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News After two years, comprehensive plan delivered to commissioners

Members of the Planning Board at the presentation of the comprehensive plan (L-R): Jack Morgan, Sheriff Robert Holland (not on board), Chairman Lewis Penland, Mike Grubermann and Larry Stenger. Photo by Chris CarpenterFinal approval of the plan will follow a public hearing scheduled for May 17

After nearly two years of intensive labor by the Macon County Planning Board and a number of other all-volunteer advisory sub-committees, a comprehensive plan for development and growth in the county for the next 20 years has been delivered to the board of commissioners.

At a meeting of the commissioners on Tuesday, county planner Derek Roland presented the plan, a 164-page document which includes an exhaustive analysis of the county’s history, population and economic trends and gives recommendations for future growth in five major areas. Roland read the names of the more than 50 committee volunteers, including the 11 members of the planning board, who collectively invested more than 1,000 hours over the past year to produce the plan.

Roland then outlined the process of developing the plan, emphasizing the extensive public input process which was used to elicit input and public support for the plan. Besides a general survey, meetings were held in communities around the county as well as with a number of stakeholder groups.

“When you open this document and you review it, I’d like to remind you that this is not an ordinance,” Roland told the board, stressing that the plan is a non-regulatory document. “This is really a playbook. It contains a vision for the future which has been derived from what the people of Macon County have told us. It contains recommendations as to how we can achieve that vision. ... Just like a playbook, this commission that sits here today, and the commissions that follow you, can choose which plays out of that playbook, if any, you want to call.”

While the planning board received only 423 responses to the survey (there are 33,699 residents in county), Roland said that every effort had been made to collect surveys which were available at numerous locations around the county as well as online. He said the response rate was very comparable to a recent DOT survey on the county’s transportation plan which only solicited 399 responses.

Besides being a playbook, the plan also shows the county’s desire to involve citizens in planning, said Roland. “It represents the fact that planning for Macon County has not taken place in a smoke-filled back room,” he said. “It’s been a transparent process.”

Comments from the board of commissioners seemed to concur with Roland’s assessment. “There is no doubt in my mind, nor anyone on this board, that you, and the people that worked with you in this endeavor, have made every plausible, realistic effort to get input from every single group of people that we could hope to hear from,” said Chairman Brian McClellan. “I applaud you for those efforts. I know it’s been a long-time coming and a lot of hard work.”

Commissioner Ronnie Beale noted that had the county contracted an outside entity to produce the plan, it would have cost $70,000 to $100,000. “It’s something we can be proud of and something we will refer to for many years to come,” he said.

After Roland’s presentation, the commissioners reviewed each of specific recommendations in the plan, occasionally offering ideas for revision. The five general areas of growth for which the document provides recommendations include: economic development and public services; land use and environment; education and recreation; transportation and housing; and healthcare, childcare, and senior services.

Final approval of the plan as a statement of the vision of Macon County citizens will not take place until after a public hearing which has been scheduled for May 17.

When asked to comment on the milestone, Planning Board chairman Lewis Penland, smiled and said, “Hallelujah.” Penland, who headed the board throughout the two years the comprehensive plan has been under development, said that praise is due to the citizens of Macon County who gave their input and participated in building the plan.

“It’s commendable,” Penland remarked. “The people in Macon County have really come out. This is their plan.”

The public hearing for Macon County’s Comprehensive Plan is schedule for May 17, 6 p.m. in the board meeting room at the county courthouse. Copies of the plan will be made available at the county manager’s office, as well as at the Macon County Library, the Hudson Library and Nantahala School. In addition, an electronic version of the plan will be posted on the county’s website at A link to the document will be posted on the page for the Department of Planning, Permitting and Development.

New planning board members appointed

The board approved the recommendations of the planning board to reappoint Lamar Sprinkle to the board for a third term and to replace Evelyn Owens, who has decided to step down from the board, with Al Slagle. Last fall, the board of commissioners, ignoring the recommendation of the the planning board, replaced Slagle with Jimmy Goodman. In the controversy that followed, some commissioners expressed regret at how the appointment had been handled and agreed to reappoint Slagle to the board when the next seat became available. Slagle’s appointment was approved four to one, with the only novote cast by Commissioner Ron Haven.

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