Area A Plan Sent Back For Review
The proposed land-use plan for Area A survived a spirited public hearing Monday night but did not pass muster by the Moore County Board of Commissioners.
The plan may also become the subject of a second workshop. The commissioners, as expected, voted unanimously to return the Area A plan to the Planning Board for further review and recommendation.
At a lengthy work session Thursday night, the commissioners indicated that they would prefer for the planning panel to make a recommendation before they take final action.
However, the public hearing had already been advertised for the commissioners' regular Monday night meeting, and the board decided to proceed according to schedule.
"I think it's a good plan for our future," said William Arthur "Art" Williams, an Eagle Springs farmer, who serves on the county's Voluntary Agriculture District (VAD) Board of Directors.
Williams said the plan is needed to protect agriculture in Moore County. He said the local VAD has been in existence only one year and already 16 percent of the county is enrolled in the program.
"We're the fastest-growing Voluntary Agriculture District in North Carolina," Williams said.
"This plan calls for high but reasonable standards, and we need high standards," said Earl Ingram, another resident of Area A.
Otherwise, he said, the county can expect mediocre and substandard plans for the future.
But Densel Williams, speaking for home builders in the county, warned that several building companies are struggling to stay afloat and are having to lay off employees because of the sagging economy.
"We're in a recession, and Moore County is certainly not immune to that recession," Williams said. "We're concerned about more regulations because they will mean more people out of work."
Williams suggested that if the residents in Seven Lakes want more stringent rules, they should become incorporated as a municipality.
Although he recognized the hard work that went into preparing the proposal, Williams said that the addition of more layers or rules would mean higher costs for everyone, loss of jobs and loss of property value.
'Cart Before the Horse'
Among the sticking points in the plan is one provision that would prohibit the designation of wetlands as part of the open space required in subdivisions.
Other objections focused on prohibition of the use of private irrigation wells in major subdivisions and planned unit developments served by public water systems and prohibition of activity within 100 feet along each side of a stream, from a wetland, lake or pond.
Speakers on both sides of the issue had a common complaint: they had not received information about the plan early enough to have time to study the proposal prior to the hearing.
"I don't think we're ready to act tonight," said Commissioner Tim Lea. "This needs to go back to the Planning Board."
Lea said about 10 percent of the plan needs tweaking before adoption. Lea, a former chairman of the Planning Board, also was a leader in efforts to develop the countywide land-use plan, adopted in 1999.
"I heard nothing new tonight," Lea said, adding that it is a plan, not a law or an ordinance. "I don't want anyone to walk out of here thinking this is a law. This is a road map."
Commissioner Cindy Morgan thanked all the speakers who participated in the hearing and commended the Area A steering committee for its efforts. Morgan said she has no problems with the plan but also has no objections to a delay while more study is applied.
"You've done a wonderful job," Morgan said. She lives in Eagle Springs, which is part of Area A.
Commissioner Larry Caddell acknowledged the hard work that went into the steering committee's efforts but said his board needs a recommendation from the Planning Board.
"We've got the cart before the horse a little bit in this case, but that's something we can fix," Caddell said.
Commissioner Jimmy Melton called Moore the most beautiful county in the state but said attention must be paid to keeping the economy in shape.
"We have to have growth, but we need smart growth," Melton said. "I believe in saving the environment, but I don't believe any builder in the county wants to destroy our environment."
Chairman Colin McKenzie called it a good plan but voted in favor of Lea's motion to send the plan back to the Planning Board for review and a recommendation.
Priority on Water
Dr. John Monroe, a member of the Area A steering committee, made the formal presentation to the board, as he did during the work session Thursday night. He reviewed the process, starting with the commissioners' adoption of the small area planning concept in 2005.
At the recommendation of the planning staff, the county began the program with Area A, to be the first of several small areas tackled for formation of mini-land-use plans based on the overall concept of the countywide land-use plan.
Area A encompasses almost 108 square miles in the area that generally corresponds to the West End Elementary School district boundaries. It represents about 15 percent of the county's 706-square miles but accounts for a larger percentage of development. Included are the unincorporated communities of West End, Jackson Springs and Eagle Springs and the unincorporated developments of Seven Lakes and Lake Diamond.
Monroe, a tree farmer and retired physician, said the program began with a series of community meetings, in which Area A residents were encouraged to express their interests and concerns about future development in the area. These findings were compiled by the planning staff and incorporated, in abbreviated format, into the plan.
Preservation of the environment and natural and historical heritage, protection of water quality, encouragement of farming and forestry, and sustainable growth were among the issues emphasized in the study, which took almost two full years.
Jesse Wimberley, a fellow committee member and tree farmer, said the "best insurance we can buy for future generations is to assure a supply of good quality water." He said the worst thing the county could do is to "destroy our watershed with over-development."
Most members of the Area A Committee were present for the meeting. Dave Kinney chairs the committee, with Paul Hodges as vice chairman. In addition to Kinney, Hodges, Monroe, Wimberley, the committee consists of Don Welch, Watts Auman, Mike Wilson, Leonard Tufts, Nancy Roy Fiorillo, Judy Boroughs, Ray McKay, Elaine Yow Girgis, Cindy Holland, and Johnny Ingram.
Because of an onslaught of proposed development in Area A, the committee asked the Planning Board to recommend a moratorium on new developments until the plan could be completed and the county planning staff could complete work on revisions to the countywide zoning ordinance and subdivision regulations.
The Board of Commissioners did not actually call a moratorium but the stay on new development was in place much of last year because the board did not take an official vote. The moratorium was lifted in the fall.
'Just a Vision'
Seventeen speakers signed up for the public hearing, but a few declined the opportunity, saying that others had already expressed their views.
Bruce Sorrie, who lives in Moore County and works with the state's Natural Heritage program, said Area A is rich in several rare plants found in few parts of the country. He also mentioned the presence there of a large and high quality stand of longleaf pines.
"This plan is strictly a guideline," said Harry Huberth, who chaired the Planning Board when the small area planning program was initiated and attended many of the Area A committee meetings. "This is just a vision."
Frank Hayes, a Seven Lakes resident, told of his experience living in a small town in New York State, a place that was quiet and pleasant until it was opened to development and the atmosphere was changed and spoiled.
"We have a beautiful place here," Hayes said. "I hope we can keep it."
Ron Jackson, a developer and member of the Planning Board, said that open space should be protected, but there is no need to exclude wetlands from the open space designation. He complained that, as a Planning Board member, he did not receive a copy of the Area A proposal until a couple of days prior to this board meeting and did not have time to read the entire plan.
Ruth Stolting spoke during both the public-comment period and the public hearing. She told the commissioners that "Area A is under siege by developers and we must learn to say no" before it is too late to preserve the community.
The Area A small area plan, if adopted, is expected to become a model for similar programs to be carried out in other parts of the county. The program calls for Area B to be the community in and around Lobelia Road.
As with the countywide land-use plan, the Area A plan is not an ordinance and, if adopted, would be used as a guide when decisions must be made on such things as rezoning and conditional-use permit requests. Otherwise, it has little legal standing as anything other than a planning tool.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at 947-4962 or by e-mail at florence @thepilot.com.
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