A moment of reckoning

Now is the time for all good men and women to come to the aid of their county. Ask not what your county can do for you but what you can do for your county. These familiar (if slightly altered) words of two of this country’s most prominent presidents are right on target for our current situation here in Jackson County.

As our recently elected county commissioners get on with the business of honoring their pledges to initiate land-use planning, they’ll need our support and help to overcome the resistance and attacks by local developers and real-estate brokers who seem to care only about extracting the maximum benefit for themselves at the expense of the rest of us.

In recent days, a few zealous real-estate barons from the Cashiers/Highlands area have made a concerted effort to foment an insurgency based on half-truths and outright lies in order to derail the proposed moratorium on new subdivision development and to halt work on land-use rules. These people have spent thousands of dollars running full-page ads in local papers and on the radio trying to incite their neighbors to mutiny, to abandon the good ship Jackson County with the subdivision-regulations voyage only just under way. But we, the loyal crew, aren’t fooled by their tawdry tactics. Nor are we sympathetic to their in-house studies or their unfounded claims about job losses and a looming economic tsunami. (In fact, the descriptions I’ve heard concerning similar situations in other states and countries seem to indicate just the opposite—that putting land-use rules in place actually creates jobs by attracting people and businesses to the area.)

In reality, all this amounts to little more than sour grapes. These guys have had their way in Jackson County for so long—selling land with no restrictions of any kind—that they are, in a sense, throwing a tantrum over any attempt, however moderate, to limit business as usual. With only short-term dollar signs in their eyes, they show no concern for either the future or the general welfare of the year-round, working residents of Jackson County.

These same real-estate “professionals” have publicly criticized our commissioners for not conducting a study of the economic impact of a moratorium on the community. It occurs to me that these folks haven’t made an objective study either—but that hasn’t stopped them from declaring that a moratorium will result in lost jobs, lost property rights, higher taxes and “bringing our local economy to a halt.” Where do they get their figures to support such preposterous claims? Where’s the beef?

If that weren’t enough, it’s rumored that some local real-estate agents, developers and construction companies have gone so far as to lay people off and halt construction on certain projects so they could stand up at the Feb. 27 public hearing and the March 8 commissioners’ meeting and proclaim that the economic downward spiral had already begun. If there’s any truth to these charges, then these folks have clearly gone over the top, and one can only imagine what they might do next.

Let’s not forget that all four commissioners elected in November ran on platforms that endorsed land-use rules for the county. The election results gave those commissioners a clear mandate to provide a balance to the kind of hyperaggressive development that has invaded Jackson County along with many other parts of Western North Carolina. So it should come as no surprise to anyone that upon taking office, this group and their team of county officials got right to work trying to make good on their promises and save our county from certain ruin at the hands of unchecked development. Yet moratorium opponents are acting as if Jackson County had just been given a pig in a poke.

In the end, this is an economic issue, not a political one. It’s not about Democrats or Republicans, and it’s not about the loss of jobs. It’s about class. It’s about the haves and the have-nots; the moneyed elite versus the working and middle classes.

At the moment, the latter two groups outnumber the rich in Jackson County. But that could change if the real-estate folks and the developers have their way. Don’t let the expensive ads or the underhanded scare tactics of a few self-serving realtor/developers fool you. They are not the majority, and they don’t have your best interests at heart.

But they are making noise, and the rest of us need to do whatever we can to back up our newly elected leaders. We can start by contacting them and voicing our support, writing letters to our local papers, and speaking up at open meetings. We have waited much too long for this day to come, and it’s finally here. Jackson County is leading the way toward responsible development in WNC.

[Author and poet Thomas Crowe lives in Tuckasegee. His back-to-the-land memoir, Zoro’s Field: My Life in the Appalachian Woods (University of Georgia Press, 2005) won the 2006 Ragan Old North State Award for best nonfiction book by a North Carolina resident.]

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