Planning board meeting turns personal

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(Adam Orr|Jefferson Post) Lou Zeller, left, speaks with members of the Ashe County Planning Board on Thursday,

JEFFERSON-An Ashe County Planning Board meeting turned testy at times last week as board members sparred with a local environmental activist and some made plain their views on Ashe County’s Board of Commissioners.
“I may no longer be on the planning board after this but I am appalled at our commissioners that would listen to the complaints of a few and take away from the many, listen to their friends and ‘not in my backyard…and tell the world that if we don’t like where you’re putting your business, or we don’t like the kind of business you’ve got, we don’t want you in Ashe County,” Darrell Hamilton, an Ashe County Planning Board Member, said.
By the end of the 90-minute session, however, the group acquiesced to the wishes of county leaders and stiffened certain provisions of a new draft ordinance that will regulate high impact industries like a proposed asphalt plant in Glendale Springs.
How’d we get here?
Thursday’s action ultimately stems from an application filed by Appalachian Materials nine months ago. The company requested permission to build an asphalt plant in Glendale Springs in late June of 2015.
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 campaigned against the plant for months and asked the Ashe County Board of Commissioners to approve a temporary moratorium on polluting industries, a move which commissioners unanimously approved on Oct. 19.
That measure placed a six month hold on the construction of the Glendale Springs plant until April 19, 2016. Commissioners also reserved the right to renew the moratorium for an additional six months, if necessary, at that time.
In the interim, commissioners instructed the planning board to review and update the county’s polluting industries ordinance. The High Impact Land Use Ordinance was the result of those discussions.
Not good enough?
When that ordinance was finally presented to county commissioners on March 7, however, commissioners told members of the planning board the ordinance needed more fine tuning.
The new ordinance, crafted by the planning board with the help of similar ordinances across the state, breaks down polluting industries into two categories. Class I includes asphalt plants, incinerators, quarries, stone crushing operations, concrete mixing plants, pulp mills, chip mills and saw mills. Class II includes chemical manufacturers, chemical storage, explosives manufacturers and warehouses, fuel storage centers and medical waste disposal centers.
Commissioners voted 5-0 that the proposed setbacks for Class I facilities under the proposed ordinance should be increased from 1,000 to 2,500 feet and from 500 feet to 1,000 feet for Class II facilities.
Ashe County Commissioner Gary Roark said on March 7, he will not vote for the proposed HILUO as it stands and expressed his overall disapproval of locating another asphalt plant in the county.
“I have no intention of padding the wallet of someone (asphalt plant) outside of Ashe County,” said Roark. “We already have an asphalt plant in county and others within striking distance of U.S. 421.”
Back and forth
That’s an attitude Ashe County Planning Board Member Arvill Scott said he takes issue with.
Scott said he was insulted by the county’s board of commissioners and said the High Impact ordinance was never designed to single out asphalt plant operators.
“That would be singling out one industry,” Scott said. “There are many industries that have a high impact on the citizens of Ashe County. We’ve included them on this as a ‘high impact’ and it keeps returning to the asphalt plant.”
Scott also spoke directly to Lou Zeller, Executive Director of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, and accused Zeller and company of spreading fear about the proposed plant throughout the community.
Zeller fired back that comments made by Scott and Hamilton were nonsense and that the protests sounded like “petulant teenagers” who refuse to do their schoolwork.
A rubber stamp?
Ultimately, planning board members are appointed and serve at the pleasure of the Ashe County Board of Commissioners.
As an advisory committee the group has the authority to draft proposed ordinances – like it did with the first version of the High Impact Land Use Ordinance – but commissioners ultimately have the authority to accept or reject the planning board’s recommendation, tweak its proposal in any way the commission sees fit or draft its own language, a point Hamilton highlighted.
“If the only real changes commissioners requested is about the setbacks – they want tighter setbacks – I don’t see why they didn’t just make that change themselves or tell (Ashe County Planning Director) Adam Stumb to do that,” Hamilton said. “I’m not sure why we need to approve that.”
Ashe County Planning Board Director Gene Hafer also said that whatever setbacks the commissioners ultimately approve can’t be so restrictive as to prohibit any “High Impact” industry from opening shop in Ashe County.
Planning Board Members decided by a 3-0 vote – Planning Board Member Priscilla Cox was absent from the meeting and Scott abstained – to approve the commissioners request for greater setbacks.
Reach Adam Orr at 336-489-3058 or
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