix the zoning a little bit and tweak some of that a little bit, we’re going to be in trouble. We cannot work with every single developer that comes to our door. We are hotly pursued because people do want to live here. But if we don’t hone in on what’s most important for the people that are here, then we’re going to be in trouble. And so that’s hard for me to say, being on economic development, but it’s a hard truth. I believe in property rights and I think folks should be able to do what they want on their own property, but when it causes an issue for the entire community, then you’ve got a problem. So I’d like to see more work done on zoning.”

What is your position on special-use permits that allow commercial uses in residential zones?

Andreotta: “The county shouldn’t be everyone’s HOA in my view. Someone said if government has to act in your life we should use a scalpel not a machete. It’s not one size fits one forever and it’s set and forget. We have to take these things case by case because we do not know two years, three years from now what economic opportunities may come knocking on the door. As to special use, it’s case by case. Is this going to be something that benefits the community? Is this something that the folks who drive by it every day are comfortable with? … The Etowah community does not have the same concerns or desires five years down the road that the Edneyville community does. Fletcher and the Mills River community may be different than Tuxedo.”

Franklin: “We have special use come to us in Fletcher frequently and there are particular criteria that has to be met, and so you have to look at each project individually but if they don’t meet particular criteria that’s laid out for special use and if it’s not conducive to the area then you have to turn it down. But you have to have specific reasoning behind why you’re turning it down because if you don’t then you’re running into legal issues. Every project is not going to fit every community but there’s a plan in place and so we follow that as much as we can and do the best we can based on the criteria that’s in place for special use.”

When a farmer wants to sell his land to a developer, obviously he wants to make more money selling his land. Where do you stand on farm preservation?

Andreotta: “The first thing you have to have to have farming is farmers. And I have spoken with a lot of farmers who say we want to keep our land and farming for future generations and I’ve spoken with several who said, ‘Look, I don’t have a generation coming behind me. I’m it. Once I’m done, either somebody buys it and farms it or it becomes something else’. …  I don’t like the phrase, ‘we’re going to create a fund.’ I don’t like government saying that because your wallet just got thinner. But I think there are a lot of things we could do to promote the farming industry and help it be more viable. But that’s a tough topic because, Guess what? They own that land, it’s theirs.”

Franklin: “We are a voluntary preservation county for a reason. That gives the farmers the opportunity to take their land in preservation for conservation reasons and to continue to farm if they choose to do so. You would never want them or expect them to give up everything that they have because they may have to down the road sell some of it. Especially when you’re an agricultural county — I hate to lose that, and I personally like to eat and I like to eat local. When we have over 400 farms in the area, I think it’s our responsibility to help them where we can. It’s a two-pronged thing. We need to be able to help them secure farmland. We also need to help them brainstorm how they can be profitable because once the farms are gone, then you’re buying food from everywhere and anywhere. And I’d prefer to help the farmers that are here.”

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The Lions Club of Etowah is hosting a candidate forum for Board of Commissioners candidates at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 23, at the Lions Den, 447 Et/owah School Road, Etowah. The Henderson County Republican Party is hosting the Frostbite Family Festival and meet-and-greet for 2024 candidates 4-7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan 27, at Burning Blush Brewing Co., 4891 Boylston Highway, Mills River. County Commission District 5 incumbent David Hill and challenger Jay Egolf are scheduled to appear at the Republican Men’s Club meeting on Feb. 10.