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Macon planning board sends toned-down construction rules to commissioners….again

Macon County’s embattled planning board has agreed on a handful of basic construction guidelines for developers building houses and roads. This sets up a possible showdown between land-planning advocates and opponents to play out before the county commissioners.

Last week, the planning board voted almost unanimously in support of rules that would limit how high and steep cut-and-fill slopes can be. The planning board will call upon the county commissioners to adopt the rules.

“I hope they realize we need to address these issues,” Planning Board Chairman Lewis Penland said in anticipation of commissioners taking up the issue in September.

It marks the second time in two years the planning board has voted on such measures and sent them to commissioners. Last winter, the planning board approved a similar set of regulations — billed at the time as “guiding principles” intended to lay the groundwork for a much more comprehensive steep-slope ordinance. County commissioners signed off and gave the planning board the green light to move forward.

But the steep slope ordinance proved too controversial and was ultimately abandon by the planning board, which settled instead for the simpler guidelines — which will once again be sent to commissioners for approval.

Contacted after last week’s meeting, Penland said that in the hubbub surrounding the steep slope ordinance, he’d forgotten the planning board and previous board of commissioners had approved the principles one time before.

“It is almost like they got us chasing our tail,” he said.

Three of the five county commissioners have been replaced since the last time around, however, flipping the board from a Democratic majority to Republican majority.

But the regulations at least stand a chance of getting passed.

The most conservative of the new commissioners has indicated he’d support reasonable regulations. Commissioner Ron Haven, who vigorously campaigned against the adoption of a steep-slope ordinance when running last fall for public office, has told The Smoky Mountain News that he believes there must be some rules in place to guide builders and protect homeowners. It remains to be seen, of course, whether he and other commissioners will consider the planning board’s suggestions “reasonable.”

Commissioners Bobby Kuppers and Ronnie Beale, the two held-over Democrats, are already on the record last year voting for the principles. Commissioner Kevin Corbin has said he needs to review what the planning board presents before staking out a position; Chairman Brian McClellan hasn’t indicated which way he’s likely to vote, but he has pushed for the planning board to meet a September deadline, which it now has.

The planning board’s guidelines set general parameters for earth moving.

Before the shift from steep slope, discussions had disintegrated into arguments by planning board members over the validity of state landslide hazard maps, among other things.

That same volatility surfaced at last week’s meeting, too, leading Kuppers, who serves as liaison to the planning board, to caution members to “take a big, old, deep breath.”

Penland questioned why fellow planning board member Lamar Sprinkle took the podium during the public comment period at a recent county commissioners meeting and complained about other members of the planning board.

Sprinkle, a local surveyor who has consistently attempted to block efforts to develop either a steep-slope ordinance or general construction guidelines, described planning board members he disagreed with as “extreme ideologists” who were pushing a liberal agenda. He urged commissioners to derail the attempt to develop construction guidelines, a suggestion commissioners ignored.

Sprinkle defended going over the planning board’s head and publicly complaining to commissioners.

“I believe when a man continually uses his position to push his ideals, he’s not helping anything,” a recalcitrant Sprinkle said to Penland.

Planning-board veteran Susan Ervin fired back at Sprinkle, telling him: “I think it’s not appropriate to go to county commissioners and ask them to subvert the process we have agreed on.”

Sprinkle then made it clear that his main complaint — at least when it came to leftist agendas and leftist-agenda makers — was about Ervin.

“If you want to get into appropriate, we can get into appropriate … if you want to call names, we can call names,” Sprinkle responded. “I was talking about you, Susan.”

Though Sprinkle also told Penland, “I just think things have not been handled right — you’ve tried to suppress opposition.”

Jimmy Goodman, a point of past strife on the board and a historic opponent of planning efforts, emerged suddenly in a new, hitherto unsuspected guise as planning-board peacemaker.

Goodman urged the planning board to move on to actual planning-related discussions, a suggestion eventually followed. Kuppers encouraged Goodman with a hail-fellow-well-met of “Jimmy, I’m with you 100 percent — when you’re right, you’re right.”

And when he’s wrong? Kuppers didn’t touch on that.

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