Updates to Land Use and Environment element of com plan looks at balance of growth and preservation 

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Brittney Raby – Staff Writer

The Macon County Comprehensive Plan was adopted five years ago and over the last few months, the Planning Board has been charged with updating the plan to ensure the county’s planning needs over the next five to 10 years are clearly defined. In November, the planning board reached out to community stake holders to develop subcommittees to review individual portions of the Comprehensive Plan to ensure the information is current and pertinent to the future of Macon County.

The primary purpose of the comprehensive plan is to address future planning for transportation, economic development, healthcare, childcare, senior care, education, public services, housing, land use and recreation.

“Some of the recommendations are in five-year intervals and should be revised for 2016,” said Macon County Planning Director Matt Mason. “The transportation chapter reflects future transportation needs and provides  NCDOT [North Carolina Department of Transportation] with a framework of transportation needs for the next 20 years. The education chapter discusses several renovation projects throughout the county, and most of those have been accomplished. Since the school system has accomplished most of their recommendations, it is time to revisit their section and make the appropriate adjustments. While we are reviewing the education section, I felt it was important to address each section for a complete review.”

In February, Mason presented the planning board with updates and changes to the education and recreation portions of the plan. During the last board meeting, Mason presented recommendations on changes to the land use and environment portion of the plan.

The land use and environment element of the plan creates natural resource-related recommendations. Those recommendations are to ensure that the citizens of Macon County continue to enjoy a clean natural environment now and in the years to come. The land use and environment element of the plan focuses on water quality, critical areas for development, agricultural land promotion/preservation tools, and lastly, gives communities and specific areas within the county options for preserving their heritage and rural characters for future generations.

In 1993, Macon County reported having 30,000 parcels and when the comprehensive plan was developed in 2009, that number had grown to 44,000 parcels. Mason noted that the 2016 parcel count will be added to the plan. Recognizing the growth in Macon County, Mason noted that the changes to the land use element of the plan were centered around ensuring that growth can be sustained while not harming the county’s natural resources.

One recommendation and a goal added to the comprehensive plan included the intention to create an educational program that focuses on the routine maintenance of residential driveways in the county. Mason noted that as it stands, property owners in Macon County are often faced with expensive problems concerning private driveways and property purchases are often affected because driveways are not properly maintained. To improve the situation, Mason said education materials on best practices for things such as storm water management such as culvert placement and design and requirements for negative retention should be established.

Ensuring the land use element of the comprehensive plan includes management practices for the county’s agriculture industry was also added. The 2007 census of agriculture reports that 346 farms were located in Macon County and that the farms had an average size of 61 acres and accounted for 21,133 acres. Mason said updated numbers on agriculture in the county will be added to the plan. Planning board members also wanted to ensure the plan included the recommendation to ensure the Economic Development Commission includes agriculture in its economic development plans for Macon County.

Mason also noted that a feasibility study was conducted in 2014 on developing a permanent Farmer’s Market on Frogtown to promote the agriculture industry in the county. After the study was completed, little was done with the research after it was shown that a permanent Farmer’s Market in Franklin would, in fact, be feasible. Moving forward with updating the plan, Mason said continuing to explore that possibility will be a priority.

The land use and environment element updates also includes ensuring the rural character of Macon County isn’t compromised in the growth process.

“Macon County’s rural character is very unique and important to the residents,” reads the plan. “There are many communities in Macon County that contain areas that represent our rural character and small town lifestyle. However, there must be a healthy balance between the preservation of rural character and the promotion of development. Communities that contain areas of rural character should foster a balance between healthy commercial/industrial development and history.”

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