MountainTrue’s Analysis of Henderson County’s Draft Comprehensive Plan

MountainTrue’s Analysis of Henderson County’s Draft Comprehensive Plan

MountainTrue’s Analysis of Henderson County’s Draft Comprehensive Plan

Update: We have added detailed analysis and recommendations to improve the Comprehensive Plan further down on this page. We are providing these recommendations to the Planning Board and Henderson County Commissioners. Scroll down to view.

On September 9, 2022, Henderson County released the first draft of the 2045 Henderson County Comprehensive Plan. You can view a virtual presentation about the draft plan here. MountainTrue is conducting a full analysis of the draft plan and will provide a detailed set of recommendations to the Henderson County Planning Board and County Commissioners to ensure that the plan addresses the priorities of county residents as reflected in the county’s own survey*.

The draft plan will guide Henderson County’s growth and services for the next 20 years. Overall, the draft plan includes a strong set of goals that MountainTrue fully supports. Those goals, found on p.34 of the draft plan, include:

  •  Coordinate development near existing community centers.
  •  Protect and conserve rural character and agriculture.
  •  Improve resiliency of the natural and built environments.
  •  Prioritize multi-modal transportation options and connectivity.
  •  Create a reliable, connected utility and communication network.
  •  Stimulate innovative economic development initiatives, entrepreneurship, and local businesses.
  •  Diversify housing choices and availability.
  •  Promote healthy living, public safety, and access to education.

These goals provide a solid foundation for a 20-year plan. MountainTrue’s recommendations below offer targeted strategies to help the county achieve these goals. We start, however, with one glaring omission in the draft plan.

Primary Recommendations

Include a Detailed Implementation Plan
The County Commission’s adoption of the comprehensive plan is just the first step towards realizing the goals within. The real challenge comes in translating the plan’s strategies into the day-to-day operations and actions of the government, and in making the plan work in concert with the County’s other strategic actions and policy documents. To date, the draft plan and recently released draft appendix do not include any guidance for implementing the plan’s recommendations. 

The 2020 Comprehensive Plan, adopted in 2004, is widely considered a success, as the county has accomplished a majority of the plan’s goals. This was no accident. That plan contained a detailed implementation schedule that held our county leaders accountable while allowing the public to track our progress. Henderson County needs to draw on this past success to ensure that the 2045 plan accomplishes its goals rather than gathering dust on a shelf. 

We strongly recommend developing a process to implement the plan’s priority strategies and track plan progress. Various ways to ensure the implementation of the plan include:

  • Establish a single point of contact who will oversee the plan’s implementation. This will ensure accountability and continuity in the years that follow adoption.
  • Form a county team with representatives from key departments who will meet to track the plan’s progress, develop action items to implement strategies, educate staff about the plan’s goals, and help shape departmental work plans around the Comprehensive Plan.
  • Review plan progress with applicable boards and commissions and recommend new priorities to the County Commission.
  • Conduct an annual report on progress of the plan to the County Commission and set priorities.
  • Evaluate the viability of the plan every three to five years, and update the plan accordingly.

Don’t Expand the Utility Service Area
We encourage the City of Hendersonville and the County to share in decision-making around where sewer services will go. The county should have representation on the City’s water and sewer governing bodies, have a say in where the pipes extend throughout the county, and whether annexation follows those pipes. Therefore, the county must work closely with municipalities to direct new growth where infrastructure already exists.

Expanding the Utility Service Area (USA) to include Edneyville and Etowah will only encourage the development of new sewer that exceeds the current needs of these communities. This is a recipe for suburban sprawl all along the US 64 corridor. We do not support the current draft Future Land Use Map calling for commercial shopping centers and dense infill development in Edneyville or Etowah, as the existing infrastructure in these communities cannot support such development. We recommend maintaining the Central USA, as presented in the 2020 Henderson Comprehensive Plan.

We do not support the residential density described in Infill Area (formerly Medium Density Residential) designations in the more rural areas of the county outside the Central USA, including Etowah and Edneyville’s proposed USAs. The density allowed within Infill Areas (8-14 units/acre) would likely require new sewer service or package plants, spurring additional suburban sprawl to areas of the county lacking the infrastructure and road networks to absorb such volume.

We also do not support the amended density allowances in the new Transitional Area (formerly Low Density Residential) designation, as this will drive suburban sprawl into the Tuxedo, Dana, and Gerton communities — all found well outside the Central USA. Allowing for developments as dense as quarter-acre lots would tax our existing roads and alter the rural character of these communities.

