Where landowners rule?

Whenever the issue of Buncombe County land-use regulations comes up, controversy is almost sure to follow. That held true this month when the Buncombe County Planning Board decided, on a split vote, to recommend that only property owners be allowed to sign petitions calling for the creation of a community-based planning district.

With countywide zoning shelved for the time being, the Planning Board has been working on a proposal to send to the Buncombe County commissioners detailing how individual communities could come up with their own land-use rules.

At the Planning Board’s Feb. 3 meeting, board members voted 5-2 to recommend allowing only property owners — rather than all registered voters or a mix of landowners and voters — to sign petitions requesting that a planning district be established, officials said. According to the recommendation, 20 percent of the property owners in the proposed area (representing at least one-third of the land owned) would have to sign the petition, reported County Planner Jim Coman. The planning-district boundaries could follow either fire-service districts or townships.

The split of opinion has emerged at previous Planning Board meetings as well, with the majority leaning toward the idea that landowners’ opinions should count for more because the regulations would affect them more than people who don’t own property.

“I think the landowners should have the call on whether it goes for a vote,” Planning Board member David Shenaut said back in December.

But Planning Board Chairman Jim McElduff, who sided with board member Julie Combs in voting against the proposal, disagrees. “I just think that all taxpayers who are registered voters in the county should be allowed to participate in all stages of the community planning process,” said McElduff after the Feb. 3 meeting, adding, “This vote disallows that possibility.”

Buncombe County Commissioner David Gantt (an advocate of countywide zoning) questioned the legality of limiting petitions to landowners and said the county’s Legal Department has been asked to research the matter.

“If it is legal, it shouldn’t be,” asserted Gantt, who is an attorney.

At press time, Buncombe County Attorney Joe Connolly was scheduled to meet with the Planning Board Feb. 17 to discuss their recommendation.

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