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 Preserve Crab Creek

Deni McIntyre

 

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 December.  Either citizens urge the county now to protect rural areas from overdevelopment, or we wait another 20 years for an opportunity this good.  

THE SURVEY RESULTS  

For more than a year, 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 — a large number that ensures accuracy.  

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 results couldn't be clearer.  But will the comprehensive plan actually give Henderson County residents the future we're asking for?  

THE DRAFT MAP  

In September, the county released a draft Comprehensive Plan that outlines growth and development between now and 2045.  The key to it are the maps that appear on pages 39 and 44, and the explanatory text in between.  Given that the public wants to protect forests, farmland, etc., these maps paint a pretty ominous picture of the county's future.  

 

THE EXPECTED POPULATION  

The map on page 39 shows that the county is planning for many times more new residents than we're actually expecting.  This overplanning is a recipe for sprawl development, which harms natural and cultural resources while burdening taxpayers.  (See Rural Protection for more on the consequences of sprawl.)  The two maps below reveal exactly how much the county is overplanning:

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The green spots in this first map 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.  Tiny brown spots represent places outside city limits where water and sewer is already installed.

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 2045 is around 32,000.  (2045 is the Plan's target date.)  Interestingly, there's enough vacant land in our five cities and in those small brown spots to accommodate about 95,000 new residents. 

You heard that right.  Under current zoning, using vacant land in just the grey and brown areas above, we could fit three times the number of new residents that 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 about 95,000 people, there's likely enough developable vacant land there for the 32,000 new residents expected.

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This second map is the same as the one above, plus the light tan shading.  Light tan represents land intended for development in the map found on page 39 of the draft Comprehensive Plan.  Using density numbers in the county's map, we can tell that there's enough room on vacant land in light tan areas for about 71,000 people.  Add that to the roughly 95,000 people who could fit into the grey and brown areas, and the map on page 39 of the draft Comprehensive Plan makes room for a total of about 166,000 new residents.

Remember, the number of new residents expected here by 2045 is about 32,000.  So local officials are planning for about five times as many new residents as are actually expected.  The result will be subdivisions and businesses sprinkled across most of the county, with no meaningful protection for the landscapes we love.  (See Rural Protection for the consequences of sprawl.)

RURAL DENSITIES & COMMERCIAL RESTRICTIONS 

To understand exactly how this overplanning will play out across our landscape, it helps to know that right now the county's rural areas are very low density.  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.  By contrast, the draft Comprehensive Plan allows up to one house for every two acres (see pages 40 - 41), and in some cases even higher densities (see pages 60 - 62).  This is an invitation for subdivisions like the one pictured below, or with houses more tightly clustered, to invade our rural landscape.

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Also, nothing in the draft Comprehensive Plan acknowledges that Henderson County's 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.  Crab Creek is still fighting a 1,000 unit storage facility.  Not only should the Comprehensive Plan require lower rural housing densities; it should also call for new laws that prohibit any commercial development that threatens rural character.  

THE URBAN SERVICES AREA  

Here's one last point about the draft Comprehensive Plan.  The map on page 44, reproduced below, shows an "urban services boundary," which is a tool used to keep sewer and water lines and other urban services from esctending into rural areas.  The presence of these services attracts development, so an urban services boundary is critical for controlling sprawl.  

The problem is that the "urban services boundary" proposed in the Comprehensive Plan encompasses a vast area, represented by the peach-colored spots below.  The Plan proposes that this area be served by sewer, water, schools, and other urban services by 2045:

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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 95,000 new residents.  So why allow more sewer and water at all, especially across such a vast area of the county?  Remember, water and sewer encourage development, destroying the forests, farmland, etc. that survey respondents overwhelmingly want to protect.

Decisions about sewer and water involve complex 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 the urban services boundary, the simple point is:  "Don't spend my money unnecessarily.  Especially don't spend my money to destroy what I love about Henderson County."

 

WHAT CAN WE DO?  

Visit our Rural Protection page to learn more about the causes of sprawl and the 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.