By Kathy Chaffin
MOUNT ULLA ó More than 60 people turned out Thursday evening for the first of two Rowan County land-use study workshops.
Among the people gathered at West Rowan High School here were members of the Land-Use Steering Committee. The 11 members were appointed by the Rowan County Board of Commissioners to review the data, maps and information assembled by the county’s Planning Department and Benchmark CMR, the Kannapolis consulting firm hired to help develop the land-use plan for areas west and north of Interstate 85.
Displays featuring maps, information, statistics and projections were set up in a semi-circle in the high school cafeteria, with tables in the middle for people to write their comments on index cards.
Mary and R.C. Taylor and their youngest son, Patrick, who live on Rabbit Hollow Road in Cleveland, spent several minutes putting their concerns in writing.
Mary, who has lived in the Cleveland area for 34 years, said she’s worried about the rapid growth in western Rowan and the amount of farmland being sold and/or developed.
Farmers are having a hard time making enough money, she said, with the prolonged drought and taxes being raised. It’s a shame some of them are being forced to sell their land to get out of debt, Mary said.
“I know nothing is going to stay the same, but the farmers feed us,” she added.
R.C. Taylor said he’s concerned about the sporadic growth of subdivisions in western Rowan County, given the condition of the roads. “They need to start redoing roads and rebuilding infrastructure to support the extra roads,” he said.
Mary Taylor said western Rowan seems to be left out when it comes to road repairs and other county services. Former Mayor Bill Allison, who is now deceased, “used to say that western Rowan County was the red-headed stepchild,” she said.
Patrick Taylor said one of his concerns is that some of the areas identified on maps of potential development include land that will not perk. He also questioned if there are enough public services such as law enforcement to support the rapid growth in western Rowan.
Dennis Olthoff said he was concerned about the condition of N.C. 150, given the rapid growth in the area.
“Drive down it,” he said. “It’s the worst road in the county right now.”
Olthoff, who has lived on Mooresville Road for 12 years, said some of the residents who live too far out for county water had problems with their wells drying up during last year’s prolonged drought.
Barbara C. Earnhardt of Granite Quarry said she drove from eastern Rowan to West High School in the wet weather because of 3.5 acres of property she owns on Needmore Road. “That’s a little nest egg for me,” she said.
Though she is a strong supporter of preserving farmland, Earnhardt said she is not in favor of restricting small parcels of land like hers in ways that could keep it from selling. “This land-use plan scares me,” she said.
Earnhardt said she’s not planning to sell her land right now, but wants to make sure she can sell it if and when she decides or needs to.
Ben Knox, who represents the Steele township on the Land-Use Steering Committee, said he is concerned about the pace of development and the loss of open space in the western and southern ends of the county.
“It’s not that you don’t want growth,” he said. “You just want smart growth, I guess you’d say.”
Another concern Knox had is the water supply. “If we continue to grow like we’re growing, where’s our water going to come from?” he asked.
Committee Co-Chairman Chris Cohen, who represents the Franklin township, said he had expected more people to turn out for the western Rowan workshop.
Steve Poteat, Locke township’s representative on the committee, said an hour into the three-hour workshop that there had been more county officials than residents so far. The workshop was held from 5 to 8 p.m.
Jason Epley, project manager for Benchmark, said the turnout was about average.
Residents who did turn out expressed concern about the dwindling of open spaces, he said, because “that’s what they love about the area, and they don’t want to see that disappear.””But at the same time,” he said, “they understand that folks need a place to live.”
The big question facing county officials developing a land-use plan, Epley said, is “how do you balance those two desires?”
Because the Rowan County area under study is sandwiched between two of the fastest growing areas in the state ó the Triad (Winston-Salem, Greensboro and High Point) and Charlotte ó Epley said committee members have started referring to it as “the bull’s-eye” when it comes to growth.
The area consists of 158,000 acres and had a 35 percent growth rate from 1990 to 2000. Parcels of 10 acres or more comprise 54 percent of the area, and about half of the land is enrolled in the county’s deferred tax program for agricultural use.
The second workshop will be held next Thursday, Feb. 28, from 5 to 8 p.m. at South Rowan High School.
Ed Muire, Rowan County planning director, said two more informational meetings will be held during the development stages of the land-use plan. Public hearings on the plan won’t be held until it goes to the Rowan County Planning Board for review and revisions.Residents may e-mail comments and concerns to LUStudy.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249 or email@example.com.
By Kathy Chaffin