On Nov. 19, Buncombe Commissioners voted to spend $69,000 on a conservation easement to protect 121 acres of land from development on Long Mountain in the Upper Hominy area. The measure passed 6-1, with Commissioner Mike Fryar casting the lone dissenting vote.
The property includes a rare mountainside wetland and is visible from the Blue Ridge Parkway. Commissioners David King and Joe Belcher, who represent the Upper Hominy area, both voted in support.
Noting that tourism brings in millions of dollars to the local economy, King noted, “The parkway’s quite important to us.”
“This is in my back yard. It’s a beautiful piece of property,” Belcher added. “This is an area that doesn’t need to be tore all to pieces.”
However, Fryar argued that with the county planning to pump millions into capital improvements at several schools, it wasn’t the right time to make any more financial commitments. “I can’t see the county putting money into anything at the present time,” he asserted.
The county funding will go towards covering some of the property’s transaction and purchase costs. It will leverage $255,700 in grants and donations by the landowner. Board Chair David Gantt, who has long been a supporter of the county’s easement program, argued that it was a good investment for taxpayers.
“This is one of the things we do that’s timeless,” he said. “I think sometimes you’ve just got to look beyond today. You’ve got to invest in the future.”
He also stressed that, under the voluntary easement arrangement, the property owner retains the land, although development restrictions will apply permanently.
The Land Conservation Advisory Board and the Planning Department both recommended that commissioners approve the funding. The Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy will help implement the deal.
“It’s a great day for land conservation in Buncombe County,” said Commissioner Brownie Newman.
In other business, commissioners unanimously approved a rezoning request to change 10.8 acres of land at 499 Long Shoals Road from “Residential District” to “Employment District” to allow more development.
On another front, commissioners were presented with a Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for the 2013 fiscal year, which ended June 30.
Without going into detail, auditor Chuck Killian emphasized that “it’s a very clean, efficient audit, from start to finish.” He added: “there’s no significant deficiencies noted. … There’s no items to bring to your attention.”