Commission passes undesirable-uses moratorium in wake of court action

At a special April 3 meeting, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners approved 5-0 a moratorium on 14 “undesirable” land uses in the unincorporated areas of the county. The move comes in the wake of a recent court decision that overturned the county’s zoning ordinance.

Stumping for zoning: Erin Polzeretsky, president of the North Buncombe Association of Concerned Citizens, shows a map of the county’s zoning at the commissioners’ meeting. Polzeretsky called for both a moratorium on some land uses and tighter rules when the county reinstates zoning in June. Photo by Jonathan Welch

The moratorium prevents the issuing of building permits for 14 uses the board deemed undesirable, including concrete and asphalt plants, mining operations and adult-entertainment stores, while the county goes through the process of reapproving the zoning ordinance in a way that complies with state law.

“This board does not take moratoriums lightly,” Chair David Gantt said. “We respect property rights and the biggest investment you have: your home. But we have to talk as a community, we have to respect each other’s points of view. The way to keep the status quo is to do a moratorium now, so there will be no lapse.”

Commissioner Holly Jones agreed.

“It is my belief that proper land use ensures property rights, improves the stewardship of our national resources and ensures the quality of life and natural beauty—so I’ll be supporting the moratorium,” Jones said.

The moratorium took effect on April 6 and will last until June 3. The commissioners are expected to take up the zoning ordinance again—after the planning board reviews and revises it—around June 2.

The move followed a public hearing where some speakers had opposed the measure—and zoning itself. Conservative activist Eric Gorny accused the board of using fear tactics to get more support for zoning.

“With the reversal of zoning, we go back to the ordinances we already had and these 14 uses already had ordinances regulating them,” he said. “In my opinion it seems like having this moratorium is a farce, like you’re just trying to scare people that if we don’t go back to zoning there’s no way to protect them, even though we already had regulations on adult bookstores and concrete plants. It seems like you’re just trying to scare your citizens into you agenda.”

But the majority of speakers supported it and even called on the commissioners to strengthen some of the zoning rules when it reinstates the ordinance.

“I want to urge that you vote for the moratorium,” said Erin Polzeretsky, the president of the North Buncombe Association of Concerned Citizens. “We are part of a community that, over the past few years, has been forced to spend $26,000 and thousands of hours of volunteer time in trying to prevent a concrete plant from being built in our community. That’s a larger concern many citizens throughout the county have.”

He added that when the board takes up zoning again, they should further regulate the “open-use” zoning that takes up much of the county, prohibiting certain uses near school and residential areas.

“We citizens do really get jerked around from time to time, but we are grateful for the zoning ordinance,” Flat Creek resident Martha Claxton said. “We simply ask you to free us from these development struggles that take our time and money. Please help us keep Buncombe County a resourceful, beautiful place.”

But Enka resident Jerry Rice said his opposition to zoning is unchanged and that the commissioners had scheduled the special meeting at a time that made it hard for zoning opponents to attend.

“My position hasn’t changed, I’m still with the ‘no zoning’ crowd,” Rice told the board, pointing to the contaminated former CTS of Asheville plant as an example, he believed, that regulation didn’t stop undesirable uses. “Even under zoning, we can’t even get the cleanup we need. The state and federal regulations don’t seem to work. Why will a moratorium do any better?”

Jones acknowledged that the time “wasn’t the most convenient for a lot of people, and we understand that. But to have it take effect by Monday—to have there not be a lapse when the court’s ruling goes into effect—we had no choice.”

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