Archived News

Macon prepares high-rise moratorium

By Sarah Kucharski • Staff Writer

A high-rise moratorium is in the works for Macon County.

On Monday night (Dec. 4), county commissioners directed new county attorney Lesley Moxley and Macon County Planner Stacy Guffey to draft an ordinance prohibiting new commercial and residential construction over 48 feet in height or four stories for six months.


Rather than wait to enact the moratorium until their next meeting scheduled for Jan. 8, commissioners decided to continue their meeting in two weeks with the sole purpose of voting on the legislation. Commissioners’ general police power permits them to enact the moratorium without a public hearing, Moxley said.

Even without an official public hearing, commissioners have heard plenty from the public regarding the high rise already. More than 20 public speakers packed the November board meeting to express concerns about a proposed 10-story condominium building to be constructed between Highlands and Cashiers.

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The site is just outside Highlands’ extraterritorial jurisdiction — a special area beyond town limits that is subject to town zoning laws, but not town taxes — and thereby falls under county regulation. Currently the county has no regulations addressing such construction, and this project has prompted local residents to call for high-rises to come under the recently enacted high-impact use ordinance, which regulates land uses such as sawmills.

An additional seven speakers made their voices heard about the need to protect the county from high-rise type development Monday night.

“People that are now attracted to Macon County will simply go elsewhere when high-rise buildings start to pop up over the tree line,” said Bob Wright, a Macon County Watershed Council member and president of the Cold Springs Property Owners Association. The Cold Springs development is located north of the proposed condo site.

Elaine Whitehurst, a local garden club member and resident of Highlands, said that she like so many people she knows came to the area because of its landscape. Allowing a handful of developers to construct projects like the one proposed near Highlands would rob the county of its greatest asset — its natural beauty.

Lila Howland, also of Highlands, echoed that sentiment.

“One high rise of course is not going to kill us,” she said.

The problem lies in opening the door for additional high-rise type development, she said.

“Please help the citizens of Macon County prevent this disaster,” said Ginny Harris.

However, upon putting a motion for a moratorium up for discussion commissioner Bob Simpson immediately proposed that county legislation be less strident than what the Macon County Planning board had recommended.

The planning board recommended that a moratorium be placed on any construction over 38 feet in height. Simpson upped that limit to any construction over 48 feet or four stories.

The proposed height limit still covers the Highlands high-rise project, but allows for continuing construction of smaller structures. The hospital, Angel Medical Center, for example, is four stories, and church steeples could also go as high.

Commissioner Ronnie Beale, formerly chairman to the planning board, said that he had looked up the definition of a high rise and there were variations. He cautioned to carefully word any moratorium as in the mountains some home construction could measure the initially proposed 38 feet just off the back deck.

Commissioner Jim Davis also cautioned that putting regulations on personal property made him uncomfortable, but that his favorite high-rise in Macon County was Wayah Bald and thereby he was in total support of th e planning board addressing development such as that proposed for Highlands.

The board will continue its meeting at noon on Dec. 18.

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