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Planning board digs into rules for industrial development

jacksonTake a drive around the mountain roads of Western North Carolina and it probably won’t be long before a tight curve spits you out alongside a yard decorated with a few rusty old vehicles here, some extraneous car parts there and a peppering of discarded tools for good measure.

Is that a junkyard, or is that just a junky yard? And if it’s the latter, is that something the county should regulate? 

That’s the question that the Jackson County Planning Board circled around during its March meeting. Besides looking bad, that kind of junk often leaches contaminants into the ground. But it’s private property and not a use controlled by issuing permits. 

“I grew up right over the hill from there, but in my mind a junkyard like that is not a positive thing to have out there — I don’t care whether it’s my brother’s or uncle’s or who,” said board member Ken Brown, referencing a specific junky yard the board discussed. 

On the other hand, said board member Kent Moore, the board should approach those kinds of restrictions with caution. 

“You have to careful about how you do this,” Moore said. “I’m an old car guy. I have an old car and I know a lot of people who have old cars and old trucks … I’ve not got a junkyard.”

For nearly a year now, the board has been working up a revision to the county’s industrial development ordinance, which regulates everything from mining to asphalt plants, in addition to junkyards.  

But while the name of the board and the ordinance they’re busy dissecting hasn’t changed, the turnover of membership has been significant. Until commissioners changed the ordinance in November, planning board membership wasn’t staggered — meaning that terms for all 11 members ended at once. Of the current members, only four were serving in April 2015 when the board first began discussing the ordinance. Even the planning director at the time, Gerald Green, has since moved on, with the new director, Michael Poston, now just about two months into his tenure. 

Which, perhaps, is why much of the discussion this month mirrored the talk around the table from a year ago. At that time too, board members had asked the planning director to look into writing regulations for private junkyards. They’d acknowledged the language could get thorny, and Green had cautioned that regulations should be objective and specific — no subjectivity.  

The back-and-forth this time around turned out to be rather similar, with the planning board ultimately directing Poston to look at writing a binary set of rules — one aimed at commercial junkyards and a second set aimed at private junkyards. 

Commissioners, however, did not agree — as Poston found when he set about getting their pulse on the direction the planning board had asked him to go.

“We stressed to him that we didn’t want to consider anything in this ordinance other than junkyards, not junky yards at people’s houses,” said Commission Chairman Brian McMahan. 

The reason, McMahan said, is that the ordinance is all about commercial industries such as mines and asphalt plants. Regulations on residential property would be out of place there. 

“That’s another topic for another day,” he said of the junky yard issue. 

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