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Pro-planning candidate holds ground at forum

By Sarah Kucharski • Staff Writer

Democratic candidates running for two District 2 seats on the Macon County board of commissioners squared off at a League of Women Voters meeting last Thursday (April 13) in a growth debate that pitted newcomers against natives.

League moderator Susan Ervin asked candidates to nail down their views on land use planning by picking from a multiple choice list: A) there are enough regulations already, B) more planning is needed, but planners must proceed with caution, C) planning efforts should be accelerated, and it is appropriate to address more than health and safety concerns, or D) planning efforts should be accelerated using zoning to address more than health and safety concerns.

Progressive candidate Milo Beran was the first to choose from the multiple-choice list.

“D, of course,” he said.

Beran explained that the county has waited much too long to get on the planning bandwagon.

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“Failure to act has been almost fatal to this county,” he said.

Throughout the U.S. 441 South corridor there is only sprawl, and throughout the county developers have been allowed to essentially do whatever they want to do, Beran said. A good, responsible developer, the kind that Macon County would want to have, would accept a land use plan that included zoning, Beran said.

“We’re way behind, it’s urgent people,” he said.

However, Beran’s comments drew ire from his opponents Jay Dee Shepard and Bob Simpson, who are both incumbent commissioners, and Ronnie Beale, candidate and chairman of the planning board. Beale, Shepard and Simpson — natives to Macon County — each criticized Beran for his views and what they called an eagerness to come in and start telling residents what to do. Having only been a Macon County resident for five years, Beran hasn’t spent enough time here to be an advocate for planning and change, they said.

“He doesn’t understand yet what the mountain folks is all about,” Shepard said, explaining that nothing could be done to change the past and anything commissioners do must be a move toward the future.

Beale concurred with Shepard’s assessment of local residents.

“Appalachian culture won’t allow for people being told what to do,” Beale said, recounting the planning board’s process of holding several community meetings to get people involved in the writing of a high impact ordinance.

The ordinance, two and a half years in the making, is the only ordinance the board has passed. Now the board is under orders from county commissioners to fast track a subdivision ordinance and is holding four-hour long weekly meetings and additional subcommittee meetings in order to meet the early summer deadline.

Simpson said that Beran hadn’t been around long enough to have gotten a real picture of the county, understand how people feel about zoning, and evaluate what’s happened over the years.

“You don’t know what change is,” Simpson said.

Simpson, Shepard and Beale each said that their views on planning were somewhere between multiple choice options B and C — a sort of cautious acceleration of planning that would address more than just health and safety concerns.

In addition to pinning down their views on planning, candidates were asked to discuss their concept of property rights. The question include a reference to the Rhodes Brothers Asphalt Plan, which has been a great source of contention for neighbors who complain of the plant’s noise, dust and smell.

“That battle’s done been fought,” Beale said.

Rhodes has implemented new technologies to help reduce the offending causes, but some residents still are not happy with the results and want to know what will be done in the future to prevent a similar plant from locating in a residential community.

Beale argued that people generally want to be good neighbors to one another, which Shepard echoed.

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” Shepard said.

Beale said that regulations may be needed for those who devalue or are harmful to property that is not their own. Every person has a right to enjoy his or her own property, he said.

“You have the right once you’re on that property, that’s your sanctuary,” Beale sad.

Simpson agreed with the ability to enjoy property rights until a use becomes offensive.

“You have these property rights until you go affect somebody else,” he said.

Simpson said it would be wrong to infringe on those rights otherwise.

“We cannot come in on you and put regulations on you,” he said.

However, Beran vehemently disagreed, saying that politicians must serve as leaders even in the face of great resistance, and used the opportunity to fire back at his fellow candidates’ criticism of his five years spent in Macon County.

“That doesn’t mean I don’t understand human nature,” he said.

Voters will choose two candidates amongst Beale, Beran, Shepard and Simpson in the May 2 primaries to face Republicans Harold Corbin and Ricky Mashburn in the general election in November. Two candidates will be chosen from that race to fill the seats Shepard and Simpson currently hold.

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