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Wednesday, 20 February 2008 00:00

Development rules will get test in commissioner race

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When the Democratic primary election rolls around in Jackson County on May 6, many will finally get the chance they’ve been wanting — the opportunity to vote on the strict development regulations passed last year by county commissioners.

As promised, development proponents who do not like the regulations have found someone to run against Mark Jones in the Cashiers district. Lynn Dillard, 61, is a retired educator who opposes the regulations and thinks they are bad for Jackson County.

“I think there are some people that have some very good points, but it was gone about in the wrong way,” Dillard said. “I think we are using fear and force a lot more than incentive. We should go more to incentives than command that people do what we say.”

Jones, on the other hand, believes county commissioners took the right steps when they passed a comprehensive set of land-use regulations that control everything from the amount of open space required in new neighborhoods, the size of cut-and-fill lots on steep slopes, and the percentage of a lot that can be paved over.

“I can only go by what I have been told by people as I walk down the street, in phone calls, and emails during the height of the issue, but I feel like there is a majority of Jackson County that is truly for the ordinances that we put in place to give our mountains protections. I truly feel we do have the majority of the county behind us,” said Jones.

So the election is shaping up as the first referendum on the regulations. Support’em, and you vote for Jones; want them lifted, vote for Dillard, which will put opponents are one step closer to getting the regulations lifted. That still leaves only two commissioners who openly oppose the measures, so perhaps another candidate will file to oppose Joe Cowan, the other commissioner up for the election this year.

But this election could also turn into something more than a referendum on the land-use regulations — it could very easily become the most expensive county commission race ever in Jackson County. There’s little doubt those who encouraged Dillard to run, who filed a lawsuit to try and have the county’s development moratorium lifted, and who spent thousands in advertising trying to defeat the proposed regulations will also pony up to help Dillard win. They’ve all but promised that.

Jones, who manages the High Hampton Inn, likely won’t be able to match Dillard’s spending, but he’ll have supporters of his own.

And you know what? The possibilities that this race holds — the spending, the re-hashing of the details of the ordinance, possible voter registration drives — are all well and good. The system we have allows for supporters to, well, support the candidate of their choice. Dillard, even though she does not support the land-use ordinance, says she will be her own voice once on the board, and there is no reason to believe otherwise. This is how it works, and so the ballot box becomes the final arbiter.

So despite whatever hype and advertising surrounds this race, the issue is crystal clear — do citizens support the new regulations designed to protect Jackson County’s natural beauty and its environment while sustaining for a long time the economic stimulus provided by the construction industry?

We think those citizens do support this far-reaching, well-thought-out ordinance, and therefore Jones will come out on top.

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