The Transylvania Times -

By Eric Crews
Staff Writer 

Commissioners Discuss Land Use Options - Brevard NC

 


In the months ahead, the Transylvania County Board of Commissioners will be taking a closer look at several options heard during a special workshop Monday that would, if approved, effectively limit high impact land uses in the county.

The workshop, held at the library’s Rogow Room, comes nearly six months after passing a one-year moratorium prohibiting development of any biomass facilities in the county.

That moratorium, which passed by a 3-2 vote in July, was undertaken in an effort to further study a proposed biomass power plant and biofuel operation in Penrose that generated controversy in the county due to health and aesthetic concerns.

As part of the legal requirements for enacting the moratorium, commissioners were advised by staff at the UNC School of Government that they should also enact a high impact land use ordinance within the 12-month moratorium period to protect themselves against possible legal action by the developers of the proposed biomass facility.

County Planning and Economic Development Director Mark Burrows, whose office was tasked by commissioners in August with coming up with several options to address high impact land uses, presented four options Monday.

While commissioners still have the option of doing nothing and letting the current moratorium expire in July, Burrows said they also have the option of moving ahead with a draft high impact land use ordinance that was presented to commissioners in July, modifying the existing Pisgah Forest Community Zoning ordinance to include the county’s major traffic corridors or the option of enacting countywide zoning.

Zoning Options

Burrows said the option to extend the current zoning would require “a great deal of time and energy.”

Results of a survey during the 150th anniversary celebrations found there was a 50/50 split on people who preferred zoning and those against it, Burrows said.

As part of his research, Burrows and his staff contacted county commissioners, planning board members, EDAB mem-bers and business owners in September and early October.

Similar to the countywide survey in 2011, Burrows said they found an equal number of respondents want no ordinance or policy, but if it was required they asked that it be business friendly, focus on ways to support existing businesses and be fairly simple.

The first option regarding zoning Burrows discussed was the option of modifying the existing Pisgah Forest Community Zoning Ordinance to include the major corridors (U.S. 276, U.S. 64, N.C. 280) and other roads that the commissioners deter-mine necessary.

Burrows said some of the benefits of this option are that it would be an extension of an existing ordinance, so it wouldn’t require extensive work to develop; it buffers higher impact land use development along corridors with a set distance and prohibits certain uses; it provides specific setbacks and separation distances; it supports existing property owners/community concerns; and it minimizes regulatory authority outside the corridors.

Burrows said this option could prohibit certain industries, such as incinerators, outright, which would prevent unwanted industries from moving into the area.

He stressed existing businesses would be able to continue to operate “as is.”

Burrows warned that public perception may be negative to extending zoning beyond the Pisgah Forest area.

Also, the option does not address areas outside the designated corridors and would require more staff support over the long term.

To implement this option, Burrows said that it would require around three to six months and would include staff review and updates, county commissioners doing reviews and updates, stakeholder approval, public meetings and public hearings, etc.

The second option Burrows presented regarding zoning in the county dealt with countywide zoning, which could include the option to have open use zoning.

In Buncombe County, for instance, the open use district allows for conditional use permits to be obtained from the Board of Adjustment for: multi-family housing on a single lot; adult entertainment establishments; amusement parks; asphalt plants; chip mills; concrete plants; hazardous waste facilities; incinerators; junkyards; landing strips; mining and extraction operations; motor sport facilities; outdoor commercial shooting ranges; slaughtering plants; and solid waste facilities.

Burrows said these types of countywide zoning options can be fairly simple and can be used by commissioners if they’d like to take a proactive approach to land use planning.

Advantages of this option are that it would proactively address current and future land-use concerns on a countywide basis; regulate new high impact land uses through separation distances and setbacks based on “zones” or districts; support long-term economic growth by protecting property investment (agriculture, residential, commercial and manufacturing); and provide opportunities for countywide planning and facilitate water and sewer extensions.

This option would help the county by working to try and identify areas that would be well-suited to economic development and protect those areas for their potential for manufacturing sites.

“What type of manufacturing is another discussion,” he said. “But at least you preserve an area that might be worthy of it.”

Another point to consider, Burrows said, is the City of Brevard has been clear it has concerns about extending water and sewer to areas in the county that don’t have zoning.

“Water is an extremely valuable resource,” he said. “Wastewater is also a valuable resource. Just because a community or business wants to have water and sewer does not necessarily mean that it is in the best interest of the community, the city or the county to extend it and not be able to preserve the best use of the water and sewer.”

While the countywide zoning option has many positive attributes, Burrows said he believes communitywide support for such an effort may be lacking, noting that public concern and property rights are frequently cited as reasons to prevent zon-ing.

Burrows said the amount of staff time required to implement this would be significant and could take between one and one-and-a-half years and would require extensive public engagement.

High Impact Land

Use Ordinance

The easiest of the options, other than letting the moratorium expire, would be to modify the existing draft of the High Impact Land Use ordinance to suit Transylvania County’s needs.

This option would effectively regulate high impact or polluting uses or industries based on separation distances, not through zoning or districts.

Developers of industries that are classified as “high impact,” which would likely include asphalt plants, rock quarries, tanneries and biomass facilities, would be required to site their facility a certain distance away from their property lines, which could limit their impact on surrounding property owners.

Burrows said the ordinance could be written in a way that specifies that these types of industries are “far enough away from adjoining property owners that they would be okay, or at least comfortable, that it is in that area because it would not have an immediate impact on them.”

In addition to distance, these types of ordinances often include other requirements regarding noise, traffic conditions and aesthetic buffers.

Burrows said this type of approach has been used in other North Carolina counties with limited to no negative effect on economic development.

