Where the candidates stand on land-use planning is a different story, however. On the surface, their views seem similar. Most candidates say they support grassroots planning that relies on communities to shape their own vision. After all, who would be against that?
But the important nuance in their positions is in how proactive they think the county should be in facilitating community-based planning.
The majority don’t want to talk about land-use planning unless a community association shows up at a commissioner’s meeting and specifically requests to talk about it. Bill Upton is the only candidate who believes commissioners should take a more pro-active role by holding community forums to discuss issues of growth and development. On the other end of the spectrum, Carlyle Ferguson said he is against land-use planning.
Bear in mind that some candidates who were skeptical of land-use planning held traditional notions of zoning, where property is rigidly designated as commercial, residential or industrial. New land-use planning models don’t dictate what can be built, but instead focus on how it is built so that it blends in with the community.
Bethel, home to one of the more organized community clubs in the county, is the only community group so far that has appeared before the county commissioners to share what they see as a common vision for their area. The community even sought a grant to fund a statistically accurate telephone survey to gauge community feelings — the overwhelmingly majority want to stay rural.
The county commissioners listened to the community club’s presentation of the survey results, but took no action to help the community pursue its vision. Other areas of the county, especially key commercial corridors primed for growth, have no organized community club to come forward and ask commissioners for help, however.
We asked each candidate to talk about their stance on land-use planning as it relates to growth and development.
Skeeter Curtis, Democrat challenger
“I don’t think we should go out and say this is commercial and this is residential. I don’t think a county government can force that on a community. If a community starts becoming heavily developed and they want to start designating property in their community residential and commercial, the county should take an active part in assisting them.”
Curtis said more people should take an active role in their community clubs so they can talk about these types of issues amongst themselves.
Curtis predicted that a community at some point will be upset by a particular type of development in its midst.
“They are going to protest what is going on and we are going to have to address those issues. I think with new people coming into our county and building, they are going to start bringing forward land-use planning and management. When and where, I don’t know.”
Curtis said he doesn’t intend to initiate land-use planning discussions, however.
Kevin Ensley, Republican, incumbent
Ensley used to be skeptical of development regulations, but has changed his opinion over the past four years. A construction project uphill from his grandparents funneled runoff into his grandparent’s yard. While there are sediment laws governing muddy water, there are no laws governing clean water, which diverted onto his grandparent’s yard making it muddy and soggy all the time.
“That kind of woke me up,” Ensley said.
When it came time to hire a new county manager, Ensley said his interest was piqued by one applicant who listed community-based land-use planning on his resume. That’s ultimately who the county hired, and Ensley said that was a big reason why.
“He had experience in small community planning where each little community had its own plans.”
Ensley would like to go that route in the next four years.
“We have suggested that to the community clubs and they really have not come to us yet. With the county manager, we have we have people in place to help communities if they want to start that discussion.”
Carlyle Ferguson, Republican challenger
“I’m not for that. All land-use planning would do is have more regulations on top of what we’ve already got.”
Ferguson said many farmers bought land as their only investment in life.
“That land is very valuable if you can build a house on it. If you can’t it’s not worth a damn ... It would be like me coming up town and taking 90 percent of someone’s bank account away. If you are going to take a man’s property, pay him for it.”
At the same time, Ferguson said he would support a community’s wishes.
“Communities like Bethel want to stay the way they are. I’ll cheer for that if that’s what you want.”
When posed with the prospect of major commercial expansion in his neck of the woods — namely N.C. 209 around I-40, Ferguson said a Cracker Barrel might be nice, but not another Russ Avenue.
“I don’t want to see a Russ Avenue down in Iron Duff. I don’t think anyone would want another Russ Avenue. I think it’s too bad we’ve go the one we got. I don’t want to see another one.”
Kirk Kirkpatrick, Democrat, incumbent
Kirkpatrick said he was somewhat undecided on the role the county commissioners should take in facilitating community-based planning — whether the county should be proactive or reactive.
“I think you can promote that conversation. Otherwise people will sit back and wait until there is a problem to come to you and that’s what we don’t want to deal with ... It would be good to talk about it amongst the communities and find out what a particular community wants. If a particular community sees a vision for their future.”
On second thought, however, Kirkpatrick said he would want to see a clear need first.
“I am not going to implement any planning rules until I can see that in the near future a community is going to have a particular problem because they don’t have any rules — are they going to have varying uses that don’t coincide with what that community wants?”
Kirkpatrick also decided that he was more inclined to let communities make the first move in broaching the issue.
“Somebody would have to be a leader in that community and say, ‘Hey guys lets get together on this.’”
If no one comes forward, does it mean it won’t happen?
“I can’t predict whether we would go another four years without planning.”
Bill Upton, Democrat challenger
Upton said he believes in “being proactive instead of reactive.”
“I think we need to do some county planning by going into each community and seeing what our citizens think about what their communities should look like. If we don’t plan ahead, we are going to have to be reactive.”
Upton said he thinks the time is now right.
“We’ve done that in the past and got some resistance.” But that was nearly a decade ago and attitudes have changed.
Upton has made a safe and clean environment part of his platform.
“We are noted for being a beautiful and pristine area. Everybody tells me they move here because of the beautiful mountains. If we don’t keep it that way, then we are just like the place they are moving from.”