Locking up land: Commissioners take steps to preserve Leicester farm

It’s an honor: Minnie Jones thanks the commissioners after receiving “Special VIP Recognition” for her key role in providing health services to disadvantaged residents. Photo by Max Cooper.

At their last meeting before the Nov. 6 election expands and restructures their board, the Buncombe County commissioners took action to preserve farmland in Leicester.

The board unanimously voted Oct. 16 to allocate $18,000 toward the transaction costs for placing a conservation easement on the 57-acre Jeffers Farm on Sluder Branch Road.

The Agricultural Advisory Board requested the move, which will help protect the land from development. The working farm produces a range of vegetables and animal products. The cost of the $440,000 easement will be covered by a mix of private donations, state and federal grants.

Newfound Creek borders the property; plans call for a 70-foot buffer zone to help improve its water quality. The land adjoins the Sycamore Valley Farm, which is already protected by a conservation easement.

Over the last several years, the commissioners have helped preserve about 6,000 acres of land through the voluntary easement program, noted board Chair David Gantt. Preserving farmland from development, he maintained, is one of the most important things the board can do.

Commissioner Carol Peterson added, "This is consistent with the good folks of Buncombe County and their love of the land."

In other business, the board unanimously voted to rezone land at and around the Asheville Regional Airport and the WNC Agricultural Center as a public-service district. In June, the North Carolina General Assembly reconfigured the airport’s board to reduce the city’s role and transferred zoning jurisdiction to Buncombe County, forcing the commissioners to act. No one spoke out against the zoning rules during a public hearing on the matter.

The commissioners also heard an update on the Know Your Numbers program, which offers county employees paid time off in exchange for improving health indicators such as blood pressure and cholesterol.

Since the program began in February, roughly 165 employees have collectively lost about 576 pounds, nurse practitioner Lynn Rapp reported. If the program enables just one employee to avoid a heart attack or stroke, she said, it will be a big success.

Gantt agreed, noting that improving employee health ultimately "saves money for the county and the taxpayers."

The commissioners’ next meeting, on Nov. 20, will be held in their new quarters in downtown Asheville at 200 College St., Room 326.
Jake Frankel can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 115, or at jfrankel@mountainx.com.

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About Jake Frankel
Jake Frankel is an award-winning journalist who enjoys covering a wide range of topics, from politics and government to business, education and entertainment.

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