As of Tuesday, Macon County can claim to have a comprehensive, 20-year plan for development and growth in just about every sector of activity. The Comprehensive Plan is the result of nearly two years of intensive labor by the Macon County Planning Board, as well as several other all-volunteer sub-committees, which have collectively invested more than 1,000 hours to research and draft the various elements of the plan.
The 164-page document includes an exhaustive analysis of the county’s history, population and economic trends and then gives recommendations for future growth in five major areas: economic development and public services; land use and environment; education and recreation; transportation and housing; and healthcare, childcare, and senior services.
At a May 31 meeting of the county’s board of commissioners, the elected officials had discussed and debated several specific elements of the plan, and in the end settled on several amendments, softening the language of the recommendations and striking some altogether.
At Tuesday night’s meeting, the commissioners unanimously approved the revised plan.
The most significant amendment made by the commissioners before adopting the plan has been to strike all references and recommendations regarding the development of an ordinance regulating development in the proximity of slopes in the county. There was significant debate over this change, with both Commissioner Bob Kuppers and Commissioner Ronnie Beale opposed to the amendment, particularly since the county is already engaged in considering such an ordinance.
Commissioner Kevin Corbin and Chairman Brian McClellan both supported the change, saying that since there was already a proposed ordinance being drafted for consideration, that was precisely the reason it was not necessary to include in a plan for future growth. Commissioner Ron Haven has in the past made known his opposition to most slope regulation, though he has acknowledged some problems exist with land disturbance on slopes.
Minor amendments and clarifications were made to other sections as well, including the Education and Recreation section, in which it was decided to make explicit that all actions regarding education would be left to the discretion of the county Board of Education.
The wording in several recommendations was also changed to be made more obviously non-binding on officials. From statements such as the county “should consider” or “should regulate” to softer versions such as “the county may consider developing,” the board generally came to a consensus on such changes.
On Tuesday, before calling for a vote on the final plan, Chairman McClellan clarified that in fact the board was only voting on the “Elements of the Plan” (page 63 to 131), the section of the document that lays out the specific recommendations for county officials and policy makers to consider. “I want to make it abundantly clear that what we’re voting on and what we're calling the Comprehensive Plan is the ‘Elements of the Plan’,” he said, noting that the background elements included in the introduction to the document and in its appendix will be preserved and made part of the public record, but that they are not officially adopted as part of the plan.
“I want everyone, every community, every volunteer, every paid person to understand that we greatly appreciate what was done,” said McClellan. “We consider those pieces to be an important of the plan — the before and the after — in explaining what was trying to be done and why they were trying to do it.”
The board then decided to follow the recommendation of Commissioner Kuppers to also adopt the plan’s mission statement as part of the official plan. The statement reads, in part, “Through taking the initiative to plan now, we insure the integrity of our mountain heritage will be preserved, welfare of the citizens will be maximized, our natural environment will continue to flourish, and the economic vitality of Macon County will be sustained, all in ways that benefit the current population as well as generations to come.”
Commissioner Haven, who thanked the Planning Board and subcommittees for their work, added that the plan has been “presented to us as recommendations to consider. As I make my vote tonight, this is not something that I want somebody coming back to me and saying, wait a minute, you voted for that. ... I’m not going to deem myself liable, for or against anything in it. It’s to consider.”
County attorney Chester Jones prepared the resolution to adopt the plan and approve it as a guide and a non-binding document that is to help and assist officials in planning and leading the county in the future. Kuppers made the motion to accept the resolution, with a second by Corbin.
The entire document will be preserved, along with the officially adopted sections, in the County Manager’s office for future reference of any members of the public who wish to access it.
“I think this document will serve us well, not only now, but in the years to come,” said McClellan.
Public comments oppose slope development ordinance
Several citizens chose to speak on the subject of county ordinance currently being drafted for consideration by the board that would regulate all development on or in the proximity of slopes in the county. All of those who spoke on the issue, including Ron Winecoff, Lamar Sprinkle, Bodie Bodenheimer, Richie Jones, Beverly Mason, Donald Holland and Don Swanson, said that they opposed the adoption of any ordinance that would restrict development in the county during a period of economic recession.
Mason, a former chairwoman of the County Planning Board, said that while she is an advocate of planning and appreciates the work of the volunteers looking at slope development, she was opposed to adding any new regulations at this time. “Let’s put builders back to work first,” she said.
Richie Jones, a former county attorney, warned that enacting such regulation would inflate the cost of development in the county. He said that he had read the proposed ordinance, and called it “the worst example of government gobbledy-goop that I have ever seen.”