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Challengers part ways with incumbents on zoning, flooding, Etowah sewer plant

Residents line up to ask questions at a Board of Commissioners candidate forum in Etowah. Residents line up to ask questions at a Board of Commissioners candidate forum in Etowah.

The three candidates challenging Daniel Andreotta and David Hill for seats on the Henderson County Board of Commissioners are steering into separate lanes from the incumbents over growth management, construction in floodways and land conservation.

Fletcher Town Council member Sheila Franklin meets Andreotta for the District 2 nomination and Jay Egolf is challenging Hill in the March 5 Republican primary. Democrat Erik Weber meets the District 2 nominee in the Nov. 5 general election.

In a forum hosted by the Etowah Lions Club Tuesday night, candidates found themselves in a lion’s den of Etowah Valley homeowners who are fiercely fighting a new subdivision on the community’s golf course. Not surprisingly, given the audience, the biggest applause lines pertained to controlling growth:

  • “Our area is being destroyed right before our eyes with rapid growth,” Franklin said.
  • Development in the floodway “may not affect that property but it’s affecting the neighbors downstream,” Weber said.
  • “Neighbors have rights, too. I will support common sense sound zoning and smart growth,” Egolf said.

Here are the candidates’ responses to questions:

In the 2045 comprehensive plan, the public survey results gathered early in the planning process overwhelmingly called for the protection of wildland, fields and forests often referred to its open space. How will you respond to the survey results calling for the protection of these open spaces?

Andreotta: “A lot of land in the county is or could possibly be voluntarily placed by the owner into conservation. We’ve got a lot of open land, a lot of fields, a lot of woods, and I think that we could bolster that by promoting more tourism and outdoor activities in those lands. Unless the government owns the land, it’s a little hard to get super, super heavy handed there. You’ve gotta balance what everyone wants with landowner rights. … I think so far we’ve done a pretty good at that. I grew up way deep in the Edneyville community. I remember my rural roots, so I want to keep it that way, too.”

Franklin: “This is such a no-brainer for me. If your public survey overwhelmingly is asking for more protections, it is easy to understand why. Our area is being destroyed right before our eyes with rapid growth. That growth typically comes from new developers that are coming in our state. And I’ve often said on town council that we don’t have to do business with everybody that knocks on our door because the people that live here need to be taken care of and the only way to do that is with smart, balanced growth. We’re not back in the ‘40s and ‘50s where we can just let things happen. If you continue to go with organic growth instead of balanced, thoughtful growth, you’ll be wondering what happened to the wildlife, the fields and the forestry because once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

There is absolutely no mention of changing weather in the 2045 comp plan. Should the county be developing mitigation and adaption strategies should the weather become more severe.

Hill: “The simple answer is no. We do live with changing weather constantly. I think that the big yellow ball in the sky has more to do with it than we do. Right now, with stormwater, the state already mandates a lot of stuff on water retention and things of that nature. I’m not a climate change activist.”

Andreotta: “I think there are some wise, light-handed guidelines that we could implement. I don’t think we need to view whatever the worst weather conditions are and always regulate backwards from that. Everything in government cuts both ways. I’ve tried to sit at every seat around the table and view every topic from every viewpoint. But every time we do things like this, you’re making housing less or more affordable. So you’ve got to balance that as well.”

Egolf: “My answer is yes and if you want more of an answer I would say heck yes. Building in the floodplain, which we just decided to do, will only exacerbate this.”

Franklin: “To me, that would be an absolute yes. It’s being proactive instead of reactive. Flooding needs to be addressed, given the fact it will not get any better. Every project should be analyzed and based on what the property can reasonably handle … because we’re not having 100-year floods and 500-year floods. Now we’re having like 20- and 50-year floods.”

Weber: “My degree is in environmental science so I certainly have studied and understand climate change. I think it’s real absolutely. Do I think that we are contributing to it with the way that we’re building right now? Absolutely. Development in floodplains was brought up. At the meeting where they voted on that and discussed it, (Commissioner Michael Edney) said ‘only 2 percent of the land is being affected by that change, and what’s the big deal?’ I look at it the other way. If it’s 2 percent, we need to preserve that and protect that because what’s happening on those lands may not affect that property but it’s affecting the neighbors downstream.”

The 2045 comprehensive plan was reviewed and worked on for over two years. There were over 7,000 survey responses from county residents and the planning board worked on it for over a year before sending it to the county commissioners. The plan that is now up for a vote has been dramatically changed from the plan that was sent to the commissioners. Things such as farmland preservation have been reduced significantly. Do you think it is important to contribute substantial revenues to acquire farmland or look to other funding mechanisms on an annual basis that would pay for conservation easements on farmland?

Andreotta: “I’m not a fan of any arm of government using the phrase ‘we’re going to create a fund’ because your wallet just got thinner. Government doesn’t have any money of its own. It only has your dollars that we taxed away from you, period. As far as farmland preservation, I wholeheartedly support it. But you’ve gotta ask the what-if questions. I’ve talked to a lot of farmers who say ‘I want to do whatever we can to keep my land in farming. My kids are coming up behind me; they want to continue the tradition.’ I’ve talked to other farmers who may be fifth, sixth or seventh generation farmers and they told me, ‘I don’t have anybody coming behind me. This is it.’ They have a couple of options. They can sell their land for farm use, which will bring way less than some other use, and they probably need the most they can get out of that land, truth be told, when their farming days are over. So I want to be just to them. … I want farmers to have more avenues for revenue and more year-round revenue. Frankly, I would like to see a some kind of market footprint in Henderson County like they have at the Western Carolina Farmers Market in Asheville. You let a farmer sell produce seasonally, that’s one thing. You let them value-add that into product so they can and jar and preserve and sell year-round — that changes the world. So I think you support them with letting them get their industry to new levels, and that fixes a lot of problems and guess what— your agritourism grows and your farmers are happier and we’re eating locally, by the way.”

Franklin: “Given that we’re an agricultural region, I think that we should consider conservation easements and funding to support it. That funding could be something in the line of a bond referendum. I appreciate him mentioning the farmers market. I’ve had that on my platform for quite a while. … But they also need a processing plant. They need someone who will take their produce and their apples so that they don’t have to push up the apple trees. I don’t understand how our county through economic development can aggressively pursue industry to come to the area and yet we can’t aggressively pursue getting processing here.”

Missouri-based Red Bird Operating Co. LLC, which is under contract to buy the Etowah Sewer Co., could take ownership of a new wastewater treatment plant serving the proposed subdivision on the Etowah Valley golf course. The concern is sewer rates could triple in the next few years if their proposals are approved by the state Utilities Commission. Should the county work with the city of Hendersonville to create a sewer district to handle the turnover of these privately run sewer package plants?

Hill: “If you’re referring to the purchase, that’s (the sale of) a private entity to a private entity. It falls under the state utility commission. We are currently trying to work with the city on the current system. Their system can’t run out here because of the topography. If you wanted to do that, you’d have to pump into their system. The best way we can direct growth is through sewer. Water’s big but sewer’s bigger. When you bring in sewer you can have more density or bring industry out to that area.”

Egolf: “I believe it should be turned over. Package plans will always fail. There’s no point in building another one, it’s going to fail. But we need representatives from the city and the county getting together on this. I do support a sewer commission made up of both city and county officials. There’s an example in Forsyth County of the exact same issue Henderson County and Etowah have. They created a combined utility.”

Weber: “I think that the situation is not unique with Hendersonville and Henderson County, it’s happening all over the country. What happens in the city and the county affects each other, so why not have representation of both.”