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Macon wants to use incentives to foster responsible development

Instead of the stick, Macon County might try carrots as this fast-growing area tries to control its booming construction industry.

A proposed subdivision ordinance would reward developers who use sound conservation practices with lower fees and expedited administrative processes, County Planner Stacey Guffey told the League of Women Voters of Macon County on July 12.

About 40 people listened as Guffey and Macon County Planning Board Chairman Lewis Penland Jr. made their first public comments — outside of regular planning board meetings — on the possible new regulations.

Macon County, with a full-time population of just more than 32,300, currently has 600 subdivisions. From 2000 to 2006, the county’s full-time population grew by nearly 9 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Those numbers don’t take into account the many seasonal homes built by part-time residents. By some estimates, those cold-weather evacuees triple the county’s population during the summer.

The pace of development, much of it by people unfamiliar with the idiosyncrasies of building in the mountains, doesn’t bode well for Macon County if regulations aren’t established, said Penland, whose company develops golf courses throughout the Southeast.

“I worry about what we are leaving the next generation,” he said.

Incentives — instead of demands — aren’t likely to sit well with those residents who’d like to see Macon County take a bolder stance toward conservation-minded development. However, in a county that has tried and failed since the 1970s to pass even the most commonplace rules on how and where subdivisions can be built, a more delicate approach might well be necessary to garner the required political support.

The planning board, Penland said, is made up of a variety of people from a wide range of backgrounds and fully represents the county’s competing interests.

“Everything we’ve voted on has been unanimous,” he said.

The board is still developing the ordinance. To date, the proposed subdivision regulations include:

• Graveled or paved, road widths would be set at 14 feet with 1 foot of shoulder on each side.

• Major and minor subdivisions are differentiated. Smaller developments will undergo a staff review instead of a full-blown inquiry by a technical review committee.

• Family subdivisions are exempted. Simple transfers between family members won’t fall under the purview of the planning department, and neither would cemeteries.

• Homeowner associations would be required.

• Phased development, in which parts of a subdivision are developed at different times, would be allowed.

• Compaction requirements for roads will be established, a response to problems with fill slopes.

• Provisions for conservation communities, which encourage measures such as leaving 40 percent open space, protecting stream banks, not building on excessively steep slopes, and wetland and viewshed protection.

In addition, within the proposed ordinance the county planning board calls for increased enforcement of the existing 16 percent maximum-grade requirements for roads.

The proposed ordinance is about a month from being completed, planning board member Susan Ervin said.

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