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Growers, residents urge county to preserve apple country character

Apple growers urged county commissioners to use the 2045 comprehensive land-use plan to preserve orchards and other farmland.

EDNEYVILLE — Taking their regular monthly meeting on the road to the old Edneyville High School gym, Henderson County commissioners received mixed reviews on their plans for a sewer plant on Clear Creek and heard pleas to preserve the community’s farm heritage when they adopt a new comprehensive plan.

The meeting last Wednesday drew about 70 people to the old Yellow Jacket nest at what is now the Larry T. Justus WNC Justice Academy on U.S. 64. The meeting included two public comment times on growth-related topics that have riled some in the apple country — the wastewater treatment plant and the 2045 comprehensive plan. Commissioners voted in January to authorize a $21 million sewer project to serve the Edneyville and Fruitland area, marking the first time the county had taken a bold step to open up a rural and suburban area to new development by making public sewer available. And they’re at the tail end of an 18-month long process to draft, review and adopt a comprehensive land-use plan to guide growth for the next 20 years.;

By serving the Justice Academy, Edneyville Elementary School, Camp Judea and the Blacksmith Run subdivision, the sewer line would enable each of those users to eliminate smaller package plants that treat wastewater, making Clear Creek cleaner, Kenny Barnwell told commissioners. A large apple grower who chairs the Henderson County Agriculture Advisory Board, Barnwell has advocated for the wastewater treatment plant. Sewer service will benefit roadside fruit stands as well as other agriculture businesses, he said, while acknowledging that the project is “a two-way street” that some farmers oppose.

“Progress is coming. We’re not gonna stop it,” he said. “We’re a very desirable place to live. This (sewer) system gives us a way to manage it and keep this area more pristine. We’re going to lose some apple orchards, from the growers aging out and from the fact that they want to sell. We worked very hard to get the sewer system out here. Y’all took a real good, common sense approach to it. Thank you for the way you did.”


‘Fresh air’ not ‘pavement and housing’

Linda Pryor, another commercial apple grower from Edneyville, was among numerous speakers who urged commissioners to protect the farming community.

“There’s a reason that people like to be here and fresh air is one of those reasons,” she said. “It would be horrible to lose that just to put in pavement and housing. … If we learned anything through the Covid 19 pandemic, it was the importance of maintaining local food sources and not being dependent on things coming from other places. It’s essential that the Planning Board and you as commissioners not act on this until a fail-proof plan can be established to provide what is absolutely necessary while also preserving our local character.”

Townsend Road resident Nora Stepp, a Henderson County native whose roots go back many generations, said she fears sewer service in Edneyville will lead to increased traffic, a loss of open space, higher taxes and a burden on emergency services.

“I don’t oppose change,” she said. “I just want to preserve what we have left.”
In January, commissioners voted to move ahead with a $21 million sewer project to serve the Edneyville and Fruitland area.

Isaac Jones, who also lives on Townsend Road, said he was concerned that a wastewater treatment plant would pollute well water and the creek he played in as a boy. He suggested commissioners limit the size and scope of the project.
Speaking on the 2045 plan, Fruitland resident Stan Rhodes said he had farmed most of his life and now his son had bought a farm in the area. He, too, called on commissioners to protect agricultural land.

 “Please, preserve our farmers,” he said, his voice trembling.
Jeff Jennings, who opened his own business in the area, said the people he hires often want to come to and stay in the mountains because of the beauty and outdoor recreational opportunities.

 “If we don’t plan this right, we could have the opposite outcome of what the stated goals are,” he said.

‘What are we supposed to do?’

After hearing from the speakers and an update on the 2045 plan from county staff, Commissioner Michael Edney asked about increased population projections for the county over the next 20 years and where the newcomers will live if the county’s goal is to protect farmland and open space.
“What are we supposed to do?” he asked.
He also questioned what the county should do to limit development on private property.
“They have some God-given rights, what they can do with their property,” he said.
Staff members responded that the county can take steps to take the pressure to develop their land off farmers and manage where growth occurs.
Commission Chairman Bill Lapsley told people gathered for the meeting that the 2045 plan is a guide and high-level view of how the county sees growth and development occurring. The county’s zoning laws and land development code specifies the rules governing development in particular areas.
The difficult job for commissioners, he said, is when a property owner comes to the board wanting to change zoning on their property because a developer is offering them large amounts of money to build more houses per acre than the current zoning allows.
Commissioner Daniel Andreotta questioned how the county should balance density of development and the need for affordable housing.
Staff members suggested that infill areas where development exists are a likely place for higher density affordable housing.
Commission Vice Chairwoman Rebecca McCall said she witnessed many changes in the community over the years.
“Change happens. We have to manage that change for the better,” she said. “If we all work together and embrace the change and manage it, we can still stay who we are.”

Commissioners announced that a public hearing on the 2045 comprehensive plan would be held on Dec. 5 and said they could decide then to vote on its adoption.