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Haywood commissioners asked for more oversight of mega-developments

A group of Haywood residents appealed to county commissioners for an ordinance assessing the impacts of large developments.

The ordinance would require large developers to assess the impacts of their projects on surrounding communities and the environment. On Monday night (Feb. 16), the group called Haywood Community Alliance presented the board of commissioners with signatures of nearly 400 county residents who support the idea.

“Such an asset review would provide local government and citizens with important information about anticipated effects on natural resources of the area, as well as existing infrastructure,” Lynn Jeffries, the group’s chair, told commissioners.

The board agreed to send the proposed ordinance to the planning board to review. The planning board could use that ordinance, or draft one of its own.

The request to commissioners marks the first time a group of citizens has formally asked them to take action on development. Recent regional planning projects, like the Mountain Landscapes Initiative or the Haywood Growth Readiness Roundtable, have emphasized the importance of local government involvement, but have stopped short of formally requesting that commissioners address the issue.

A year-long effort led up to Haywood Alliance’s request to the county. The group first showed commissioners an initial set of signatures they collected, but that generated little response from the board.

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“We weren’t seeing any action; nothing moving forward,” Jeffries said.

But Jeffries says her group was convinced commissioners were interested in addressing growth and development. Last year, commissioners extended an invitation to various community clubs offering the county’s assistance with planning. The offer had no takers.

“We felt the commissioners last year had reached out to these clubs and said ‘okay, who wants to have this dialogue?’” Jeffries said. “So we felt they were already pursuing community input and trying to find a vehicle where community members could give input to commissioners.”

Jeffries said the issue got put on the backburner when election season rolled around, but that her group continued to engage in talks with the county to form a proposal and encourage commissioners to act.

She said that development issues have somewhat dropped from the radar as the economy has taken center stage, but that a period of slow development is an ideal time to address issues of growth.

“Let’s take this lull time as the perfect opportunity, when we won’t have any huge developments coming down the pike right this second,” Jeffries said.

Commissioners haven’t promised they will adopt the proposed ordinance — only that the county will take a look at it. The process may not be easy. Chairman Kirk Kirkpatrick said he is well aware, and supportive, of the deeply rooted sentiment of autonomy over your property that has made passing other planning initiatives in the region a challenge.

“I would look at (the ordinance) with a keen eye, simply because people around here have worked a long time for what they have,” Kirkpatrick said. “I do not want to see additional restrictions placed on those people who are private landowners.”

Jeffries said planning efforts don’t have to infringe on personal property rights, however.

“I do feel like that’s a challenge to getting this message across, but I don’t think it has to be,” she said. “I think you can find a consensus where we can exercise our personal property rights with the understanding that we live in a community, we don’t live in isolation. The things that we do affect our neighbors, and will affect our future.”

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