Stormwater proposal exposes rifts

A large turnout nearly swamped an Oct. 15 public meeting to discuss a proposed new ordinance intended to check erosion and sedimentation in streams, giving Asheville city staff and the committee charged with drafting the ordinance an idea of just how much interest there is on all sides of this issue.

The suggested ordinance, available at the city’s Web site, establishes buffers and restricts grading and development along certain streams inside the city limits and within Asheville’s extraterritorial jurisdiction.

McCray Coates, the city’s stormwater-services manager, explained to the crowd that the ordinance originated out of a requirement by the federal Clean Water Act, but that City Council had expressed a desire to have Asheville’s ordinance go above and beyond state requirements. For a year, a committee has been working on the language for the new law, but divisions persist on the level of control the ordinance should mandate. As one committee member mentioned, some elements, especially those referring to buffer size, came out of committee with a majority vote rather than a clear consensus. An alternative proposal that calls for even stronger restrictions has been introduced as well.

Such haggling is no surprise, as the issue taps into arguments over environmental protection versus property rights. While landowners and developers argue that they should be able to do what they want with their property, others note that a stream runs not just through a specific site. The alternative plan includes this language on the matter: “We support property rights, including landowners downstream that are impacted by sedimentation and erosion control failures.”

To notify property owners who might be affected by the ordinance, the city sent out some 11,000 letters informing them that they “own land that could be impacted.” Those include people with streams that are “intermittent,” that is, ones that don’t flow all year.

City staff and committee members found themselves unstacking additional chairs for the more than 120 people who showed up. Some left shortly after the initial presentation, while others met with staffers manning computers that used GIS tracking to identify just how affected various properties would be by the ordinance.

Judging from the prevailing attitude at the meeting, the ordinance faces some challenges before it is put into place. It still has a ways to go in the approval process: It will go before the Planning and Zoning Commission—and a full public hearing—on Thursday, Oct. 23, then needs to go to Raleigh for approval before coming back to City Council sometime in December.

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