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Haywood County high-impact development ordinance passes

Haywood County high-impact development ordinance passes

Children, the elderly, the ill, the mentally challenged and the incarcerated in Haywood County all have at least one thing in common: in the event of an emergency or evacuation, they might not be able to move to safety quickly or efficiently.

That was the motivating factor behind Haywood County’s new high-impact development ordinance — to protect these vulnerable populations from the possibly adverse effects of asphalt plants, chemical facilities, companies dealing in explosives, hazardous materials handlers, landfills, mining or extraction operations and combustible or flammable bulk fuel storage facilities. 

The ordinance — passed unanimously by the Haywood County Board of Commissioners Sept. 20 — imposes setback, separation and screening requirements for such facilities while also setting a minimum distance from streams. 

These requirements are intended to maintain adequate spacing between high-impact developments and schools, child care operations, day care centers, hospitals, nursing homes, retirement or assisted living facilities and correctional institutions. 

The greatest separations stipulated are for fuel storage operations, landfills, mining operations and chemical and explosives facilities; setback requirements specify a minimum distance from the property line for all structures, and screening requirements call for berms, fencing, vegetation or walls to present a visual barrier. 

Although any high-impact development currently in use need not adhere to the ordinance except in cases of expansion or significant changes to existing structures, Commission Chairman Mark Swanger pointed out the importance of the ordinance for future development. 

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“Being reactive is not the best way to approach this,” he said during the meeting. 

Also included in the ordinance is a reciprocity provision that requires protected entities — like schools — that choose to set up shop near a pre-existing regulated entity — like an explosives plant — to comply with the separation distances specified in the ordinance. 

County Manager Ira Dove said that the reciprocity provision was essential due to the ordinance’s primary purpose of protecting vulnerable populations.

“If we don’t make that reciprocal,” he said, “then we fail in that purpose.”

The high-impact ordinance was the county’s first step toward land-use planning. The county does not have any zoning restrictions on property outside municipal boundaries and until recently, residents have wanted to keep it that way. 

A handful of complaints last year regarding unwanted development in rural areas of the county prompted the commissioners to conduct a survey to see if the majority of residents would support more land-use planning regulations. 

A telephone survey of 800 randomly selected residents was commissioned by the county and carried out by Western Carolina University’s Public Policy Institute. To commissioners’ surprise, two-thirds of those surveyed said they would support a common plan for land development. 

Commissioners also passed an ordinance regulating where outdoor shooting ranges can be developed following community concerns about an indoor shooting range being built in the Francis Farm community. While commissioners couldn’t do anything about the indoor range already in progress without a zoning ordinance, they did feel like outdoor ranges would cause safety issues and warranted more regulation.  

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