By Leslee Kulba-The Buncombe County Commissioners approved spending $69,300 to put 121 acres on Long Mountain into a conservation easement. The county’s contribution would constitute only a small portion of the land’s appraised value. The property was up for sale, and county staff argued it could be sold for development without the contract suspending development rights in perpetuity. In the end, the owner agreed to forfeit any profit he may have received from a market sale.
The tract in Upper Hominy was on the radar for the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy. It is a fraction of a mile away from the Pisgah National Forest, and visible from the Blue Ridge Parkway. Amenities to be protected from development included a mountainside swamp otherwise known as a “perched wetland,” a “rare glade,” a “rare plant community,” and a “wildlife hub.” The land is a listed wildlife corridor.
According to county staff, the property was valued at $280,700. The owner was willing to donate 82 percent of the land value. The county would, as it usually does when creating conservation easements, cover closing costs. In addition, a grant of $25,000 would be leveraged by the county’s “bargain purchase.”
Chair David Gantt explained the county was not purchasing the land, it was just purchasing the development rights. The owner would retain the certificate of title, although it would be encumbered. Gantt stressed the transaction was voluntary. The owner would still be allowed to use the land for agricultural purposes, although he would have to build fences to keep cattle out of the stream buffers that would be created. The land would not become a public right-of-way as a result of the transaction.
Following comments by Commissioner David King about the parkway playing a role in bringing $1.5 billion in tourist dollars to the area each year, Gantt commended the owners for not being short-sighted. He said he recently learned that nobody visits portions of the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia because the lands around it are all developed. Instead of viewing scenic mountain vistas, all one sees is roofs. Although efforts are underway to upgrade the local economy away from the tourist industry, it remains important to Western North Carolina.
Brownie Newman was excited. The county, he said, would be spending about $500/acre to conserve land, resulting in economic returns for the county in perpetuity. Holly Jones wanted to thank Gantt for having the vision to spearhead the county’s pursuit of conservation easements. Joe Belcher was delighted his children and grandchildren would be able to enjoy the vistas the commissioners were about to protect. Mike Fryar wasn’t buying it.
Fryar cast the lone vote against the purchase. He didn’t feel comfortable spending $69,000 in taxpayer dollars, even though it represents only a drop in the bucket of the county’s budget. The county felt justified in raising taxes for construction at AB Tech, and it is floating bonds to fund the construction of two new city schools and one county school. Ellen Frost disagreed. She likened the county’s debt to a $60,000 mortgage on a $200,000 house. She therefore concluded the county’s budget and its financial contributions toward this and future land preservation would be “safe.”
Nobody raised the traditional conservative arguments about property rights being fundamental for freedom. Owning land at the behest of the state makes man a vassal. Self-determination set free on private property underlies the correlation, evident in study after study, between economic liberty and prosperity. The nation’s economy is still hobbling, and economies, by definition, are the trade of value added to land, labor, and capital. The county had just outlawed adding value to a large tract of land.
In Other Matters –
Residents on Black Oak Drive in north Asheville thanked the commissioners for heeding their requests to do something about the home that had succumbed to a landslide. The county condemned the house, demolished it, and hauled it away; but more work remained to be done. Neighbors described a “forty-to-fifty-foot wall of debris” they wanted stabilized.
Winding up the meeting, the commissioners commended each other and staff for making GE Aviation’s recent groundbreaking ceremony possible. The event was attended by Governor Pat McCrory and other state-level celebrities. Government bodies throughout the state pitched in a combined $25 million in aid for the colossal multinational corporation that has its own multi-billion-dollar financing arm. Gantt reminisced about Project X with Facilities A and B. Now that the deal was sealed, the public could know what was approved.
Gantt said GE was going to manufacture a new composite that was so lightweight, a single airplane could save $1 million a year in fuel expenses. GE could have set up manufacturing operations in the state where the new material was invented. GE, in fact, had rejected the site they were shown in Buncombe County, but County Manager Dr. Wanda Greene and Assistant County Manager Jon Creighton demonstrated their willingness to help GE by ingeniously made a deal with Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc. to purchase their facility for GE and build another place for Old Dominion near the Linamar plant.