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News Planning board votes to change ordinance

Particulars on fill in a floodplain still to be worked out.

The floodplain ordinance in Macon County has been a topic of concern for years now. At previous planning board meetings, members of the community, who chose to attend fervently, supported leaving the ordinance as it stands—which would mean disallowing fill to be placed in the floodplain. In recent months, the planning board meetings have seen a small, consistent faction of local residents attend the gatherings to voice their concerns over changing the ordinance, ultimately asking the board to consider keeping the ban on fill in place. The board members were able to push the issue to the side for a short while as the North Carolina General Assembly considered Senate Bill 612, which would require that no local ordinance be stricter than what the state requires, but the bill has been shelved for now. The bill would have nullified the ban on fill. At the request of the county commissioners, the planning board must now provide its recommendations.

At last Thursday's meeting, the board primarily looked to do just that. Vice chairman Derek Roland opened the meeting welcoming new members John Shearl and Joe Deal. The board then selected Roland as the new chairman and Chris Danners as the new vice chair.

The floor opened up for public comment as three people were present to speak out against changing the flood ordinance, asking the members to listen to those who had been present before to speak against the change.

“I just hope you will consider our local farmers and the damage adding fill to the floodplain can do,” said Kathy Tinsley of the Voluntary Agriculture District Board.

In the event that the board chose to allow fill in the flood plain, Hanners developed a set of guidelines for the process that he presented to the board. His proposal had some different suggestions than the proposal that county planner Matt Mason had developed for the board.

“I took a cut off at a half acre for when a more stringent requirement takes place and a design professional would have to be involved in the fill process. I addressed some very standard details that would pretty much go in any situation,” said Hanners.

“I think Chris' suggestion defines the process better.” said Mason.

Mason's updated ordinance to allow fill states that material can be used in a floodplain, but that certain requirements must be met. The fillhas to be clean soil, compacted to 95 percent of the maximum density; it must extend at least 10 to 15 feet beyond the footprint of the structure; the material must have graded slopes, and that the slopes must be protected against erosion. Mason also suggested that a design professional certify the fill elevation, compaction, slope, and slope protection measures. Hanners agreed, but only when filling more than half an acre.

“So we have some options. We can vote to leave the ordinance as it is, we can vote to recommend Matt's recommendation, or we can vote to recommend Chris',” said Roland.

After members of the board explained the history that brought them to the discussion, the two new members offered opposing opinions of the matter.

“I understand the concern that has been expressed, but I think when it comes down to it, the property owner should have a right to do what they want with their land,” said Shearl.

Referencing concerns from past meetings that filling the floodplain would result in areas downstream becoming flooded, Deal disagreed.

“I think we have to consider the well-being of our neighbors,” he said.

Roland reminded the members of a key component of the current ordinance.

“Just remember, the ordinance as written doesn't say that you can't build in a floodplain, only that you can't put fill in the floodplain. The commissioners asked us to look at the floodplain ordinance and offer up a recommendation. I think if this evening, we just decide whether we should change it or not, that would fulfill their request. Then we can take our time, think it over and come back next month to decide which plan we want to use if we do in fact decide it needs to change.”

The members agreed that the request would be fulfilled if they did as Roland suggested. Member Lamar Sprinkle made a motion to change the ordinance with Hanners seconding. The motioned carried, 7-2.

County Commissioner and planning board liaison Jimmy Tate commented on the decision before the meeting closed.

“You all are making, potentially, a very significant change to a Macon County ordinance that has been in existence for some time,” said Tate. “I have sat through every one of these meetings with you all and I have listened to testimony from the public comment on why the ordinance shouldn't be changed, but I haven't heard a single person come to these meetings and testify as to why we should allow the fill. So from my stand point, as the liaison, I've got to take that to the other commissioners and I've got to go potentially sell your idea of why this should happen. The only thing I've heard so far is property rights.”

Member Peggy Patterson suggested that people had been fighting for 30 years to allow fill and they have gotten tired of fighting so now the only people who come to the meetings changing the ordinance, are thise opposed to Sprinkle told the board that “most of the people who would have been in favor of [fill] were busy working” and were unable to attend the meetings.

The board will meet again next month on Aug. 15 at 4 p.m. at the meeting room of the Health and Human Services building. The public is invited to attend.


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