In a logically-consistent society, one would expect the commissioners to jump for glee. They are all about growing the economy, and here a local business was bursting at the seams. Ricky Coates runs three businesses. He employs about thirty-five people. Business growth of the unsubsidized variety is practically an extinct animal.
Furthermore, local governments and chambers of commerce throughout Western North Carolina are collecting tourism taxes and making logos and jingles to attract tourists, and RVers are at least stopping in town long enough to look for a vacancy sign. If Coates wanted to play IMPLAN games, he could have generated pie charts and bar graphs to show how the money RV-ers drop in the economy multiplies directly, indirectly, and inductively. But he wasn’t asking for a subsidy.
Before wrecking some heavenly landscaping to make room for more pads on the existing lot, Coates looked into developing new parcels. There are still about three more months in the tourist season, and it only takes a few days to put down and wire a pad. Site prep might even create a few construction jobs. The only thing standing between RV tourists overnighting in Asheville or easing on down the road to Henderson County was government permissions.
Coates applied to rezone a couple parcels from R-1 to R-3, which allows travel trailers. In fact, that was the request he thought was going to be on the commissioners’ agenda, but as it turned out, a different request of his was going to be up for discussion. Advertized and scheduled was an amendment to the countywide zoning ordinance to make RV’s and RV parks a use-by-right in Commercial Service (CS) Districts. When she presented the request to the commissioners, Planner Debbie Truempy said the request for a broad amendment followed the denial by the Planning Board of an application to rezone a single parcel.
Coates argued Commercial Service zoning was a good fit for RV parks. Fifth wheels are allowed in Residential zonings, but some travel trailer designs hold fifty passengers. RV-ers like easy-on, easy-off interstate access. Many like to be near commercial centers with restaurants. Not every RV-er is looking for a backwoodsy Walden Pond experience.
Citizen Don Yelton chimed in. He had been complaining throughout the evening about the way staff reports provided scripting for the commissioners to make a motion the way staff wanted them to. This was no exception. The Planning Board and county staff both recommended rejection of the proposal.
County staff and the Planning Board used the same language in their recommendations to deny. They restated the purpose of CS districts as “to provide suitable locations for clustered commercial development and to encourage the concentration of commercial activity in those specified areas with access to major traffic arteries, to discourage strip commercial development, and to allow for suitable noncommercial land uses.” They then added their opinion that it was better to let the land lie fallow than to allow a low-end use like an RV park when a higher and better use might come along somewhere down the line.
Perhaps worst of all, in a non-sequitur on a par with claiming single-family residences are bad because somebody might turn one into a crack house; they actually wrote, “The proposed amendments to the text are neither reasonable nor in the public interest as in no case should travel trailers be used as permanent dwellings, as these homes do not meet NC Building Code. Through the addition of districts where travel trailers and travel trailer parks are allowed, the use of travel trailers as longer-term housing solutions is promoted, in spite of the hazards to health and public safety that their construction may pose.”
Yelton said he had an RV, and it was sometimes difficult to find a place with a satellite hookup so he could watch TV. He doesn’t like hotels because his wife says they have to take the dog, and hoteliers often are reluctant to accommodate things that could bark all night. He then added that with all the construction going on in the local economy, workers are going to need a place to stay, and RV’s are great for the lifestyle of workers who move from job to job.
Commissioner Joe Belcher was open to the amendment. He saw how it could be good for local business, but he felt he and his peers hadn’t been given adequate time to explore ramifications of the “broad brush” change. Mike Fryar suggested tabling the matter, since a no vote would prevent reconsideration for another twelve months, which would put Coates at the end of a second RV season. Unfortunately, the commissioners wouldn’t be conducting any more business until September, their second monthly meeting being a joint city-county powwow.
Fryar at first seconded Belcher’s motion to approve Coates’ request, but then he rescinded the second, and the motion died for lack of a second. After multiple opinions from attorneys, it was decided that the commissioners should vote anyway, so they did. Only Belcher and Fryar supported Coates’ attempt to expand a successful business model, so the matter cannot be reconsidered until August 2016. Miranda DeBruhl was recused for a conflict of interest.
Following a short presentation on prison statistics, the commissioners went into closed session to discuss two economic development matters and three legal issues. “Economic development” is code for giving away taxpayer dollars to executives who want to expand their business, but, unlike Coates, haven’t run things profitably enough to pay their own freight.
The commissioners emerged from closed session to vote unanimously in favor of a settlement that will likely run around $7 million. The moneys will go to five men who in 2000 broke into the home of Walter Bowman. One fired a gun and killed Bowman. All pled guilty, but the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission determined former Sheriff Bobby Medford’s interview techniques were inappropriate. The commissioners thanked county attorney Curt Euler for talking down the price from $17 million.