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Tracy Grove may get gem mine attraction

Planner Eric Warren listens as Matt Banz, center, and his wife, Michelle, describe plans for the Blue Ridge Gemstone Mine on Tracy Grove Road. Planner Eric Warren listens as Matt Banz, center, and his wife, Michelle, describe plans for the Blue Ridge Gemstone Mine on Tracy Grove Road.

TRACY GROVE — A couple who operate gem mine attractions in Chimney Rock and Greenville, South Carolina, hope to add a third in Hendersonville.


The Henderson County Planning Board last week recommended approval of a request from Michelle and Matt Banz to rezone a 5.8-acre tract of land on Tracy Grove Road at I-26 from R2R residential to local commercial conditional.
The land, currently owned by Philip and Ann Botnick of Apache Junction, Arizona, was developed as an RV park in 1991 but that use has ceased. The property contains a manufactured home that the Banzes plan to renovate as a rest room facility.
The conditional-use application proposes a 6,336-square-foot building with offices and a gift shop. Outdoors would be two recirculating gem mining flumes, walking trails, a picnic area, bus parking and 33 parking spaces. If the Board of Commissioners approves the application next month, the couple say they’ll move ahead with development of the site. They hope to open the attraction, Blue Ridge Gemstone Mine, next year.

The couple, with help from their three teen-age children, operate the Chimney Rock Gemstone Mine and another mine in Greenville.
“This is our dream job,” Michelle Banz said after a meeting with the county Technical Review Committee in early July. “A lot of the schools that have come to Chimney Rock have ended up putting gem mining into their own curriculum.”
The flumes are filled with a combination of native and imported stones.
“We get shipments from everywhere,” Matt Banz said. “They get to keep whatever they find.” Customers can have stones they like made into rings, earrings, pendants and other jewelry.
GemMineSignHomeowners on Tracy Grove Road are organizing to oppose commercial zoning for a gemstone mine attraction near the I-26 overpass.The attraction would be open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. seven days a week.
“We wouldn’t have any nighttime operations. We wouldn’t have any early morning operations,” Michelle Banz said.
During the Technical Review Committee meeting, Curtis Newman, an across-the-street homeowner, said he and his neighbors opposed commercial use of the land.
“We’re really not looking for this piece of property to be rezoned whatsoever,” he said. Newman and others also spoke against the rezoning request at a Planning Board last week. An across-the-street neghbor has organized an effort to stop the rezoning and others have posted yard signs opposing the change in land-use.
In a 4-3 vote, the advisory board defeated a motion to recommend denial of the rezoning. After adding specific conditions, the board then voted 6-1 to recommend approval, said Planning Director Autumn Radcliff. The conditions include limiting hours to 9 a.m.-6 p.m., requiring street trees as a buffer along Tracy Grove Road, moving the proposed dumpster location away from a nearby home and shielding the outdoor lighting. The request goes to the Board of Commissioners in September.