STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS
COUNTY OF HENDERSON APRIL 17, 2001
The Henderson County Board of Commissioners met for a special called meeting at 7:00 p.m. at the Etowah‑Horse Shoe Fire and Rescue Department in Horse Shoe, North Carolina.
Those present were: Chairman Bill Moyer, Vice‑Chair Marilyn Gordon, Commissioner Grady Hawkins, Commissioner Don Ward, Commissioner Charles Messer, County Manager David Nicholson, County Attorney Angela Beeker.
Also present was Planning Director Karen Smith.
Absent was Clerk to the Board, Elizabeth W. Corn.
Chairman Bill Moyer stated that this meeting is the fourth of five public input sessions that the Commissioners are holding throughout the County on the issue of Open Use zoning and thanked those citizens in attendance. Chairman Moyer then stated that in light of the small number of people that had signed up to speak he would limit them generally to five minutes of input. At the end of the session there would be time for citizens to ask questions. The Board will welcome any written comments which will be distributed to all Commissioners.
1. Dixie Blumer. She said that some had heard her comments before but she was going to try again. She lives in Etowah. It has taken over two years to bring the Open Use proposal to this point. The newspaper has published comments that Open Use offers no safety, that the stop gap rules are not enough, that it is a little better than nothing, etc. Where are the people who think this is a great thing?. She said that a year ago, the newspaper said it did not think that Safety Net Zoning is the right way to go. She agrees. Although there are specific site standards for the 11 uses on the chart, they can go anywhere in the Open Use district if they meet the regulations. This is not good planning. It does not address uses like truck terminals, auto dealerships, gas stations with convenience stores, fast food restaurants, recreational vehicle displays, manufactured home displays, etc., that can have a negative impact on neighborhoods. Such uses will not be subject to site or general standards or review or permitting. Neighboring property owners won't be notified and there will be no opportunity for input. They will be allowed any place, as now in unzoned areas. She asked why the Board couldn't remedy this problem with a creative method like neighborhood compatibility review. There is no planning going on except for the Mills River/Fletcher study that is underway. She wondered how long that would take, what would be the result and what will others have while they wait. Open Use is not a solution for Henderson County's growing pains.
2. Perry Davis. He thanked the Commissioners for holding the meeting and he was glad to see them all get to Etowah. He said it seems like Etowah has been left out for some time. He had some questions and some statements but he does not necessarily want answers tonight. He wanted to know what assurances there would be if Open Use is adopted to prevent more restrictive zoning in the future. He has relatives and friends in/out of the state who have had rural areas zoned and each time new County Commissioners came in, they would get more restrictive zoning. Eventually those with homestead farms can't give their kids a place without 6‑7 acres. He asked if when the County starts zoning if it was going to reduce property owners taxes accordingly because the zoning would take options away. Property loses value when options are taken away. The Subdivision Ordinance has reduced the value of his property because it reduced his options. He also asked why the County does not spend time, energy and tax money to correct and improve situations that are causing us trouble now, such as traffic congestion. In Etowah, many people shop in Pisgah Forest because it is quicker to get there vs. Four Seasons. Another example is sewer systems. While the area is rapidly developing, groundwater is being polluted by septic tanks. He also asked why the County had not been working on something to stop Fletcher's takeover of the County's industry base.
3. Edward Nicholson. Looking at the people sitting on the Board, he noted that he is older than all of you put together. He has been here since 1932 and has seen the county grow. He has seen a lot happen that should not have happened and the Board has control that he can't do anything about it. He has done a lot to make the community what it is. He does not appreciate anyone sitting behind the table telling him what to do with his property, charging fees, etc. He said a lot of folks are retired and we can't afford the fees. (applause followed)
4. Bruce Bell. Thanked Commissioners for coming out to Etowah. This is something close to the hearts of the community. He was born and raised here. Etowah has always taken care of Etowah's problems decade after decade, generation after generation. We don't need outside protection or help. He was concerned that this Board may have best of intentions, but the Board changes every two years and politics is getting to be a big money game. Politics is big money. He is concerned that if the Board passes any kind of zoning it is just a foot in door. The more restrictive zoning gets, the more it pushes out small time developers and contractors. Big money operators will have control. People out here have done well with this community. We trust ourselves.
5. Anthony Laughter. Thanked the Board. First opportunity to speak before the Board of Commissioners. Was also speaking for father. He has been in Etowah his whole life. Has been involved with real estate in the past. Regarding the Open Use zoning, once you establish the baseline it is easy to add new restraints. Today you regulate an asphalt plant, tomorrow might be regulation of a subdivision. Lives near an asphalt plant. The zoning doesn't have impact on him. It gives outsiders opportunity to regulate what we do. Talked about a story of his father who lives in a community and had a cattle farm. Some people outside of town bought near his father and began to complained about the smell of cattle. They even confronted his father in church. The point being that the cows were visible and people buying property should have noticed them and should have expected the effects of the cows. Once here, people want to change the rules. People of Etowah are good stewards to the County. Self‑restrained development. Zoning has its place. From real estate he knows it gives protection but also removes part of the bundle of rights. For that he is not in favor of zoning.
