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Deni McIntyre

 Preserve Crab Creek




Roughly every 20 years, Henderson County starts a comprehensive planning process, which welcomes public input on future growth and development.  The latest process has already begun.  This is a fantastic opportunity for citizens and public officials to seek stronger protection for rural areas, so we don't have to fight inappropriate development again and again.


First, some background.  Development in Henderson County is governed by antiquated rules that allow the low price of rural land to drive new development out into the countryside.  This has a negative impact on our natural resources, our rural heritage, and our local economy.  

Between 1976 and 2006, Henderson County’s developed land area grew eight times faster than our population, according to a UNC Charlotte study.  In other words, as our population slowly grew 92% over several decades, our developed land area exploded by 730%.

This is urban sprawl, and the rules that facilitate it are still in effect today.  If we don’t change these rules, the casualties of sprawl will include rural communities like Crab Creek, clean air, clean water, scenic vistas, and the amazing biodiversity of the Blue Ridge Mountains. 


This story is familiar to people who have fled here from ruined places around the country.  Subdivisions displace orchards and forests.  Rural roads like Crab Creek get widened.  Asphalt, roofs, and lawns dump polluted storm water directly into creeks, without letting it filter through the soil.  Residents drive more miles, increasing air pollution and exacerbating climate change. 

At least half the people who united last summer to protect Crab Creek from a giant storage facility moved to Henderson County from places that are now overcome by urban sprawl.  "We can't let Crab Creek become...."  Fill in the blank.  Whether we're from Ohio, Florida, or wherever, none of us want Western North Carolina to look like that.


Here's the good news:  Henderson County can say no to sprawl.  Smart communities guide development into tighter, more sustainable patterns that don’t destroy natural and cultural resources.  They do this in three ways:

  • LIMIT RURAL GROWTH:  Smart communities limit commercial development and lower housing density in rural areas.  If denser housing isn't allowed on larger pieces of land, wall-to-wall subdivisions won't replace agriculture, and rural roads like Crab Creek are less likely to be widened.  Smart communities also use an "urban services boundary" to keep water and sewer lines close to town. This discourages subdivisions and large commercial enterprises from spreading into the countryside.  Finally, smart communities encourage clean, green, walkable neighborhoods in and around urban areas.  With great design and abundant landscaping, walkable neighborhoods become very desirable places to live.

  • BUY CONSERVATION EASEMENTS:  Smart communities also use local funds to buy conservation easements.   Basically, this means paying people who own key pieces of rural land not to develop their land.  Conservation easements can be used to protect anything, including farmland, historic sites, favorite community landmarks, sensitive ecosystems, or scenic views.  Using local funds to protect land helps communities attract federal and state dollars.  Charleston, South Carolina, for example, attracts five to six dollars in state and federal funds for every dollar the county spends to protect its special places.

  • ANALYZE COSTS & BENEFITS:  A third strategy is a more careful analysis of the costs and benefits of different kinds of development.  Financially, sprawl is a loser.  When developed land grows faster than the population, each taxpayer becomes responsible for fixing more potholes, maintaining more sewers, repairing more electrical wires, etc.  Sprawl may offer quick financial returns, but ultimately it's a burden for taxpayers.   Instead, we need to encourage attractive development in and near town — while saying no to the rural growth that threatens the economy and our natural and cultural heritage. 


Could we actually bring these winning strategies home to Henderson County?  Yes!  Population growth here is a given.  But destruction of natural and cultural resources is a choice.  Henderson County can continue to welcome sprawl, or we can accommodate new residents sustainably. 

Please learn more by reading/watching the media linked above and below.  Also, sign up at the bottom of the page for updates or join our Facebook group.  



This is an edited version of our Crab Creek "Ask the Experts" event from July 29, featuring conservationist Dana Beach and traffic engineer Rick Hall.  It's about how communities elsewhere have protected their rural areas and their beautiful rural roads.  


Mapping Historical Development Patterns and Forecasting Urban Growth in Western North Carolina

10 August 2010, UNC Charlotte Urban Institute

(From 1976 - 2006, Henderson County's developed land area grew 730% while population grew 92%.)


The Characteristics, Causes, and Consequences of Sprawling Development Patterns in the United States

2013, Nature Education Knowledge Project

(Simple, comprehensive examination of what sprawl is and what it does.)

Effects of Urban Sprawl

Everything Connects 

(Look toward the middle of the page for a simple, comprehensive list of the effects of urban sprawl.)

Denser Cities Could be a Climate Boon — But Nimbyism Stands in the Way

22 August 2021, The Guardian

(Stopping sprawl and building more infill development would slow climate change.)

As Flood Waters Rise, Is Urban Sprawl as Much to Blame as Climate Change?

2 September 2017, The Guardian

(Urban sprawl is exacerbating our recent increase in flooding.)


This Map Shows Where Biodiversity is Most at Risk in America

The New York Times

(Zoom in on WNC and Henderson County.)

Findings Reinforce Importance of Land Protection to Biodiversity in the Southeast

Southern Environmental Law Center

(WNC is a global biodiversity hotspot, but there's a relatively low level of land protection here.)

US Protected Lands Mismatch Biodiversity Priorities

17 March 2015, Procedings of the National Academy of Sciences

(Same as above, with more detail about how exactly WNC is a global biodiversity hotspot.)

Climate Strongholds

Audubon North Carolina

(Western Hendo County can shelter a wide range of birds as climate changes, if habitat is protected.)


Smart Growth Principles

Smart Growth Online

(Adhering to ten principles limits sprawl.  Click to open "Preserve Open Space, Farmland, etc.")

Seven Principles for Building Better Cities

2017 TED Talk

(Denser, smarter city design saves rural land, protects clean air, and mitigates climate change.)


Planning Implementation Tools:  Purchase of Development Rights

Center for Land Use Education

(How communities protect what they value by buying conservation easements on key pieces of land.)

Protecting Farmland

American Farmland Trust

(Conservation easements are one tool that can be used to conserve farmland.)

Overview and Funding

Charleston County Greenbelt Program

(Charleston voters approved $200M to protect 40,000 acres, and just approved another $210M.)

Program Overview

Beaufort County Rural + Critical Land Preservation Program

(Beaufort voters approved $160M in five referenda over 20 years, and have protected 26,000 acres.)


How Much Sprawl Costs America

24 March 2015, Bloomberg News

(Sprawl costs more than $1T per year in gasoline, pollution, accidents, utilities, first responders, etc.)

"We Have a Wonderful Downtown, But...."

1 October 2019, Smart Growth America

(Sprawl-focused mayor does a 180 and starts growing/promoting his own downtown.)

The Growth Ponzi Scheme

2011 Series, Strong Towns

(Quick financial return from sprawling development is dwarfed by long-term liability for taxpayers.)

The Cost of Sprawl in Greenville County

1 May 2019, Upstate Forever + Urban3

(Greenville County gains much less tax revenue from sprawling development)

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