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Land-use plan sparks uprising over sprawl

An overflow crowd that flocked to Henderson County's Historic Courthouse Tuesday night implored the Board of Commissioners to reject a 2045 comprehensive land-use draft that they said encourages sprawl, endangers the apple country and does nothing to preserve open space and natural resources.

Suzanne Hale said the draft plan would "sentence the apple industry to a long slow painful death."

"The decline in our apple industry is real," she said. "According to USDA, the county lost a third of its orchards between 2002 and 2017. Turning the county's farms and forest over to subdivisions filled with people from other areas would forever undermine local culture. There would be no going back. It would be gone forever. ... Please keep Henderson County green. It's important for all of us."

Danny Maybin, a six-generation Henderson County native from Green River, urged commissioners to prevent the continued loss of farmland.

“My land is part of the land grant deeded to my forefather by the Continental Congress for his service in the Revolutionary War,” he said. “We have already lost more than a third of our apple orchards. And sprawl will overtake the remaining orchards within two decades. Apples are what this county is known for. It does not make sense to follow a map we know will decimate our calling card. The unintended results of this map include but are not limited to developmental sprawl and by far too much intrusive commercial development.”

Corey McCraw, another native who lives on Cabin Creek Road, said the proposed land-use plan would increase development, leading to more stormwater runoff and pollution.

"Economic development and environmental preservation — we need to correct this imbalance in the 2045 comprehensive land use plan," he said. "Economic development is more cars, bridges, roads, parking lots. When it rains like the past three days, all of these produce contaminated runoff that flows straight into our waterways. … We need a 2045 comprehensive plan with a better balance for Henderson County residents, a plan balanced toward clean land, clean water, a plan to protect rural land and rural communities from commercial development and pollution."

Speaker Paul Shoemaker, who moved to the county 50 years ago to work as a plant pathologist, started Holly Springs Farm in Mills River when he retired 20 years ago. He begged commissioners to halt the loss of farmland.

"I've been concerned for a long time about the loss of farmland in the county since we moved here in 1970," he said. "Over half of the apple orchards are gone and are now housing developments. The same is true of dairy farms. There were 100 dairy farms in the county in 1960 and now there's one. All that land is housing. In the last few years I have witnessed some of the richest productive land in the whole country, right in Mills River, being destroyed and covered up."

Will McIntyre, a music documentary maker who lives in the Crab Creek community, said he and his wife and coproducer had visited many states and countries and seen many good examples of urban planning.

"As photographers, musicians and filmmakers, we've worked in more than 80 countries," he said. "Clearly, we've had a chance to see the result of some really smart civic planning. On the other hand, we've also been to Calcutta and Charlotte. You've heard my neighbors highlighting some of the consequences of sprawl — traffic, pollution, destruction of the agricultural economy. The county's draft future land use map, which does nothing to control sprawl, would cost Henderson County taxpayers a lot of money. … I sincerely hope you will throw out this draft future land-use map and start fresh. We've got better things to do with our money than finance traffic, pollution and the destruction of our agricultural economy."

Billie Lively, also a county native, pointed out that the county just celebrated the 76th annual N.C. Apple Festival and said it's the sixth largest apple growing apple county in the U.S.

"We want to stay rural and we need you, our elected commissioners, to keep it rural since you represent us," she said.

A Realtor, Camille Yates, said a land conservation fund would help prevent sprawl by buying development rights in order to save farms.

“What I'd like to recommend tonight is that you consider creating a local land fund to help protect our farmland and other unique resources,” she said. “I've lived in a county that has successfully started a land fund, and I've seen it work and it works well. A local land fund can be used to protect things such as farmland, community landmarks, historic sites, sensitive ecosystems or scenic views. As an example, the county could purchase conservation easements from rural landowners.”

“The land fund is entirely voluntary," she added. "The county could work with only property owners that want to participate. And you're probably thinking, where's this money going to come from? Most often, local land funds are created by our voting citizens. Voters approve a bond to protect farmland, scenic views, etc. and land referendums have been quite successful in the past because they cost very little to individual households, and because voters and citizens yearn to protect what they love.”

Commissioners respond to comments

Four out of five commissioners —Commissioner Michael Edney was absent — said no decisions had been about what land-use will apply to rural areas.

Vice Chair Rebecca McCall delivered a strong condemnation of what she described as "misinformation" and urged residents to understand that commissioners have made no decisions on the draft plan.

An eighth generation native, McCall said her grandchildren are 10th generation natives.

"Nobody lived here in this county before my family except the Native Americans," she said. "I love this county more than you can even imagine. I've lived here all my life I plan to live nowhere else. I'm very bothered by the fact that so many people think that we have already made this decision and it's set in stone that is so far from the truth. Whoever is out spreading this to get everybody so upset I'm very angry with because you people are upset, and I'm glad you came and brought this to our attention because you have gotten misinformation. The map that you have seen is just that — a draft — and many of you have said draft when you got up and spoke to us tonight. It is a draft.

"You talk about the apple orchards that we've lost," she said. "In the 70s, we had over 300 apple orchards. Now we have closer to 200. But guess what? Those apple orchards have grown in size immensely. And we have 200,000 more apple trees."

"Please know that nobody wants to preserve agricultural land more than myself," she said. "Please know that I've lived here all my life, as most of these speakers have, and we love this county. I don't want you to think that we don't love this county and I'm somewhat insulted that you would stand here and point fingers at me and accuse me of making a decision that has not even been made yet. But I do appreciate your passion and I hope that you will stay involved in this process."

Commissioner Daniel Andreotta, also a native of the county, assured the comp plan opponents that they would have plenty of opportunity to comment on the long-range comp plan.

“There's a lot that's got out that has caused you to be passionate and maybe nervous beyond what you should be," he said. "I'm glad you're involved. ... I appreciate your concern and your passion and I just want to tell you that if I were to go to the library and look on the microfiche, from say the early 1980s when I was in high school, and some of the neighborhoods that maybe some of you live in now were being developed,” he would find letters to the editor critical of growth and sprawl. “And I could read them and you would swear that I was reading an email I got today on this topic.”

David Hill, like McCall a native whose roots go back generations, said: “This is not an easy task, to control growth. We have to respect people's property rights. This is America. You know, we do have rights and government is not to come in and overrun those rights. We take away your right, you take away my right, as I see it. We are thankful this is what America is about — you folks coming out and talking and speaking your piece. That's what we're here for. We were elected to listen and make the best decisions that we can.”

Board Chair Bill Lapsley also assured the audience that the elected commissioners have made no decisions on the comp plan yet.

"We have not had a chance to review the details of the document or the maps and the insinuations that this board prepared that plan is just not true," he said. "We have not done that. We have delegated the task of preparing a draft plan to our Planning Board and the consultant. And they have been working on that for more than a year.

“Over the next few months, you'll see in the news media (notification of) public hearings on this topic. And you're all certainly welcome to come and we encourage you to come. We're going to go out we're not going to just sit in here. We're going to go out into Crab Creek and other places and and invite everybody (to public hearings) closer to home so you can get out and express your opinion and we'll gather all that information.”

He pointed out that county commissioners, not the planning board, have the final call.

“This is the board that you elect to make these decisions," he said. "And we will do that with all the public input we can get and do the best we can to look after our county because we love it as much as all of you do."