JEFFERSON —The “High Impact Land Use Ordinance” that was recently approved by the Ashe County Planning Board last week now sits in the hands of the Ashe County Board of Commissioners who are in charge of ultimately deciding its fate.
Ashe County Planner Adam Stumb and Gene Hafer, chairman of the Ashe County Planning Board, appeared before commissioners on Monday, Feb. 1 to present the proposed ordinance, which will govern future “high-impact” operations – like rock quarries and asphalt plants.
The need for a new ordinance
The purpose of the proposed ordinance is to replace the current Polluting Industries Ordinance which was passed in the early 2000s in response to Tri-County Paving’s attempt to build an asphalt plant in Ashe County.
In June of 2015, Appalachian Materials submitted a formal application for an asphalt plant to the Ashe County Planning Department. The proposal stated the plant would sit on a 30-acre land parcel on Glendale School Road next to an existing rock quarry owned and operated by Radford Quarries.
Local environmental advocates – the Protect Our Fresh Air committee, formed by residents of Glendale Springs – campaigned against the plant and called for commissioners to approve a temporary moratorium on polluting industries, which commissioners unanimously approved on Oct. 19.
Commissioners then instructed the planning board to review and update the county’s current Polluting Industries Ordinance resulting in the drafting of the High Impact Land Use Ordinance.
During the planning board’s Jan. 28 meeting, Louis Zeller, executive director of Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, told the board he was surprised that the proposed ordinance only called for a 1,000-ft setback – the required distance between the area of operation to a protected site.
The ordinance refers to protected sites as: “A location in Ashe County used by its citizens for activities that are expected to be conducted without interruption by loud noise, noxious odors, smoke or fumes, disturbing vibrations or pollution of air and water.”
These include educational centers, day care centers, assisted living centers, nursing homes, medical centers, places of worship, dwelling units, public outdoor recreational facilities, historic sites, the New River and the Blue Ridge Parkway.
According to Stumb, the 1,000-ft setback reflects ordinances in the surrounding counties of Alleghany, Watauga, Wilkes and Avery counties.
But Zeller says that there are other counties in North Carolina that have setbacks greater than 1,000-ft. He provided that information to commissioners on Monday when he and other members of the Protect Our Fresh Air Committee appeared to address their concerns with the ordinance.
According to Zeller, he believes that the setback should be measured using property lines stating that Watauga and Jackson counties use similar guidelines.
“Property line is a known factor. Where the (proposed asphalt plant’s) smoke stack is or were the impact is within an industrial property is vague,” Zeller said.
Zeller also told commissioners that the High Impact Land Use Ordinance is actually weaker than the county’s current Polluting Industries Ordinance since the required setback was decreased from 1,320-ft to 1,000-ft.
But Derek Goddard, principal consultant of Blue Ridge Environmental Consultants, says that despite the setback decrease, the ordinance is still a fair compromise.
“You’ve got to protect the interest and the welfare of the citizens and the interest and welfare of the industry,” Goddard said. “I think this ordinance does that. I think it marries those two things together.”
According to Goddard, the proposed ordinance increased the number of protected sites, therefore making the ordinance just as effective.
Goddard also made the suggestion that the county create a map of protective sites in the area using GIS to help citizens visualize what is protected by the ordinance.
Commissioners will be reviewing the proposed ordinance and could host a series of public comment periods to hear further concerns and suggestions regarding the draft.
According to Hafer, it is up to the commissioners to decide what changes need to be made before ultimately voting to approve or not approve the ordinance.
Commissioner Gary Roark already said he would not vote for the ordinance as it stands now because of the 1,000-ft setback.
“I can’t vote for this ordinance because it’s a weaker ordinance than what we had before,” Roark said. “I think we need – commissioners and the planning board – to get together and go back to the drawing board.
Hannah Myers can be reached at 336-846-7164 or on Twitter @cmedia_hmyers.