Address Water Quality Concerns in Edneyville and Etowah
Wastewater seriously impacts water quality, and the county should invest wisely in wastewater infrastructure. We strongly encourage Henderson County to address water quality concerns in Edneyville and Etowah without inviting suburban sprawl into these communities. 

Edneyville: Adding another municipal sewage treatment plant in the Mud Creek watershed may contribute to water quality concerns. Edneyville’s existing uses (Edneyville Elementary, the Training Academy, Camp Judaea, etc.) should tie into the city’s existing sewage treatment system, and the city should refrain from annexing these rural areas, as they lie outside the Central USA.

Etowah: It is foreseeable that Etowah’s aging private sewer system may one day be acquired by the Metropolitan Sewer District, given its proximity to MSD’s existing network. By connecting Etowah to MSD’s system, Etowah’s capacity for development could significantly increase in the next 20 years. With the highly anticipated construction of the Ecusta Trail about to begin, we must take measures to preserve the trail’s rural character that makes it such an attractive destination. 

Additionally, any expansion of sewer infrastructure should be constructed with limited capacity to service only existing businesses and residences without facilitating future growth. The county should implement strong land use protections to prevent sprawling and high-density residential development, high-intensity and industrial uses, and other uses outside of the Central USA that compromise the rural character and agricultural heritage of the area. 

Provide More Housing Options in the Central Utility Service Area
When people think of housing choice, they usually default to single-family homes or large apartment complexes. But we are missing the opportunity to provide new homebuyers and renters a wide array of housing choices, many that are more affordable than what the current market provides. 

To offer more housing choice in the areas that can best support it – the Central Utility Service Area – we recommend broadening the types of housing that can be developed in traditional single-family neighborhoods. Remove restrictive zoning that stands in the way of modest infill development, like duplexes, triplexes, and townhouses. Within the Central USA, we recommend amending the Infill Area zoning designations to include ADUs, townhouses, duplexes, and triplexes. We also support the new density allowances for Transitional Areas within the Central USA, as this housing would be located closer to the services, jobs and infrastructure already concentrated in our municipalities.

Adopt a Voluntary Land Conservation Fund
We fully support the development of a fund that focuses on preserving working farmland and parcels key to greenway, park, and recreational opportunities, and sensitive natural areas. Consider a bond referendum to establish the fund. Focus on the Purchase of Development Rights to preserve working farms and make them more affordable to new farmers. Consider easements that would improve water quality protection.

Consolidate and Strengthen Steep Slope Controls
Current steep slope regulations are found scattered throughout the Land Development Code, making it difficult to assess their impact on ensuring public safety, protecting water quality, and preserving scenic mountain views. Residents and developers would be better served if the steep slope controls were consolidated, transparent, and more concise. We applaud the Planning Board’s recent efforts to address this, and we encourage the county to include such improvements in the draft plan.

*The county has published a second public input survey. Click here to take the new survey.

Additional Recommendations & Further Details

In addition to our primary recommendations, MountainTrue makes the following suggestions specific to various recommendations found in the draft plan:


MountainTrue: We question whether the Dana community can support the recommended Industrial & Employment land use designation without sewer service. 


R. 2.1.E. (p.57): Encouraging small businesses in rural areas can indirectly support agriculture by allowing non-farm income.
MountainTrue: To encourage appropriate small business development and maintain the rural and agricultural character of these areas, we recommend limiting the square footage of new structures and specifically defining what small-business activities are preferred in Agriculture / Rural Districts.

Rec 2.2.B. (p.58): Create a Voluntary Farmland Preservation Program to purchase farmland development rights and establish agricultural conservation easements.
MountainTrue: We recommend amending the Land Development Code to require that eligible applicants meet specific environmental standards or implement appropriate “best management practices” that protect water quality, such as undisturbed stream buffers.

Rec. 2.2.C. (p.58): Study potential mechanisms for private transfer of development rights program to allow for the transfer of density away from agricultural and natural resource areas to designated receiving areas.
MountainTrue: We strongly support the county in investigating a potential transfer of development rights program and would be willing to advocate for state authorization to provide Henderson County with this valuable conservation tool.

