Archived News

Enforcement issues cloud zoning debate

By Sarah Kucharski • Staff Writer

With growth on the forefront of Macon County’s election issues, commissioner candidates have staked out their stance on land use planning. A majority of candidates have recommended taking a cautious approach — avoiding zoning but enacting ordinances that would address more than just health and safety concerns such as those affecting viewsheds and land preservation.

But regardless of what types of ordinances are or are not enacted, planning of any kind will have little effect without adequate enforcement. The issue hits close to home for Macon County’s erosion control officer Josh Ward.

Ward bears the sole responsibility for carrying out erosion control inspections countywide. Last year Macon County saw nearly 500 new building permits for single-family residential homes, and about 200 commercial building permits. Attempting to cover that much ground in a timely manner, Ward averaged about 25 inspections a week.

Ward handed out 50 erosion ordinance violations. More often than not, a violation represents multiple inspections, as violators may be inspected, asked to come into compliance, and then inspected again. It may not be that the builders have a total disregard for the law, rather they, like everyone else related to the industry — homebuyers, bankers, suppliers — are in a hurry.

“I just don’t think they take the time to do it like they should,” Ward said.

Related Items

At times, Ward receives complaints from Realtors and builders who have submitted site plans that don’t get approval as fast as they want.

“They want it done pretty quick,” Ward said.

The inspections department has 30 days to review such plans, and sometimes it takes that long — not because the plan is any more complicated than the next, but because it’s just one of many, and the inflow doesn’t show any signs of stopping.

“At this point I think the growth is here to stay, I’m pretty sure that it’s probably just going to get worse,” Ward said.

The most obvious fix is one that requires money — hiring more inspectors.

“I think the main job of the commissioners right now is to make sure we have the personnel to carry out any ordinances that are adopted,” said Bob Simpson, incumbent District 2 commissioner.

Commissioners could use the bevy of inspection applications to their benefit, raising funds for additional workers using the fees paid, Simpson said. He also supported continued efforts to bring inspections and permitting under one roof, citing the One Stop office where builders can get all the information they need to get started in the process as an example.

Candidate Milo Beran supported raising the funds to properly enforce the county’s ordinances, however, noting a need for increased funding for schools and infrastructure, said that such costs could be passed on to taxpayers.

“I’m not afraid of raising taxes if that’s what’s necessary,” he said.

Comparatively speaking, Macon County’s millage rate is low — below the state average.

But candidate Ronnie Beale, who also serves as chairman of the Macon County Planning Board, said that rather than addressing the enforcement process, perhaps commissioners should look at addressing what’s being enforced.

“If the ordinances that are out there are not being enforced and being enforced fairly, you look at doing away with the ordinances,” Beale said.

Beale said that the planning board is looking at the ordinances already on the books, examining them for ways to potentially combine ordinances to avoid layers that may be repetitive. Culling down on the number of ordinances may help make funding their enforcement easier, Beale said.

Funding enforcement is important to the county, not just to pay heed to the letter of the law, but to support the growing construction-based economy, said incumbent commissioner Jay Dee Shepard.

“That’s a major income for Macon County,” Shepard said. “We can’t slow it down at all, we need to in fact boost it up.”

Shepard recommended calling for a group of volunteers from the general public who would track down potential violations and report in to a manager who could in turn farm them out to qualified inspectors. Shepard also said that he would like to have more workshop type meetings in which county leaders could sit down and discuss problems amongst themselves, without any form of public session, so that perhaps they could come to a consensus about what needs to be done.

“I think we need to get together and spend a little time talking about it,” he said.

Leave a comment

Smokey Mountain News Logo
Go to top
Payment Information


At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.