Farmland Preservation Plan to be altered
by Kellen Moore
Watauga County's Farmland Preservation Plan has shrunk, and a committee has recommended the removal of some of the more controversial language in the document intended to guide the county's agricultural future.
Jim Hamilton, director of the Cooperative Extension, presented Watauga County commissioners Tuesday with the proposed revisions, which an ad hoc committee has been working on for about a year.
Concerns about the language and scope of the original plan led commissioners to request a review in February 2011.
Among the most dramatic changes is the slashing of the plan from more than 100 pages to 18.
The committee also replaced the word "protection" with "preservation" to avoid any perception of infringement on private landowner rights.
The new plan works to emphasize support of all agriculture, rather than highlighting one commodity group over another, Hamilton said.
He said the committee also worked to emphasize that the plan is a dynamic document that may be changed and edited as needed.
"Agriculture is as dynamic of an industry as any other," he said.
The preservation plan
also offers an array of recommendations that local governments may take.
The board also received proposed amendments to the Watauga County Voluntary Farmland Preservation Program ordinance from board Chairman Kelly Coffey.
Under new state legislation, there is no longer a minimum acreage requirement for farms to join the preservation program, which is especially important in the mountains where farmland often occurs in small patches, Coffey said. Instead, any land that is "engaged in agriculture" may apply to join the program.
"It is kind of subjective, but we're not interested in bringing people's backyard gardens into the program," Coffey said.
A public hearing will be held at 6 p.m. April 16 at the Commissioners Board Room before the board votes on whether to adopt the changes.
"I know there are some people in the community that have strong opinions on this plan," Chairman Nathan Miller said.
Transportation plan presented
Phil Trew, planning director for the High Country Council of Governments, and representatives from the N.C. Department of Transportation also presented information Tuesday about the Watauga County Comprehensive Transportation Plan.
The Transportation Plan identifies recommendations for highway, transit, bike and pedestrian transportation through 2040 based on current needs. It does not rank the recommendations or provide cost estimates.
Among the major highway projects targeted are:
-- Widening U.S. 321/421 to four lanes from the N.C. 105 Bypass in Boone through Skateworld in Vilas.
-- Widening N.C. 194 North to Howard's Creek Road.
-- Widening N.C. 105 South from the N.C. 105 Bypass in Boone into Avery County.
-- Creating the Daniel Boone Parkway, a new bypass from the east to west side of Boone.
-- Widening U.S. 221 from Deep Gap into Ashe County.
-- Widening the N.C. 105 Bypass to three lanes.
Trew will return to the board in April for formal adoption of the plan. If commissioners do not adopt the plan, they will continue to follow the transportation plan adopted in 2003.
The plan already has been approved by the Blowing Rock Town Council and will go before Seven Devils, Beech Mountain and Boone in the coming month, Trew said.
The board was scheduled to consider a request Tuesday for $150,000 from the Appalachian Regional Healthcare System to assist with water and sewer infrastructure for Appalachian Place at Chestnut Ridge, a post-acute care facility that will replace the Blowing Rock Hospital.
The request was removed from the agenda at the start of the meeting and may be considered instead at the April 16 meeting. Economic Development Commission Director Joe Furman said the hospital representatives simply needed more time to work on their request.
The board also:
-- Set a public hearing for 6 p.m. May 21 to hear comments on whether the Board of Commissioners ought to disband the Department of Social Services board and absorb its responsibilities. The board is responsible for hiring and firing the DSS director, among other duties.
-- Approved a request for $201,000 in N.C. Education Lottery funds for improvements to the Valle Crucis School basement.
-- Approved the hiring of Bryce Holder CPA to conduct the county's next audit at a cost not to exceed $45,400.
-- Approved a $1,000 grant from the N.C. Senior Medicare Patrol for the Project on Aging to conduct workshops for seniors.
-- Approved a resolution declaring April 29-May 4 "Community Pride Week." The week corresponds with drug take-back and household hazardous waste events.
-- Voted unanimously to approve the nominations of Neil Hartley and Dennis Scanlin to the Watauga County Planning Board. Commissioner John Welch nominated Hartley, while Commissioner Billy Kennedy nominated Scanlin.
-- Unanimously approved Natalie Bovino as an ETJ representative to the Blowing Rock Planning Board.
-- Rescheduled its budget work sessions to 4 p.m. May 9 and 4:30 p.m. May 13. The second date may be cancelled if not needed.
-- Heard from Margaret Buck during public comment about Agenda 21, a United Nations plan for sustainable development.
-- Met in closed session to discuss attorney/client matters and economic development. No action was taken after closed session.