Rec. 2.3.C. (p.58) Consider zoning updates to reduce development pressure in agricultural areas.
MountainTrue: We recommend exploring new incentives to give farmers multiple options to preserve the working lands. We do not support the concept of downzoning Agricultural / Rural districts, such as requiring five-acre lot minimums, as this will only accelerate the development of undisturbed areas, while serving the few that can afford to purchase larger lots.

Rec. 2.4.A. (p.59): Provide incentives for revitalizing existing commercial and industrial sites.
MountainTrue: We strongly support this and encourage the Commission to prioritize commercial and industrial sites closest to main transportation corridors and in areas already serviced by existing water and sewer to disincentivize sprawl. 

Rec. 2.4.B. (p.59): Focus on higher-density housing closer to the city to reduce sprawl, provide affordable housing for the workforce, and relieve pressure on roads.
MountainTrue: We strongly support this designation, but we also recognize this requires coordination with municipalities, including participation in Hendersonville’s upcoming comp planning process. We encourage County staff and leadership to engage Hendersonville in developing plans that focus higher density development in appropriate areas already served by sewer and water, located closest to job and commercial centers, schools, and services.

Rec. 2.4.C. (p.59): Encourage industrial growth in areas away from large concentrations of farmland and agricultural operations.
MountainTrue: We question whether industrial uses and agricultural operations are mutually exclusive. Given the low residential density in such districts, there may be opportunities to cite appropriate industrial uses near working farmland, concentrating such activities away from established residential areas.

Rec. 2.4.D. (p.59): Carefully evaluate potential utility extensions that could impact large concentrations of productive farmland.
MountainTrue: See our Primary Recommendations above re: Edneyville and Etowah sewer expansion. 


GOAL 3 (p.60): Where risk reduction is not possible, careful planning and strengthening emergency response will help make recovery faster and more efficient when hazards do occur.
MountainTrue: We recommend: “Where risk reduction is not possible, careful planning could mitigate the impact of extreme events, thus reducing the costs of recovery for both private and public funds. Similarly, strengthening emergency response will save taxpayer dollars…”

Rec. 3.1.C. (p.60): Consider allowing for administrative approval for conservation subdivisions that meet certain criteria (i.e. are under a density threshold, have a minimum amount of open space, reserve priority open space types, and meet access standards).
MountainTrue: While we support this concept, we’ll note that administrative approval for conservation subdivisions works only if the thresholds are well defined. We recommend examining existing regulations and streamlining the project permitting and approval process so that development decisions are more timely, cost-effective, and predictable for the community and home builders.

Rec. 3.1.E. (p.61): Limit development on steep slopes and mountain ridges.
Rec. 3.3.C. (p.63): Discourage the amount of land disturbed in steep slope developments, including construction of roads, as well as decrease density.
MountainTrue: We strongly support these recommendations and would be willing to provide model ordinances from similar communities that have addressed steep slope development.

Rec. 3.3.D. (p.63): Continue to limit fill in floodplains unless additional standards are met.
MountainTrue: Under this recommendation, the County could further restrict the use of floodplains. Consider that multiple scientific studies now show that 100-year floods are increasing in frequency, including a Yale Environment study that predicts that Southeast counties like Henderson could experience such floods every one to 30 years.

Rec. 3.3.G. (p.64): Adopt best practice design standards for new construction within the wildland/urban interface.
MountainTrue: While we agree with this recommendation in concept, we seek clarification of the definition of “wildland/urban interface,” as the Future Land Use Map makes no reference to such designation. 

Rec. 3.4.E. (p.64): Educate the community and developers regarding green infrastructure projects, as well as state and federal rebates and tax incentives, which can lessen stress on natural systems.
MountainTrue: We strongly support this, and encourage the County to consider expanding streamside buffers to protect water quality. 


Rec. 4.1.C.
Advocate for the French Broad River MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization) to update the Comprehensive Transportation Plan, which was adopted in 2008, and focus improvements around active transportation options and transit.
MountainTrue: We strongly support this and ask the County to consider extending transit services to employment and commercial centers beyond the Central Utility Service Area. 

Rec. 4.2.B. (p.68): Consider reducing Henderson County’s Traffic Impact Study (TIS) threshold for developments located along specific road classifications.
MountainTrue: We support a reduction in traffic study thresholds in conservation/rural/ag-zoned areas, and recommend increasing the threshold for traffic studies in areas appropriate for denser development.

