Deadline nears for public input on steep slope ordinance
The Jackson County planning board is accepting written public comment through May 14 on the latest version of a draft steep slope ordinance.
In its current form, the ordinance would make Jackson County the most restrictive place in Western North Carolina for developers to build. On the flip side, the bold measures also would do more to protect views and the environment than any other county in WNC.
Most development regulations passed in other counties have been aimed primarily at safety, focusing on road standards, engineering guidelines and soil stability on mountainsides. Jackson’s proposed regulations have a broader scope. The ordinance attempts to address aesthetic issues like screening mountainside homes with trees and environmental issues like the loss of wildlife habitat.
Jackson County imposed a five-month moratorium on development while both a subdivision and steep slope ordinance are being written. The heated and controversial moratorium was intended to stave off a flood of developers seeking permits before the new regulations went into affect.
The moratorium is set to expire July 8, by which point the county plans to have the new ordinances in place. The Jackson County planning board has been meeting weekly for about four months. The planning board is in the final stages of its work. Planners will turn over the draft ordinances to county commissioners in the next couple of weeks.
“The planning board will look at all written public comments and incorporate those they deem necessary into the ordinance. They will get them in final form and have them in a position to be turned over to the board of commissioners by our meeting on May 22,” said County Manager Ken Westmoreland.
The county commissioners have the final say on what gets passed. When commissioners get the ordinances, they will hold a formal public hearing and make any changes they deem necessary based on the public input.
“That will give them a full 45 days before the moratorium ends to integrate any public comment and go through a process of deliberation,” Westmoreland said of the commissioners.
The planning board held a written public comment period on the subdivision ordinance several weeks ago. The written public comment period for the steep slope ordinance is open through May 14. The steep slope ordinance contains the crux of the development regulations under consideration.
The introduction to the steep slope ordinance cites the weighty issues the ordinance attempts to address through regulation.
“The mountains of Jackson County are characterized by steep slopes and thin soils. Land disturbing activity on high-elevation, steep slope mountains potentially threatens the public health, safety, welfare, and economic progress of Jackson County. Such land-disturbing activity has the potential to do the following: (a) endanger the quality of surface water by increasing erosion and stream sedimentation; (b) induce landslides; (c) adversely affect ground water due to the difficulty in providing proper sewage disposal; (d) damage the habitat for some species of wildlife (both plants and animals); and (e) detract from the mountains’ scenic and natural beauty which is vital to the recreation and tourism industry of Jackson County.”
A copy of the entire ordinance can be downloaded from the county Web site. Go to jacksonnc.org. Click on “departments” on the left side of the page, then scroll down to “planning.” On the left side, click on “ordinances,” then scroll down to “steep slope.”
Copies are also available for review at the planning office in the county administration building.