6. Dick Shuffstall. Comments are general concerning zoning in general and OU in particular. David Nicholson spent a lot of time saying it doesn't prohibit much. But he has problems when there are a lot of regulations on property and businesses. Opposed to zoning that doesn't allow response from those it impacts. He was part of the committee that recommended LUGS to the Board and the recommendation was ignored. Land Use Plan that he was part of ‑ served on committee ‑ made a recommendation that Mills River area be a commercial area. Commissioners a year later, established a Lower Mills River Watershed for Buncombe County and rules and regulations were put into place that curtailed any commercial development. Leaves him with a bad feeling about how regulations affect businesses and homes. Market forces make the world go round, not government. Having looked at this for 13 years as resident of Mills River and Etowah, he hasn't seen that zoning has done anything that is helpful. He believes people will behave properly and that they don't need a lot of rules and regulations to do this. Opposed to this kind of zoning. Believes in citizenry.
7. Jim Hagen. He said that he lives in Mills River. He left Buncombe County because of the restrictions there. The cost of land in the county is so high that those who might want to do the uses in the Open Use District would not be able to afford to to buy property, so it was unlikely that they would come here.
There was some discussion concerning the implementation of water supply/water shed regulations for the lower Mills River watershed.
There was also discussion about whether the Board had given due consideration to the LUGS recommendation.
Chairman Moyer said that Perry Davis was right about something that none of us can do anything about. Boards can have significant change with elections. There is nothing that he knows of legally that you can do to bind future boards. Once Open Use zoning is adopted, you no longer need need 640 acres to request a zoning change. If Open Use is adopted throughout the County, people could rezone smaller areas.
Regarding the comment by Perry Davis regarding why the Board doesn't take money and relieve traffic problems, Chairman Moyer said that if you've been following what the Board is trying to do, we have worked aggressively on traffic problems. For example, we were able to get US Highway 64 expedited and put on a schedule as well as Upward Road. The Board believes that it has a good relationship with DOT. State and Federal money are involved. The Board has gotten some lights installed, for example, the traffic light at South Allen Road turned on today. There are plans to extend sewer in Mills River that are underway. There have been some discussions with regard to the Etowah system and how it would fit into a regional system.
Perry Davis said that it appears from the news on the Clear Creek Connector, NC 191, etc., that the City is vetoing all attempts to do anything. He asked if there was a way for the County to bypass the City and get something done and wondered why the City always vetoes County and State plans.
Chairman Moyer stated that the County cannot bypass the City although it can take contrasting positions, as it has on some issues. The City has the same right as the County to communicate, for example, with NCDOT. He said that the County continues to develop a good relationship with NCDOT, so they are receptive to the County's ideas.
Commissioner Gordon stated that tonight's meeting had drawn the largest group of citizens and she thought it was interesting that it was the Etowah meeting. The Board was getting different viewpoints. She encouraged those present to make the trip into town sometimes and make their views known because it would help the Board get a better balance of views. Up to a few years ago, the County was not involved in thoroughfare planning. It was all done by municipalities. She said that the County is working on a thoroughfare plan and that there is a County Transportation Advisory Committee, which is chaired by Chairman Moyer.
Chairman Moyer said that citizens in other areas of the county had raised the concern that if Open Use is not applied countywide, communities will be open to other uses. He had not heard that concern expressed tonight, so he wanted to put it on the table for comments.
Bruce Bell said that there are not that many large tracts left to do a lot of what's in the zoning plan. A lot of what's mentioned are things that we don't have to worry about. In looking at Henderson County, he thinks that Etowah is best community. He said that neighbors do not object to proposed uses in Etowah.
Edward Nicholson wondered what could be built in Etowah that isn't there already. We have junkyards, car sales, etc. The asphalt plant brought this to a head. He did not see anything wrong with an asphalt plant if someone wanted to build it in Etowah.
Mr. Bell said that he always sees the same names crop up in the newspaper time and time again regarding issues like the asphalt plant, the widening 191, the widening of I‑26, the Clear Creek connector, the bridge on 7th Avenue, etc. At one time, they were all in favor of Chairman Moyer and then you had to deliver the bad news that that asphalt plant was legal. Then they turned on you. Charlie Messer always told him that he was pro‑land use but that he didn't want to shove anything down anyone's throat.
Edward Nicholson asked who decides if Open Use is going to be applied to Etowah? The Board or the community?
Chairman Moyer replied that there is not a vote or referendum taken of the citizens on zoning. The law deals with that issue.
Commissioner Hawkins said that there are a finite number of things that the state legislature lets you vote on and zoning is not one of them.
