Preserve Crab Creek
THE County plan
Henderson County is now creating a "Comprehensive Plan" — a blueprint for future growth and development. This process occurs roughly every twenty years, and our new Plan should be approved by spring/summer 2023. Either citizens urge the county now to protect rural areas from overdevelopment, or we wait another 20 years for an opportunity this good.
Since 2021, the county has been preparing for the Comprehensive Plan by collecting survey data from residents. Nearly 7,000 surveys have been filled out so far.
The top priorities among respondents are protecting forests and open space (55%) and protecting farmland and unique natural areas (45%). On the flip side, respondents greatest concerns are traffic/roads (about 75%), loss of farmland/natural resources (about 50%), and changes to community character (about 35%). The survey results couldn't be clearer. But will the Comprehensive Plan actually give local residents the future we're asking for?
DRAFTS TO DATE
The county has released several drafts of the Comprehensive Plan. So far, every draft has a split personality. The goals are admirable, and the photos of barns and natural landscapes are reassuring. But the Plan's fine print often undermines its goals — threatening the landscapes county residents urgently want to protect.
Here's the draft Plan released in December 2022. The key to this draft are the maps on pages 42 and 47, and the text in between. Given that the public wants to protect certain landscapes, these pages paint a pretty ominous picture of the county's future.
PLANNING FOR SPRAWL
To understand why these maps are so alarming, we need to calculate the number of people the county is planning for (very large) and compare it to the number of new residents the county is actually expecting (comparatively small). When a county plans for way more new residents than it's expecting, development gets scattered broadly across the landscape. Overplanning is, essentially, planning for sprawl — and the consequences of sprawl are devastating.
So take a close look at the map above. The green spots represent permanently protected areas: Pisgah, DuPont, other parkland, and some private land, too. Green dotted lines show current and proposed trails. Grey represents our five cities: Hendersonville, Flat Rock, Laurel Park, Mills River, and Fletcher. Brown spots represent places outside city limits where water and sewer is already installed (at least according to publicly available maps, which likely undercount the actual number of sewer lines).
Now take a look at the numbers in the lower left corner of the map. The number of new residents expected in Henderson County by the plan's target date, 2045, is around 32,000. That's the county's own figure. Yet our analysis shows that there's enough vacant land in the five cities and in those small brown spots to accommodate more than 80,000 new residents.
You heard that right. Under current zoning, using vacant land in just the grey and brown areas above, there's plenty of room for all the new residents Henderson County is expecting by 2045. Of course, not every piece of vacant land can be developed. But given that there's enough vacant land in these areas for more than 80,000 new people, there's likely enough developable vacant land there for the 32,000 new residents expected.
Astonishing, isn't it? Henderson County would have plenty of room for every new resident expected by 2045, even if not a single new resident moved into our rural areas.
Now take a look at this second map. It's basically the same as the one above, plus the light tan shading. At the time we did this analysis, using an earlier draft of the Comprehensive Plan, there was enough room on vacant land in light tan areas for about 71,000 new residents. That's the number that appears for the light tan areas in the legend at the bottom left of the map.
The new draft Plan released by the county in December significantly increased this number. Now perhaps as many as 120,000 new residents could fit into the light tan areas in the map above. Add that to the 80,000 or so new residents who can fit into the grey and brown areas, and the county is now planning for perhaps as many as 200,000 new residents between now and 2045.dw
Remember the number of new residents the county actually expects between now and 2045: 32,000. So county officials are planning for about six times as many new people as they're actually expecting. Sadly, there's only one possible result. Subdivisions and businesses will be sprinkled pretty much everywhere, with no meaningful protection for the farms, forests, and natural landscapes count residents are eager to preserve. This sprawling growth pattern has other consequences as well, none of which we want in our county.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
The first step to finding solutions is to understand that there currently aren't many houses per acre in our county's rural areas. When you look at orchards, cropland, and forests dotted with a few homes and barns, you're looking at an average density of about one house for every 10 or 15 or 25 acres, depending on where you're standing in the county.
By contrast, the draft Comprehensive Plan allows up to one house per acre in most rural areas (see pages 42-43 of the draft Plan). In some cases, it allows even higher densities (see pages 64 - 65). This is an invitation for subdivisions like the one pictured below, or with an even greater density, to scatter across our rural landscape.
By contrast, smart communities keep their landscapes looking rural by insisting that housing densities outside cities remain roughly the same over time. Depending on local conditions, the law might say that you can't build more than one house per 10 acres, or 25 acres, or more. But no community that's serious about rural protection would ever allow up to one house per acre, as the draft Comprehensive Plan does.
Also, the draft Comprehensive Plan doesn't adequately acknowledge that our rural communities are struggling to prevent inappropriate commercial development. Three years ago, rural Saluda beat a gun range. Last year, rural Green River opposed a commercial hotel and a bicycle course. Green River lost on the bicycle course, and the hotel proposal is coming back. Meanwhile, Crab Creek is still fighting a 1,000 unit storage facility.
So not only should the Comprehensive Plan recommend lower rural housing densities; it should also call for new laws that prohibit commercial development that threatens rural character. Thse safeguards are commonly used by communities that are serious about rural protection.
Also, any community that's serious about rural protection should establish a local land fund. The current draft of the Plan says that we need a land fund (see page 62). County leaders deserve high praise for including this language. However, the land fund needs the flexibility to protect more than farmland. The language of the Plan should be broadened in keeping with the variety of landscapes that residents hope to protect.
THE UTILITY SERVICE AREA
Here's one last point about the draft Comprehensive Plan. The map on page 47, reproduced below, shows an "utility service area" or "urban service area." This is a planning tool used to keep sewer and water lines and other urban services from extending into rural areas. Services quickly attract development, so limiting them to a certain area is critical for controlling sprawl.
The problem is that Comprehensive Plan proposes that a vast area, represented by the peach-colored spots below, be served by sewer, water, schools, and other urban services by 2045:
Remember, Henderson County already has plenty of room in the cities and near existing sewer and water lines (the grey and brown areas in the very first map above) for more than 80,000 new residents. So why continue running sewer and water lines into the countryside? Communities that are serious about controlling sprawl don't overbuild their infrastructure.
Decisions about sewer and water involve relationships between the county and other regional players, and the availability of federal funds. Add roads to the picture, and state funds also come into play. If you talk with local officials about this, the simple point is: "Don't spend my money unnecessarily. Especially don't spend my money to destroy what I love about Henderson County."
TAKE ACTION NOW
Visit our Rural Protection page to learn more about the causes of and cures for sprawl. Visit Who to Contact to get in touch with county officials. Jump on our Facebook page or add your contact information below if you want updates. Questions? Call Nina at 843.838.3336.
PAGE LAST UPDATED 2 FEBRUARY 2023.