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Commissioners may call timeout on big subdivisions

Confronted by repeated protests over housing developments and road improvements, the Board of Commissioners may call a timeout on growth.

The idea comes from an unlikely source.
Commissioner Grady Hawkins, who opposed strong zoning restrictions in the mid-‘90s, says infrastructure has not kept pace with the kind of development requests commissioners are now seeing. Last December, the board unanimously rejected a 225-unit development at Horse Shoe Farm and just last month the Planning Board said no when the same developer sought approval for a 300-unit development on a narrow
road in Etowah. That happens to be the same community where a private sewer company recently experienced a sewage spill.
“What seems to be happening is we’ve long since exceeded our road capacities and our water and sewer capacity,” Hawkins said. “We’ve got three major road studies under way, the most pressing one on Kanuga, where we’ve had several deaths occur, and 64 and Highland Lake and the (Balfour) bypass
off the interstate. Anytime that we have a large number of residents, it has a corresponding effect on the traffic. You don’t need a traffic study to realize that.
That puts us into kind of a safety issue that we need to see if we can do some of our land development code to help in that area.”
County Manager Steve Wyatt said one of the first things he did when Hawkins brought up the idea was to call his lawyer. Wyatt, Chairman Michael Edney and County Attorney Russ Burrell met on Sunday, Oct. 22. Burrell told Wyatt and Hawkins that state law requires the Board of Commissioners to hold a public hearing before it could impose a moratorium. That has been set for Monday, Nov. 6.
“I do not know if there are the votes to do a moratorium,” Wyatt said. “Grady wants to do it, Michael (Edney) is, ‘I’m willing to talk about it.’ Bill (Lapsley) is, ‘I’m willing to talk about it.’”
Several times over the past two years, homeowners have been surprised to learn that the county’s residential zoning allows numerous non-residential uses, including an event barn, RV slots, restaurants and barbershops.
“I do believe there is a desire on the board’s part to look at revising the subdivision ordinance to deal with some of the issues that have arisen recently — the party barn, clarification for things like adequate public facilities (such as roads, water and sewer), RV parks,”
Wyatt said “Is that a subdivision? What is that? Tiny homes.”
A timeout could last a while.
“It’s not doable in three months and a six-month time frame is aggressive” for a comp plan review and rewrite, Wyatt said.
Commissioner Tommy Thompson was leaning in favor of the idea.
“The county comprehensive plan really needs to be looked at and we need to study all of our small area plans and
see what our various communities want,” he said. “In most recent times we’re having a whole lot of interest of people wanting to come in here and build subdivisions and that kind of thing. It’s just like this Eagle’s Nest thing that went down the tubes last week. Does this fit the comprehensive plan? Is this what we want in our community?”
A 5-mile sewer line from the Justice Academy to the city of Hendersonville could become a catalyst for growth in the apple country. That raises questions about whether the comp plan has put the right rules in place for orderly growth.
“We want this community to grow but we want it to grow in a fashion that everybody’s happy with it,” Thompson said. “We just need to make sure that the comprehensive plan gets updated but in order to do that, this moratorium is a tool to just put everything on hold so we can ultimately decide how do we want our community to grow.”
Residents have organized to oppose three pending road projects and commissioners have not weighed in on the projects yet.
“In the interest of public safety and health and welfare it would be good to take a little breather and see what if anything is lacking in our land development code that can help alleviate some of our problems,” Hawkins said. “I know we can’t alleviate all of them.”
“Kind of fresh on our mind is the complete collapse of the Seven Falls thing and that just created an enormous amount of problems sorting that thing out and then you have some grandiose plan,” he added. “I think back to the Eagle’s Nest thing. The guy’s going to rent homes out there for $4,000 a month? That seems a little far-fetched. You get down a trail of one of those and all of a sudden you have another Seven Falls on your hands.”
A public hearing on a moratorium on “certain residential development” has been set for 5:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 6, in the commissioners meeting room in the Historic Courthouse.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that County Manager Steve Wyatt met in Wyatt's office with County Attorney Russ Burrell and County Commissioner Grady Hawkins. Wyatt met out of the office with county commission Chairman Michael Edney and Burrell.