A woman in the audience asked if there was any recourse for citizens if the Board chooses to apply zoning to Etowah and Etowah does not want it. Chairman Moyer said that the citizens could get rid of the Board. The same woman asked if the next group of Commissioners could change things. Commissioner Hawkins said that a future Board could change things except that it could not go back and change something that is grandfathered. A Board can't tell someone to take incinerator down, for example. This gets into areas of vested rights. If Open Use is implemented and someone builds a plant, then it is there. However, if the plant wants to expand, it will probably have to comply with any new rules. He also said that the comment Mr. Perry made is important. The County has no say so on what a municipality annexes. If they comply with annexation laws, they can do it. Another example has to do with roads. The County has little to do with roads and in North Carolina, counties cannot build roads any more while cities can build roads.
Dick Shuffstall asked about the meaning of the name of the district, "Open Use." He said it does not mean anything and that it should be called "minimal zoning."
Commissioner Ward said that he was on Board of Commissioners when Safety Net came up after LUGS did not make it. He said that a rock quarry was being proposed on US 176 and people came to the Commissioners and said they did not want it. The former Planning Director and the Planning Board came up with a two‑page text for a "Safety Net" district which has now turned into a book. He said he is not one for zoning. He knows that Open Use will affect him and his recycling/salvage yard but he acknowledged that there are some people in the county who want more restrictions.
Dr. Shuffstall wanted to know how all of the additional rules and regulations were going to improve the lives and activities of people?
Dixie Blumer asked if it was possible to have site standards for the uses in the Open Use district though freestanding ordinances.
Commissioner Gordon said that when she was first appointed to the Planning Board, she brought forward a development standards ordinance from Spartanburg County, South Carolina. They did not have zoning. It had standards similar to those for the uses in the Open Use district. Rather than labeling each piece of land, it set standards. She was told by County staff that in North Carolina, you have to use zoning to set those types of parameters. Open Use tries to reach a compromise between reasonable set of rules and the laws of North Carolina. She thinks that they could do better on the State level with the regulations that counties can use. Zoning is often seen as the solution but it is not always a solution. It can cause more problems than it solves. If the County does apply zoning countywide, it will have to identify areas for asphalt plants. Previously, zoning was done bit by bit. People would apply for zoning and push certain uses elsewhere without identifying appropriate places for them. If we keep on that track, will push needed things out.
Commissioner Ward said that some of the uses on the Open Use list are already covered by stand‑alone ordinances. The County could go back and do separate ordinances for each use and the staff can tell you that it would create a huge book. Open Use consolidates it all into one small part of the zoning puzzle.
Ms. Blumer asked how this fit with what Commissioner Gordon had said. Commissioner Gordon said that the County can have freestanding ordinances that deal with health and safety issues. County Attorney Angela Beeker said that stand‑along ordinances cannot go as far as zoning ordinances.
Dr. Shuffstall said that his wife and others had canvassed residents of one of the watersheds regarding zoning. After six months, the residents agreed to a zoning plan. His point was that if you talk to people, you can get agreement. When a Board sits there and says you are going to do this, this and this, and you do not ask the area residents, you have dealt those people out. After all of this earlier work was done, and Mills River was going to be zoned, the Board of Commissioners turned it down, saying you cannot have this many entrees on the zoning menu.
Commissioner Messer said that some parts of the county are telling the Board that they don't want to be left out. The people in Hoopers Creek took it upon themselves to ask for zoning and ETJ. He has no problem with that, but the Board is here tonight to take the Open Use proposal to the people.
Dr. Shuffstall said that if you zone and have a process, it should include input.
Skip Shelton said he lived in Mills River before Dick Shuffstall did. There was a problem regarding the road that they wanted to put through the valley. Commissioners, City Council, State DOT, and all said there would be no effect on the future development of Mills River and that it was not their intent to see the area developed, made industrial, commercial, etc., that it was rural. The people in Mills River are also stewards of their land. However, as land passed on, children, grandchildren, things change. He said that if you want to keep things a certain way, then you need to put it in writing and make it a law or else it will change.
Bruce Bell stated that concerning the road, it would be under water if weren't for the people of the county. Mr. Perry said that it should not be up to anyone to tell a grandson whether he should sell land or keep farming.
Mr. Bell said that it would take a special act of the General Assembly to be able to take a vote on zoning. He said that Henderson County could do like Buncombe County and do a non‑binding referendum.
Leon Allison stated that he had been on the Planning Board since October. He said that people were fortunate to have Commissioners with open minds who would come out to communities and get input. They could do zoning without input. All of the Commissioners have been faithful about coming to the meetings and bringing it to the people.
Edward Nicholson asked if the Board would listen to the input. He said that the Commissioners are voted in by the people and if the Commissioners don't have enough guts to state their opinions, then why should the people state their opinions. He also said that the people sitting here tonight are at a disadvantage. They are natives. Most people in the county that are pushing things are not natives. If they don't like it how it is, why did they come here?
Chairman Moyer asked if there was any further public input session or questions and there being none asked if there was a motion to adjourn. Commissioner Ward moved that the meeting be adjourned at approximately 8:25 p.m. All voted in favor and the motion carried.
Elizabeth W. Corn, Clerk to the Board William L. Moyer, Chairman