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Commissioners need more time to vet comp plan revisions

Henderson County commissioners booted a decision on a 2045 Comprehensive Land Use Plan to next year week after speakers urged them to allow the public and elected leaders to evaluate dozens of changes to the roadmap for growth.

County Manager John  Mitchell agreed it would be best to wait.

“We understand there has been quite a bit of revision over the last month,” he said.

  Nine people spoke earlier this month before commissioners voted to delay taking action.

  Several speakers asked for more time to consider the recent changes while others asked implored commissioners to do more to prevent sprawl.

  Ryan Stepp, a sixth generation native working to keep family land in the Fruitland community, said the 2045 plan means a lot to his community, his way of life and opportunities going forward. He said he is attempting to raise beefalo on a small scale.

  “We promote travel tourism and that’s a win for some locals, but lose when all the big money moves in,” he said. “Our mountains lose their beauty when a house is built right on top or the middle. An old hay field sparks the interest of a developer who sees the opportunity to put houses in but also a struggling farmer who could feed a few more head of cows if he could cut the hay from it.

“This is the crossroads we are at on a property-by-property basis in many areas of our county. Farmers are bidding against out-of-town development money. I was told in Ag class that at one time Henderson County was the third largest apple producing county in the country. Now we are known as one of the fastest growing counties in the country. Sounds like we are headed in the wrong direction.”

  Stepp said he was also concerned that his 35 acres of land is not eligible for farm tax benefits even though parts of it have been farmed for more than 100 years.

  “Maybe lower the acreage requirements and income requirements from that land so that someone that has been using that land agriculturally can get a tax break and grow their operation and local market,” he said.

  Stepp said he was also opposed to plans for a wastewater treatment plant in Edneyville.

  “A sewer treatment facility or pipeline along the creek just can’t be good for any reason other than hidden motives,” he said.

‘Developers get the gravy’

  Bill Shaffer, a representative from the Pisgah chapter of Trout Unlimited, said commissioners have the difficult task of how to accommodate growth.

  “I would like to remind you that the reason Henderson County is faced with this task is because of its environmental resources,” he said. “People move here and businesses wish to locate here because of the pastoral spaces and recreational opportunities the region provides The mountains, the air, the forests and the rivers we are fortunate to have in Henderson County are the drivers of our growth. The residents of Henderson County recognized this when, in the public survey you conducted, they chose protection of open spaces and forests, farmland preservation and conservation of unique natural areas as the top priorities for the plan.”

  David Weintraub, a former executive director of ECO who has been involved in land conservation efforts for many years, said the county would likely see many farms vanish if the current plan is adopted, with part of the plan calling for development of one or two units per acre.

  “Whose plan is this anyway?” he asked. “Developers get the gravy while we are stuck with the fruitcake.”

  He also predicted sewer service in Edneyville would cause more sprawl.

  After the public comments, commissioners voted to close the public hearing and said they would likely wait until January to set a date for another public hearing in February. They also discussed possibly holding a workshop on the plan.

  “This is a big deal. We don’t take this lightly,” Commission Chair Rebecca McCall said.

McCall, who serves as the County Commission's liaison to the Planning Board, said in an interview later the board needs time to evaluate dozens of changes the Planning Board made before forwarding the long-range plan to commissioners in November.

During the biannual organizational session at the top of the meeting, commissioners elected McCall as board chair and Michael Edney vice chair after those two and Commissioner Bill Lapsley were sworn in to new terms in office.