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Wednesday, 01 August 2007 00:00

Macon takes a stand, and developer is OK with it

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It used to be the “revenooers” who were considered the most vile characters in the mountains, but now we have a new villain — the evil developer who swoops in with wads of cash and turns beautiful mountaintops and river valleys into gated developments or golf courses. For that description to hold up, though, local leaders and landowners have to play the part of ignorant country bumpkins who don’t realize they’re being taken advantage of.

Like all stereotypes, though, this just doesn’t always fit.

In Macon County, county commissioners just enacted a temporary moratorium on development in floodplains and watersheds in response to plans for an upscale RV development along Cartoogechaye Creek (which happens to be the town of Franklin’s water supply). County leaders, in this case, proved responsive and bold, not ignorant.

“The prime land has been consumed. They are moving to the steeper slopes and down into the river basins,” County Manager Sam Greenwood said of big-money developers. Greenwood noted that the county’s regulations are inadequate to deal with the rapid pace of development. Therefore a moratorium was considered one way of giving commissioners time to address at least one specific shortcoming in the county’s ordinances.

Macon commissioners stood up for the right side in this debate, opting to help their citizens stand up to development interests. In this case, however, the developer also showed a side most in the business don’t get credited with very often — a conscience.

“I think we’re on the same page as the county as far as concerns. Our main mission is to do this thing completely right,” said Peter Shipps, who wants to build up to 185 RV sites on a 48-acres tract that is about 1.6 miles upstream from the town’s water intake.

In this case the county enacted a moratorium and the developer was OK with it. After the county enacts new regulations — expected to take about eight months — he plans to do continue with the development. He says he just needs to know what the rules are so he can comply.

As Jackson County finishes up a comprehensive set of land-use regulations, we’ve witnessed a war of sorts between developers and elected leaders. The point here is that it is possible for entities that are normally antagonistic to agree to an outcome that works for both sides. Although it may not happen often, it is refreshing to see.

Consider the real cost

When Haywood County commissioners pulled out of the bidding for a piece of land it wanted to use for a recreation park in the Jonathan Creek area, three of the commissioners said the land was too expensive. That, of course, depends on one’s perspective, and we hope that enough research was done before getting out of the hunt to find a recreation site in Jonathan Creek.

The bid on the 22-acre site now stands a just over $1 million. If the county wants to remain in negotiations, it must offer a price of 5 percent higher by Aug. 2.

Assessing the price of something desired by public entities is an interesting game. One can look only at the dollars and worry that it is too expensive, or one can consider the price in terms of a cost-benefit analysis. In this case, an expensive piece of land may not seem like a great buy, but if it is — as some have argued in this particular case — one of the few remaining pieces of land in the area suitable for a recreation park, then the price is more reasonable.

And, if children in the area are being denied access to recreational activities that their counterparts in Waynesville, Canton, Clyde and Bethel have easy access to, there is a social cost. There are few better ways for youths to spend free time than in organized sports.

It is also worth noting that Haywood County’s recreation study pointed to a new site in this area as the top priority.

At the very least, Haywood commissioners need to realize that the cost of this piece of land is about more than the dollars they would pay for it. Those other considerations have to be factored in to what may seem like an expensive proposition.

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