Attempts to pass Swain County’s first-ever planning regulations are showing signs of movement, but not in the direction that planning advocates hope.
A county subdivision ordinance, primarily setting standards for road widths and grades, was dropped from discussion by county commissioners a year ago after facing fierce opposition at a public hearing. No work has been done on it since, leaving Swain County as one of the few in the region with no regulations or oversight of construction on mountainside slopes.
The commissioners’ lack of interest in planning has now cost the county a grant that would have rekindled the topic.
Until recently, Swain County was second in line for a pot of money to help communities with planning initiatives, funded by the Southwestern Commission and the Department of Transportation.
The county was given the coveted number two spot because at the time, commissioners seemed serious about a subdivision ordinance and other planning issues.
But since the ordinance is dead in the water, the two grant sponsors asked Swain County Manager Kevin King if it was OK to bump the county further down the list and put neighboring Macon County in the number two spot.
King gave the Southwestern Commission and DOT the go ahead, and later informed the commissioners at the board’s annual retreat last weekend.
“That ordinance was dead anyway,” King told commissioners. “So we don’t have anything in place right now until somebody asks to put it on the agenda.”
King paused to see if commissioners showed signs of interest in the issue, but they remained silent, making it clear they had no intention of being the one to bring the ordinance up again.
Some Swain County residents think now is the time for the county to revisit the issue of planning. The economic downturn has slowed development, leaving commissioners time to hash out details.
“Right now, while land prices are dropping out the bottom, they should be trying to do something,” said Swain native Boyd Gunter. “You got a breathing spell here.”
Gunter, who lives in the Alarka community, has already seen too many developers ravaging his mountains.
“I own mountain land, and I don’t want to see it destroyed,” he said. “It’s just pure negligence on these Realtors’ parts to think you can come and build a house anywhere.”
Gunter has been pushing Swain commissioners to put development regulations of some sort in place for at least two years, but to no avail.