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County blocks city waterline extension, jeopardizing development

In a decision that could have far-reaching consequences for new development, the Henderson County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to block a request from the city of Hendersonville to extend water to Horse Shoe Farm.

Commissioners based their decision on what they described as the failure of the Hendersonville City Council to make any progress on a long-standing commitment to equalize water rates for customers inside and outside the city limits. Like most city-owned utility systems, Hendersonville charges out-of-city water customers more than in-city users.

The county's action, if it applies to all city waterline extensions outside the city limits, could radically restrict development in communities within the broad service area of Hendersonville's water system. The immediate consequence is that Horse Shoe Farm developer John Turchin would have to scamble for an alternative to the city water line. Longer term, the effect on growth could be substantial. A 700-home development at the former Tap Root dairy farm, for instance, plans to tie on to the city water system. The city and county have long had an agreement under which the city notifies the county of water extension requests and seeks the OK from the Board of Commissioners for each request. Until recently, commissioners have routinely granted the requests.

Commissioner Michael Edney, who pulled the approval from the board's consent agenda, said he had reviewed the city's budget.

"There's no mention of equalizing rates," he said. The debt service for the water and sewer system is rising, he said, suggesting the city needs the current revenue structure to pay off loans. Plus, the city just added a $5 a month fee to water bills to fund stormwater control measures. State law bars "double dipping," Edney said. "Henderson County has a stormwater process. We just don't happen to charge."

"I've been following that for the last 16 years," Chairman Grady Hawkins said. The promise of "equalizing rates over 10 years is like waitnig for the 12th of never. It's never going to happen as long as the city has a monopoly on water and it's just not fair to the citizens of the county."

County commissioners last month authorized a rezoning to allow development of the farm for 36 vacation rental cottages, a dining facility, clubhouse, spa and yoga studio, equestrian center and riding ring, event space, horse trailer parking and arts and crafts space.

When Commissioner Rebecca McCall asked how the developer would get water if not from the city of Hendersonville, Edney responded "the city of Asheville and mother nature and wells." Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. has a waterline from the city of Asheville and uses water from wells on its property to make beer.

Edney's wording for the motion to reject the city service to Horse Shoe Farm said that "we do not approve unless it is at an equalized rate."