On Nov. 19, Buncombe Commissioners voted to spend $69,000 on a conservation easement to protect 121 acres 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, voted in support. Noting that tourism brings in millions of dollars to the local economy, King said, “The parkway’s quite important to us.”
Belcher added, “This is in my backyard. It’s a beautiful piece of property. This is an area that doesn’t need to be torn all to pieces.”
But Fryar argued that with the county planning to pump millions into capital improvements at several schools, it’s not the right time to make any more financial commitments. “I can’t see the county putting money into anything at the present time,” he said.
The county’s $69,000 will help cover some transaction and purchase costs. It will also 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.”
Under the voluntary easement arrangement, he emphasized, the property owner retains the land, although development restrictions will apply permanently.
The Land Conservation Advisory Board and the Planning Department 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 also unanimously approved a rezoning request, changing 10.8 acres at 499 Long Shoals Road from residential to employment district, which will 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 reported, “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.”