As growth and development accelerate in Swain County, discussion over the need for road and slope regulations has increasingly taken center stage. Swain County lacks any provisions governing mountainside subdivisions. The county does not have a county planning board or a staff planning department.
Four months ago, county commissioners decided to form a county planning board. The following month, commissioners postponed the idea. Candidates were asked where they stand on the issue of a planning board and development regulations.
All five seats on the Swain County Board of Commissioners are up for election. The winners will serve for four years. There will be at least two new faces — one incumbent was ousted in May and one isn’t seeking re-election.
Candidates for chairman: pick one
Glenn Jones, Democrat, incumbent
Jones said he supports the creation of a planning board. He thought the other commissioners agreed as well. Jones said he called for a motion at a meeting in August to move forward with a planning board, but no one spoke up. The motion was tabled at another commissioner’s suggestion.
Jones said it will be one of the first orders of business for the new board of commissioners after the election.
“If I get in, we will proceed with it. I talk to people every day about it.”
Jones said it makes sense for the new board of commissioners to appoint the planning board since the planning board will work closely with the commissioners in deciding what sort of ordinance the county will pursue.
“It will work out better to have a planning board that is appointed by the new board.”
There will be at least two new commissioners joining the board after the election since one sitting commissioner isn’t running and another lost in the primary.
Jim Douthit, Republican, challenger
Douthit supports a planning board and development regulations.
Douthit said he doesn’t understand why “all of a sudden it’s been tabled.”
“I think people realize something has to be done. You can’t put it off and bury your head in the sand. It is here to stay. Everyone is saying ‘I used to see the forest and I used to see the trees — what happened?’”
Douthit said it shouldn’t take long once a planning board is created. The planning board can read ordinances from other counties and pick out elements they like for Swain County.
“You don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”
Douthit also suggests creating a regional consortium to address the issues across county line. “This is a regional issue. Every county is talking about it.”
Candidates for commissioner: pick four
Phillip Carson, Democrat, challenger
Carson did not return numerous phone calls left over several days in time to be interviewed for this article. During an interview prior to primary elections in May, Carson said he did not support land-use planning.
“I think if folks have land and wish to develop that, then it’s less taxes we all have to pay. If people want to look at the mountains, they have 44,000 acres back there they can look at that there will never be a house on,” Carson said, referring to a portion of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park outside town.
Mike Clampitt, Republican, challenger
“It needs to be full steam ahead. Right now the tail’s wagging the dog so to speak. We’ve got to get a handle on steep slope development. We need to look at the big picture down the road.” Clampitt said he advocates controlled growth.
James King, Republican, challenger
“We have to get some kind of control on these developments. Whether they are waiting until after the new board is seated, it has got to be addressed.”
King cited the amount of runoff and sediment that is impacting neighbors living below mountain side development.
Genevieve Lindsay, Democrat, incumbent
Lindsey is on the current board of commissioners. She did not return phone calls.
David Monteith, Democrat, incumbent
Monteith is an incumbent and disagrees with the delay in appointing a planning board.
“We are going to have to address steep slope development. We are going to have to have wiser uses of our land to protect our mountains. We are going to have to make the roads not so steep so the sediment doesn’t run off and emergency vehicles can get up them.”
Monteith is concerned about steep, narrow switch backs, too many houses being crammed onto steep land, sediment and run-off washing down onto neighbors and the impact well drilling and dynamiting will have on the underground water table and springs.
The county will have to hire a staff person to oversee the new regulations, Monteith said.
Steve Moon, Democrat, challenger
“There is going to have to be. You don’t want the mountainsides to wash away.”
Deborah Ramsey Patterson, Republican, challenger
“I would push for it. We are going to have to control development and put the environment first or the reason everyone is moving here will cease to exist.” Patterson described herself as an environmentalist.