Anson tries again for countywide zoning

Anson County is reigniting efforts to complete a contentious enterprise that has been in the works since a 2005 ordinance: countywide zoning.

The issue has re-emerged due to concerns about disorganized residential areas and about development in underused parts of the county.

Countywide zoning is a difficult undertaking because many people do not like being told what to do with their land, Anson County commissioner Anna Baucom said.

Anson County, just east of fast-growing Union County, is a rural area that has struggled with the decline over the past 30 years of two of its major industries, manufacturing and agriculture. Its population of about 27,000 has grown only about 5 percent since 2000.  Its March unemployment was 10.9 percent, compared with 8.2 percent in neighboring Union County, which grew 66 percent from 2000 to 2010.

Anson County is the only N.C. county in the Charlotte region lacking countywide zoning. Only 21 of the 100 N.C. counties, mostly in the rural western and eastern sections of the state, lack any countywide zoning.

Michelle Nance, planning director for the Charlotte region’s Centralina Council of Governments, said the Anson County towns of Ansonville, Morven, Peachland and Wadesboro are zoned. The towns of Lilesville, McFarlan and Polkton are not.

The process to implement countywide zoning began in 2005 with a land use ordinance. But it stalled when Anson County lost its planner more than a year ago.

“It’s best to do things before you need it, instead of after the fact.”

 Jarvis Woodburn, Anson County commissioner

In an effort to finish what was started years ago, Anson County hired planner Josie Lodder in April to draft new zoning plans.

Lodder said her overall goal is to implement a zoning ordinance.

Proponents of a zoning ordinance say its implementation could alleviate development concerns. Opponents of countywide zoning say the government should not mandate what can and cannot be built in certain areas.

County commissioner Baucom has pushed for countywide zoning since her election in 2006. She says it is a practical government tool in influencing development.

Baucom is concerned that some residents and businesses are developing in underutilized areas instead of in more developed parts of the county. In some cases that can force the county to have to pay to extend water or sewer lines, she said.

Zoning would give the government more input into development, she said.

Both Baucom and Lodder said countywide zoning would make Anson County’s residential and commercial areas more organized and help create orderly growth.

Baucom noted that the rapid growth in neighboring Union County has been a mixed blessing.

“They have been one of the fastest growing counties for years, but they were totally unprepared for building new schools or water and sewer issues,” she said. “Better zoning regulations would have helped them and given them a plan.”

Anson County commissioner Jarvis Woodburn said county zoning needs to be done before the county experiences an influx in development.

“We know how we want the county to be laid out,” Woodburn said. “With countywide zoning we have input into how the county grows. It’s best to do things before you need it, instead of after the fact.”

Lodder said countywide zoning could have important economic benefits. New businesses could be attracted to Anson County since they might feel more secure developing somewhere with zoning regulations, Lodder said.

Anson still faces obstacles to implementing zoning, especially from residents. “Part of it is a lack of understanding of what zoning is,” Lodder said. “Some assume zoning will keep them from doing what they want on their land. There are limits, but as far as residents it’s not going to stop hunting or other recreational activities.”

Lodder said the county is working to educate citizens about zoning and won’t rush the process.

(For a larger image of the map below, from the UNC School of Government, February 2012, click on the image. Blue counties have countywide zoning; red shows partial county zoning. The white counties have no county zoning.)