Preserve Crab Creek
SEPTEMBER OP ED
Vision, Skill, and Leadership Needed Now
by Fritz McPhail
Published September 12, 2021 in Blue Ridge Now | Times-News (Page A4)
In mid-August, dozens of citizens joined local officials to celebrate the birth of the Ecusta Trail. Before long, a green thread connecting Hendersonville to Brevard will generate $42M in one-time revenue and $9.4M in annual revenue, at no cost to local taxpayers. Bravo to all involved, including the County Commission, Conserving Carolina, and Friends of Ecusta Trail.
In mid-September, the county’s Zoning Board will decide whether to permit a 1,000-unit storage facility in the heart of Crab Creek. If this facility is built, strip commercial development will spread around the 10-acre concrete and steel complex, just as it spread around a similar storage facility on Chimney Rock Road built by the same developer.
This would destroy the beauty and authenticity of a rural community that’s now the gateway to DuPont Forest, a popular destination for cyclists, and home to summer camps and costly real estate — which together generate significant revenue for the county.
Reading these two stories together, Ecusta and Crab Creek, you might do a double take. Why would county officials who have the vision, skill, and leadership to create this marvelous new amenity even consider causing irreparable harm to a pristine rural community that has equal or greater economic value?
The answer lies in the antiquated rules that govern development in Henderson County. Between 1976 and 2006, Henderson County’s developed land area grew eight times faster than our population, according to a UNC Charlotte study. As our population slowly grew 92% over several decades, our developed land area exploded by 730%.
This is urban sprawl, and the laws that facilitate it are still in effect today. If we don’t change the laws that welcome sprawl, its casualties will include rural communities like Crab Creek, scenic vistas, clean air, clean water, and the amazing biodiversity of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
This story is familiar to people who have fled here from larger communities. Subdivisions displace orchards and forests. Rural roads like Crab Creek get widened. Asphalt, roofs, and lawns drain polluted storm water directly into creeks, without letting it filter through the soil. Residents drive more miles, increasing air pollution and exacerbating climate change.
But here’s some very 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. And here’s more good news: Henderson County just began a once-every-twenty-year process to rewrite its rules governing development.
This is a fantastic opportunity. If all the stars align, here’s how it could play out:
Before September 15, every citizen eager to protect the county’s beauty and rural heritage asks County Commissioners to prevent the storage facility and other strip commercial from invading Crab Creek. Fresh from its Ecusta Trail celebration and poised to rewrite its development rules, the county decides to save one of its last remaining rural gems.
Citizens learn about rural preservation, then participate in record numbers in the upcoming rewrite of development rules. We ask for new rules that protect rural areas from incompatible development. We also ask for local funds to help conserve key pieces of rural land. There are successful models for both strategies right here in the Southeast.
Local officials analyze the costs and benefits of economic development more carefully. Sprawl is a loser. It offers quick returns, then burdens taxpayers. Instead, we encourage clean, green projects like the Ecusta Trail and attractive, in-town development — while saying no to sprawling growth that harms our economy, our ecology, and our rural heritage.
Is this a pie-in-the-sky scenario? Absolutely not. Population growth in Henderson County is a given. But destruction of natural and cultural resources is a choice. We can continue to allow sprawl. Or we can accommodate new residents sustainably, enhancing our reputation as an international destination.
Henderson County has the talent, foresight, and leadership needed to create the Ecusta Trail. Let’s apply these same qualities to protecting what we all love about the place we call home.
Fritz McPhail was born and raised in Henderson County; has spent forty years investing in commercial real estate; and now chairs the board of the Crab Creek Preservation Society, www.PreserveCrabCreek.org.