Quarry plan showcases planning shortfalls

Citizens in Jackson County’s Tuckasegee community should consider themselves lucky. The problem, however, is that luck doesn’t always hold.

It appears very likely now that a proposal to construct a rock quarry in this rural community is not going to fly. Jackson County enacted a high-impact industry ordinance in May 2002 that placed relatively tight regulations on quarries and mines. According to that law, the proposed rock crusher would have to be 1,320 linear feet from the nearest home.

Jay Spiro, an attorney hired by the citizens group opposing this quarry, said he counted about 39 homes that are closer than that to this operation. The county’s planning director says the quarry doesn’t meet the requirements of the ordinance, and the county commissioners have unanimously voted to ask the state to deny the permit application.

In other words, those who spent their money on this land and hoped to build the quarry apparently did not do their homework.

The proposal, or at least the idea, to build the quarry should surprise no one. Jackson County is changing rapidly, and there is a need for gravel and crushed rock to be used in the construction industry. It was a proposal to build an asphalt plant in the Qualla community in 2001 that was the catalyst for the creation of the ordinance that is now protecting the Tuckasegee residents. Then, as now, the community rose up against the construction of the asphalt plant. Luckily for Tuckasegee, the county reacted to the possibility of the asphalt plant by developing the high-impact industry ordinance. If not for that ordinance, this would have all turned out differently.

And just like five years ago, the reality of this situation should cause mountain residents to ponder the future. The numbers tell the story of how much change is coming to the mountains. In Jackson County alone, the population has risen more than 9 percent since 2000. In seven years, the number of single-family home building permits issued annually rose from 292 to 537. It’s a whirlwind, and one that could easily spin out of control.

Where will the industries that accommodate all this growth go? Rock crushers and asphalt plants produce the materials needed for the influx of second-home residents. Large apartment complexes for students and large subdivisions with affordable housing for the middle income are going to be built. These industries and construction provide a huge chunk of the good jobs and contribute mightily to the tax base, which in turn funds schools, heath departments, environmental inspectors and more.

There has to be a way to accommodate these needs while still maintaining the lifestyle of communities that did not ask for all this growth and change. Some advocate county-wide zoning, but a more realistic approach at this point is the development of a comprehensive land-use plan. The difference, as many planners will point out, is that zoning proposals treat development as the highest and best use of land and address mostly commercial concerns.

A comprehensive land-use plan can offer a more wide-ranging array of options. For instance, it could include measures whereby rural communities can retain their character by prohibiting particular land uses; it could include ways for families to subdivide land differently than a subdivision ordinance would require of private developers; a county could petition the state to create additional tax incentives for certain land uses deemed important by the local community; most importantly, it could help Jackson County’s rural communities retain what is best.

There are dozens of models throughout the country to study, and we would encourage the incoming board of commissioners in Jackson and other counties to take a hard look at the failures and successes other communities have had in developing successful land-use plans. It’s difficult work, but we only have to look at Tuckasegee to see that there is a desperate need.

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