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LIGHTNING EDITORIAL: Growth highlights need for comp plan update

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Henderson County commissioners are having a hard time deciding whether to invest in a sewer line to serve the new Edneyville Elementary School because they have no idea what the longterm impact might be.

It’s understandable.
Development follows utility lines. Growth continues here at a pace not seen since the pre-crash days up to 2008. We’re seeing development heat up in the form of multi-family or senior housing requests that have come before the Board of Commissioners and Hendersonville City Council. The sewer line question has vexed commissioners because it could lead to explosive growth, because it would add pressure to transform apple orchards into tract housing and because it renews the bugaboo that the county would be ceding control of growth management to the city of Hendersonville, which owns the sewage treatment plant.
County Engineer Marcus Jones presented a detailed study of the options for serving the new elementary school. One of the statistics was that zoning along the sewer line path would permit 10,766 multi-family units — a figure that’s more of a math equation than a market analysis. Overwhelmed by that alarming statistic and other factors, commissioners booted the sewer line decision for a second time after directing the county manager to negotiate a possible cost-sharing arrangement with the city.
The issue, as Commissioner Grady Hawkins observed, is much larger than the Edneyville sewer line alone. The county’s comprehensive land-use plan, and not a sewer line, ought to guide growth in the county. Adopted in 2007 — after years of resistance by elected leaders of the day, including Hawkins — the comp plan is starting to fray from development pressure and a real estate market shift from big houses on one-acre lots to condos, cluster homes and rental units on grass that the busy retiree doesn’t have to mow.
“It’s about at its shelf life,” Hawkins said of the 10-year-old land development code. “We need to be working on an update to the comprehensive land-use plan…. One way or another, we’re going to do something and I think it needs to be in concert with a plan that’s fairly well coordinated with the comprehensive land-use plan.”
For veteran consumers of news about county government, Hawkins’ epiphany is meaningful. Among the five commissioners, Hawkins has the most experience in the politics of land-use planning and the deepest appreciation for the hazardous shoals of rezoning requests.
In the recent past, homeowners have filled county meeting rooms to express shock and anger that:
• Rural residential (R2R) zoning, which permits just two dwellings per acre, allows an event barn, which is a commercial use.
• Residential One (R1) zoning (intended to “foster orderly growth where the principal use of land is residential) allows 16 dwellings per acre plus an RV park, restaurant, clubhouse, wellness center, etc.
• Residential 2 (R2) zoning would allow 198 rental units on the 85-acre Horse Shoe Farm property on the French Broad River.
In addition, the land-use code allows dozens of commercial or institutional uses allowed in residential zones as long as the Zoning Board of Adjustment issues a special-use permit.
An Edneyville sewer line would be the latest potential driver of development that raises the need for a fresh look at the comp plan. There will be others. The Board of Commissioners is at a point how where it ought to authorize a broad review of the land development code with a goal of making the plan more compatible with the market.
A standard SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) would show commissioners that the comp plan is weak when it comes to protecting established residential zones from dense and intense development.
With the right land-use tools, the Board of Commissioners could turn a bullish real estate market, the baby boom retirement wave and an Edneyville sewer line into an opportunity for quality growth.