Also, legal challenges to such ordinances have been upheld in other counties, which is an important aspect of the issue for commissioners to consider.

In the past, Burrows said the county has had to deal with lawsuits involving issues that often didn’t have a clear legal precedent, such as the noise ordinance.

“Knowing that courts have upheld something does make a difference,” he said.

The existing draft of the High Impact Land Use ordinance also serves as a template, which would help minimize the amount of time staff would need to finalize the ordinance.

While the high impact land use ordinance has many positives, it is not without its detractions, Burrows said.

“Obviously, based on the draft that was presented, a number of people see this as being business unfriendly,” he said.

Burrows believes those concerns are valid.

“This county, if it is going to grow, if we want to have development, if we want to see economic development and the ability to provide jobs for future generations, we have to have certain fundamental pieces to our economy,” he said. “Rock quarries are a great example.”

The question, Burrows pointed out, is where to put them.

Limited Available Land

Currently, 54 percent of Transylvania County is in either federal or state holding, 5 percent is in floodplain, and approximately 20 percent is already zoned residential with restrictive covenants that have been adopted by homeowner’s associations, Burrows said.

“Then you look at the City of Brevard as a geographical area that already has zoning,” he said. “So, there is not a lot of the county that has not been zoned in some fashion.”

Commissioner Larry Chapman believes the county has enough zoning due to those existing restrictions.

“I don’t see any need in spending time or what on countywide zoning,” he said.

Board Chairman Mike Hawkins, however, said that while the county is very limited in the amount of available land, the argument could be made that instead of arguing against land-use planning, it is, in fact, even more important to take a look at land-use planning for the remainder of the property because there could be greater development pressure on the remaining property.

Chapman said he believes that none of the options discussed Monday arecompletely prohibitive to businesses operating in the county.

“None of these are prohibitive. We just want to manage their impact and reduce it as much as we can,” he said.

Burrows agreed.

“What we’re trying to do is put sidelines or boundaries so that something can come in that would hopefully be beneficial to the community, increase the tax base, and provide opportunities for people to work, but do it in a way that is consistent with what the community of Transylvania County would like to see,” Burrows said.

When asked to define what he believed land-use planning is, Burrows said it is when a community collectively determines how it wants to see land identified in its current use and how they want to see that land developed in the future over a period of time.

“It’s a definition that is going to be mercurial because it is developed by the community and ultimately adopted by the local jurisdiction,” he said.

Chapman reiterated his desire that the commissioners and county staff not lose sight of what he believes is the most important part of the process, which are the property rights of county citizens.

“We cannot lose sight of what we can do here that will have the minimal impact of each individual property owner in this county,” he said.

In the history of the county, Chapman said leaders haven’t had to address very many of the issues they now face.

“With what we’re doing here, if another Ecusta wanted to come into Pisgah Forest, we’d probably have a heck of a time trying to figure out how to deal with that,” he said. “Times are changing and the biomass plant sort of raised that flag up to the top of the flagpole.

“Yeah, I’m for property rights, but unfortunately a lot of the industries we’ve talked about here, their impact doesn’t stop at that property line.

“If it did, I wouldn’t care what they did on their property. This is not just a personal property right, it’s impacting the rights of the people around them because that impact doesn’t stop at the property line.”

Chapman said that just because an industry may be listed under the high impact land use ordinance doesn’t mean that it can’t be a desirable business if the right steps are made to mitigate their impact on surrounding properties.

Commissioner Page Lemel said she supported Chapman’s statement, saying she believes doing nothing is not a viable option, nor is countywide zoning.

She believed either extending the current Pisgah Forest Zoning ordinance to other areas or implementing a High Impact Land Use ordinance are the two options she’d like to pursue in future discussions.

Lemel said the proposed biomass project served as a figurative shot across the bow that illustrated why the commissioners need to be proactive on these types of issues.

“We need to be prepared because we just can’t continue to fight each battle independently,” she said. “We’ve got to get our-selves organized and we’ve got to be prepared to address that which is coming our way.”

Commissioner Jason Chappell voiced his concerns about zoning and the potential hindrance that the possibility of limited business expansion could have on business development.

“I have great concerns about expansion of those activities,” he said. “I would encourage commissioners to look strongly at that because if I’m a business owner and I’m looking to expand and I’m being told that I can only expand 15 percent one or two times but I can go down the road somewhere and expand all I want, that’s a very big issue.

“I don’t think that would help economic development.”

Commissioner Daryle Hogsed said that countywide zoning is something that isn’t off the table for him as far as the discussion goes.

He believes in protecting property rights of both business owners and citizens in regards to the High Impact Land Use ordinance.

“I have serious reservations about us telling a business…how much they can expand,” he said. “To me that’s not Transylvania County and that’s not America.”

Hogsed pointed out that the Pisgah Forest Zoning Ordinance only applies to property owners whose properties border U.S. 280 and U.S. 64.

“If we could do something along those lines that does not impact and impede our property owners and business owners in their ability to continue to grow and be successful and our ability to attract new businesses, it is something that I’d give consideration to,” he said. “But that’s a tall order.”

Burrows said the city and county worked together to face a similar challenge in Pisgah Forest around four years ago, and their efforts proved successful.

Hawkins said that while the moratorium was not designed specifically to address the proposed biomass plant in Penrose, it did come about as a result of the timeline of development of that project.

Since the moratorium’s enactment, Burrows said he has discussed the project with the owner of the airport site where the project had been proposed and said there was nothing de-finitive on the status of the project.

Hawkins said county commissioners would likely take the issue up again in January to begin moving forward with the process.

 
 

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