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Macon planning efforts gaining momentum

Susan Ervin has served on Macon County’s Planning Board for so long she can’t actually remember how many years it’s been.

But she has no trouble recalling details about the months of work that went into a proposed subdivision ordinance in the early 1990s. After it was finally completed, commissioners shelved the set of rules that would have helped control how new subdivisions are built and maintained. The proposal never made it to a formal public hearing.

That same fate was also true for a series of previous attempts in Macon County dating as far back as the 1970s.

Ervin, however, has new confidence in Macon County’s political determination to control growth. She pointed to the successful passages of a watershed protection ordinance and sedimentation- and erosion-control ordinance.

“It showed that we could pass something and that it would work, and people found they could live with them,” Ervin said. “I really do think the time is right.”

The planning board is scheduled to submit a draft subdivision ordinance to commissioners in August. Chairman Lewis Penland Jr. said he’s determined the deadline will be met.


Under consideration

The planning board is still in the thick of hammering out the proposed rules, but has successfully settled on a few details.

Members have voted on and set road widths at 14 feet — either graveled or paved — with 1 foot of shoulder on each side.

They have drawn a distinction between major and minor subdivisions, with smaller developments undergoing a relatively painless staff review instead of a formal inquiry by a technical review committee. County Planner Stacy Guffey said such a technical review committee would most likely be made up of county staff from various departments. Each would bring an area of expertise to the review process.

In addition, the planning board has exempted family subdivisions, meaning that if mom and pop transfer land to a son and daughter, that transaction won’t fall under county review supervision. And, when family members go to their final resting places, the cemeteries involved will be exempted, though technically the land has been subdivided.

“We’re trying to regulate the commercial selling of land, not lands that are transferred,” Guffey said.

The county planner said his board is trying to decide the best method of handling subdivisions that are started but not finished because the developer involved ran out of money. That could involve a bonding provision, Guffey said, which is already used in Macon County’s sedimentation- and erosion-control ordinance.

Also, the board is considering similar problems involving homeowners associations, in which the lots are sold and the developer is out of the picture. The issue, which Guffey said recurs with almost alarming frequency in Macon County, is how best to make sure that issues such as road maintenance are resolved beforehand.


Finding consensus

Since moving permanently to Macon County’s Cullasaja community about five years ago, Bill Van Horn — who has visited this area since the 1970s — has become convinced that something must be done to regulate growth.

“I am in favor of some sort of control. Not only in subdivisions, but for individual homes, too,” he said. “I don’t know what the right answer should be, but we need something.”

Van Horn said he is a supporter of individual property rights, but that he just as ardently supports safety measures and other protections.

“Whatever a person does on their land is their right, but if they are moving dirt around, that dirt should stay on their land,” said Van Horn, who has become a regular observer of the planning board meetings.

Like Ervin, he said that he believes the time is right for Macon County to successfully tackle the subdivision issue. Van Horn then hopes to see board members move on to other growth-regulation issues.

That’s also the wish of the board’s chairman. Penland, a Macon County native and golf course developer, said he is confident that most residents will support the ordinance.

“The majority of the local people seem to be in favor of doing something,” Penland said.

To ensure buy-in at the beginning, the planning board has been meeting at 5 p.m. instead of 3 p.m. to make sure that more people can attend than was the case previously. In addition, the meetings — held the third Tuesday of each month — are being conducted in various communities across Macon County.

Key deadlines are as follows:

• July 17: Draft review meeting.

• July 24: Draft review meeting continues.

• August: Draft submitted to commissioners.

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