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MossColumn: Growth anxiety blows up primary

Rebecca McCall, presumably with the blessing of the four other county commissioners, took the unusual step of defending the board’s unanimous vote to adopt the 2045 comp plan and to ensure constituents that commissioners can still make changes.

“There are some tweaks that we need to make obviously as we move forward,” the chairwoman declared in a 3½-minute video the county sent to the press immediately after the board adjourned last Wednesday. “It’s not the perfect plan. As the weather changes and things progress forward in the next 20 years, there’s going to be things that come up that will affect the plan and it can be revised.”
What?! Did the board chairwoman just utter the words “as the weather changes?” Stunning!

As they reviewed and edited the comp plan, commissioners were united in their resistance to goals or policies on climate change, which in my lexicon is the same as “changing weather.”

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At the Etowah Lions Club forum in January, the moderator posed this question to county commission candidates: “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?”

“The simple answer is no,” Commissioner David Hill responded. “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.”

Commissioner Daniel Andreotta, the other incumbent whom voters decisively pink-slipped in the March 5 primary, was only a bit more receptive to “mitigation strategies.”

“I think there are some wise light-handed guidelines that we could implement,” he said. “I don’t think we need to view whatever the worst weather conditions are and always regulate backwards from that.”

The problem for Andreotta and Hill was that voters trust their own eyes — and their own experience running into one floodwaters barricade after another — more than they trust climate change mockers’ brushoff that “there’s nothing to see here.” An unlucky break for Andreotta and Hill was that the Jan. 9 storm that dumped 6 inches of rain on the county was fresh on voters’ minds when they turned out for the primary — and so was the incumbents’ votes back in October to repeal the land-use code’s prohibition on construction in floodways.

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By their voting record and rhetoric, Andreotta and Hill would seem to be more aligned with Tea Party positions than any of the other three commissioners. Yet that didn’t stop Jane Bilello and the Asheville Tea Party from selling them out over growth management and zoning.

The Tea Party endorsed the successful challengers, Sheila Franklin and Jay Egolf, early on, citing their growth management platforms. “Zoning is the big issue” for Franklin. “If you care about zoning in Henderson County, Jay’s your guy,” the Tea Party’s palm card said.

That’s giving short shrift to the property rights of a landowner who may want a rezoning to put four cottages on an acre of land. Hill’s consistent defense of property rights over restrictive (government) zoning and Andreotta’s repeated warnings that a government program funding land conservation “means your wallet just got thinner” were conservative positions.

Bilello, an Asheville Tea Party activist who lives in Flat Rock, has now aligned herself with the environmentalists and land conservationists who are demanding that commissioners use the government’s power of zoning to protect homeowners from high-density residential and commercial development.

“Just because a contractor knocks on the door doesn't mean you have to open it,” she told commissioners, sounding no different than the parade of other slow- and no-growthers she parrotted in Wednesday’s public comment time. “You need to shred the 2045 plan that you have and start listening to the community and please make sure that whatever you do, it has to preserve the integrity of this wonderful community.”

If nothing else, the conversion of the county’s most aggressive Tea Party figure to the land conservation caucus shows why the 2024 primary turned out to be such a strong message election. Conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, red and blue remain divided over Obamacare, mask, vax and tax. At last, they’ve found something to agree on.