Free Daily Headlines


Set your text size: A A A

Farmland preservation emerges as flashpoint of Comp Plan 2045 ire

Residents told commissioners last week that they fear the proposed 2045 comprehensive land-use plan endangers apple orchards, like Sky Top in Zirconia. Residents told commissioners last week that they fear the proposed 2045 comprehensive land-use plan endangers apple orchards, like Sky Top in Zirconia.


An overflow crowd that flocked to Henderson County’s Historic Courthouse last week 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.”

Hale was the first of more than 20 speakers who showed up at the county commission meeting to express alarm at the comp plan draft, often citing their family’s deep roots in homesteads that support them to this day.

“My land is part of the land grant deeded to my forefather by the Continental Congress for his service in the Revolutionary War,” Danny Maybin, a sixth-generation native of Green River, told commissioners. “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.”

When the hour-long public comment period was over, Commissioner Rebecca McCall sounded offended and exasperated.

“Nobody lived here in this county before my family except the native Americans,” said McCall, an eighth generation native who boasted that her children remained here, making her grandchildren 10th generation natives. “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.”

She also cautioned that the number of farms is not by itself an accurate measure of the health of the industry.

“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.”

Regardless of who’s right, the Board of Commissioners meeting last week laid to rest any concern that the public would fail to appreciate the importance of the land-use plan that’s intended to guide development and manage growth of the next two decades. The farming community and especially various green groups and rural community associations are intensely engaged in the process. Everyone will get more opportunity soon to provide input and ask questions. The first of four newly scheduled community meetings took place Tuesday night at the public library in Hendersonville. Others are:

  • 2-4 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 20, at Fletcher library.
  • 6-8 p.m. Monday, Sept. 26, at the Edneyville Community Center.
  • 2-4 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 26, at Thomas Auditorium at BRCC.


Planning board ‘looking to protect farmland,’ chair says

Two days after the raucous Board of Commissioners meeting, only a handful of citizens showed up for a three-hour presentation of the draft plan before the Planning Board. The board chair and McCall, who serves as liaison to the Planning Board said in interviews afterwards that it’s their intention to do what the crowd last week demanded — protect farmland and open space and limit sprawl as much as possible.

McCall said the draft plan shows current urban services areas — land close to cities that provide water and sewer service — not a larger area than exists now.

“It’s what it is now, it’s not what we’re proposing,” she said. “There seems to be some misconception that we’re expanding the urban services area. That can happen obviously but it’s not part of this plan. … I don’t know who was spreading fairy tales that brought out 200 people. We tried to make it clear that part of the concern might have to do with the Clear Creek-Edneyville sewer line. It’s not our idea to infiltrate or force industry or residential growth in that area — that’s what the farmers are asking for.”

Planning Board Chair Steve Dozier said the advisory board members were committed to preserving farmland.

“We spent a ton of time on agribusiness,” Dozier said. “I think we had a really good meeting with a lot of discussion. Everybody on the board is very much looking to protect agribusiness.”

Cost of urban sprawl

A recurring theme when commenters panned the comp plan last week was sprawl into the apple country and other rural farming communities. Several people quoted an analysis that said the 2045 plan would allow 94,305 dwellings on vacant land when the plan’s own population growth projection over the next 20 years is 32,393. The analysis came from “Grow Good,” a grassroots organization that’s a spinoff of the group of landowners who organized to oppose a large ministorage unit facility in the Crab Creek community. Among the donors who funded the Grow Good campaign are former state Rep. Chuck McGrady and Fritz McPhail, who returned to the Crab Creek community where he grew up when he retired from a banking career.

“Why did we come here? We came here for the beauty, the quality of life and the approach that Hendersonville needs to take is to probably cluster the commercial development in certain areas so that we don’t destroy the whole reason that we’re here,” McPhail said. “If you compare us to dozens of areas across the country, many of which are been threatened due to external forces, climate change, we’re kind of in a Goldilocks and the rural areas that we have are absolutely beautiful. And that’s really the question Why are you here? If you’re here for that, then why would you want to destroy it?”

Chris Joyell, executive director of environmental and water quality organization MountainTrue, said commissioners ought to pay attention to the fact that urban sprawl cost the county more in services than it collects in property tax revenue. With the projection that 32,000 people will move here, “We just have to figure out where they go and where does it make the most sense for them to settle and if it's near the urban centers, like Fletcher and Hendersonville, where we already have existing infrastructure,” Joyell said. “I think that's going to really ease the burden on taxpayers and ease the burden on our environment. I think it'll create a much more robust county.”

Read the survey, speakers say

Many speakers also urged commissioners to pay attention to the 7,000 survey respondents who made known their wishes when planners kicked off the comp plan rewrite. In the responses, top priorities were protecting open space and forests (55 percent) and preserving farmland (45 percent). (The survey is still open. To fill it out visit

In a meeting last month, retiree Joe Elliott alluded to that majority opinion.

“I’m here to emphasize that your citizens are looking for a plan that reflects what the survey and in-person meetings told you last fall,” he said. “Your constituents want leaders who will control growth, maintain our rural character, protect farmland and preserve forest and safeguard our open spaces. We are depending on you and your steering committee to use every tool in your toolbox to guarantee that we’re not completely built over by out-of-state developers who will stuff their pockets and leave us to pay for ever increasing services.”

Elliott mentioned the board’s recent decision to essentially deregulate the number of storage units homeowners could have on their lots — and a second proposal (of late abandoned) to allow construction in the floodplain.

“Many of us disagree with Commissioner Hill about the rights of the individual taking precedent over anyone else’s rights. We urge you to listen to your planning board and act according to their thoughtful recommendations. Chipping away at the land development code is not what we need. We want strong rules that will guide growth and development in the future.”

As for the floodplain idea, “We need to keep the floodways, floodplains and flood fringes free from development,” he said. County Commission Chair Bill Lapsley’s “40-year-old study is too old to use. Our floodplain maps are just that — old. You need current, up-to-date information to guide your decisions on where developments should and should not go.”


Commissioners have deep roots

The county’s current elected commissioners are more deeply rooted in this part of the Blue Ridge Mountains than any has been in decades. Four out of five are natives of the county and three out of four — McCall, Hill and Michael Edney — trace their roots to a time when Indians outnumbered white settlers. After the passionate and emotional public comment period last week, those commissioners reminded the audience of their own roots. They also thanked the draft plan commenters for coming out. Robust and engaged public participation, commissioners said, is what they hoped for all along.

“This is not an easy task, to control growth,” said Hill, who as a staunch property rights advocate is on a collision course with the crowd’s demand for managed growth and open space preservation. “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.”

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.”

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.”

* * * * *

Next week: Could a Henderson County land conservation fund could be a solution to protect open space and natural areas from development? Could a bill in the state Legislature preserve farmland here and across North Carolina?