Archived Opinion

Swain takes encouraging step with road proposals

Swain County is drafting a set of road standards that will serve its citizens well on two levels. First, the proposed ordinances would require developers to build roads that emergency vehicles can access, thereby providing protection for property and lives; secondly, and perhaps more importantly, Swain’s relatively new planning board is getting its feet wet by learning what it takes to develop land-use regulations and turn them into law.


In March nine homes in the Grass Ridge community of Swain County were destroyed in a wildfire, the most destructive in memory in Western North Carolina. Bryson City Fire Chief Joey Hughes said the narrow, curvy roads in the development hampered efforts to get to homes. “We’d meet each other on the roads and one would have to backup, and the switchbacks were terrible,” he said.

The draft ordinance would address road grades, widths, switchbacks and require dead-ends to have turnaround areas. Planning Board Chairman Jim Douthit said the priority for the board was to address public safety and emergency vehicle access.

Another component of the draft ordinance would require a disclosure statement by anyone selling property in a development where road grades exceed 18 percent. The proposed statement would tell potential homeowners that “emergency vehicles and public utility access ... may be limited.” That’s an intelligent way of making buyers aware and encouraging developers to spend the money to construct good roads.

While this proposal is still just that — a proposal — it seems the Swain Planning Board is taking the right steps get this draft passed. According to County Manager Kevin King, two public workshops will be scheduled where citizens will be briefed on the wording of the final proposal and be given a chance to provide input. Both county commissioners and planning board members are expected to attend the workshops.

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Opening the process to the public and seeking the input of citizens from all walks of life — from residents who are involved in community affairs to contractors and EMS drivers — will lead to a better ordinance. It will also provide Swain County leaders with a barometer of public sentiment, a gauge to help them decide how much land-use planning their constituency wants.

This planning board was appointed in February, meaning it’s been on the job only three months. Swain leaders wisely had the members tackle a public safety issue first. It will be difficult for anyone to mount any strong arguments against road standards that will protect lives and property.

Which would also mean the planning board could get out of the gate with a successful first effort. That’s important, because many land-use measures this board may consider in the future could be extremely controversial. That’s the nature of land-use planning in Western North Carolina. This ordinance is sorely needed and is non-controversial. We hope it hits the books as soon as possible.

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