Rec. 4.2.D. (p.68): Consider amending the Land Development Code to allow for the integration of residential and commercial uses to allow for shorter travel time between destinations.
MountainTrue: Mixed-use developments are beneficial to combating sprawl, but the plan needs to specify where mixed-use would be deemed appropriate. Community centers and neighborhood anchors appear to be the most appropriate locations for mixed-use development. There will need to be adequate infrastructure already in place to support this level of development.

Rec. 4.3.A. (p.68): County staff should continue to seek grant funding (through the French Broad River MPO and other sources) for corridor studies along primary roadways throughout the county.
MountainTrue: We fully support commissioning a study of the Ecusta Trail corridor to inform appropriate land use designations along its path.

Rec. 4.3.B. (p.68): Establish a vision for significant roadway corridors and their surrounding land use, with input from the community they serve.
MountainTrue: This visioning process can be folded into an updated small-area planning process for Edneyville and Etowah. We would be willing to assist with gathering public input to inform these plans.

Rec. 4.3.D. (p.68): Support NCDOT with the ongoing corridor studies for US-64.
MountainTrue: This corridor study must consider future land-use recommendations for Edneyville and Etowah. We believe that an inappropriate expansion of sewer service in these communities will increase congestion along US 64 and contribute to suburban sprawl and loss of working farmlands.

Rec. 4.4.C. (p.69): Conduct studies of the transportation network surrounding County schools to identify deficiencies in safety and access.
MountainTrue: There is a critical need to address Etowah Elementary School and Etowah Park. We recommend investigating the Safe Routes to School program. We also recommend the County commission a bike/pedestrian connectivity study.

Rec. 4.5.C. (p.69): Initiate a study of Apple Country Public Transit to identify whether fare rates are a barrier to the use of the bus system and study the feasibility of a fare-free system.
MountainTrue: We support this and encourage the County to investigate the benefits of a fare-free system. 

Rec. 4.5.G. (p.70): Explore mechanisms to provide express routes to connect Hendersonville to Asheville and other destinations in Buncombe, Madison, and Haywood County, while focusing on regional mobility management, employee training, maintenance, and funding administration.
MountainTrue: We strongly support this and recommend advocating for transit connections to employment centers in Buncombe, Madison and Haywood counties to reduce traffic congestion along the primary north-south transportation corridors like I-26, US 25, and NC 191. We encourage the County to coordinate the comprehensive planning process with the ongoing planning process in Buncombe County.

Rec. 4.5.H. (p.70): Create connections between transit and greenways to help reduce traffic, vehicle miles traveled, and the county’s carbon footprint.
Rec 4.7.E. (p.71): Coordinate with the Rail Trail Advisory Committee, Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC), Planning Board, and Recreation Advisory Board on priority greenway implementation.
MountainTrue: We strongly support these recommendations and suggest hiring a sustainability coordinator to lead this important work.

Greenway and Sidewalks Map (p.73)
MountainTrue: Add language/graphics denoting the future regional Hellbender Trail and potential connections.


Rec. 5.3.C. (p.75): Require conservation subdivision designs for all new major residential subdivisions residential growth in unincorporated areas tied to sewer infrastructure.
MountainTrue: We strongly support this and can provide Best Management Practices and precedent for sound conservation subdivision designs.

Rec. 5.4 (p.75): Take a leadership role in sewer and water planning by helping to foster intergovernmental cooperation.
MountainTrue: As stated in our Primary Recommendation, we fully support the County and Hendersonville to work together to address sewer expansion that does not promote suburban sprawl, while addressing current water quality concerns.

Rec. 5.4.B. (p.75): Conduct interchange studies with the City to evaluate and prioritize the development potential of key interchanges for future commercial and/ or industrial development.
MountainTrue: We strongly support collaborating with the City to coordinate development with existing sewer and water services.

Rec. 5.4.C. (p.75): Begin the development of a three, five, or ten-year capital improvement program and capital reserve fund to help implement planned investments in sewer infrastructure and other services.
MountainTrue: This requires coordination with MSD’s Capital Improvement Program and Hendersonville’s sewer & water services. We strongly encourage the County and City to work together on this.

Rec. 5.4.D. (p.75): The Environmental Health Department should identify areas of septic failure, areas where future septic systems may fail, and address these through existing remediation programs and by leveraging state and federal grants.
MountainTrue: We strongly support this and will work with our Legislative Team to advocate for adequate state funding.


MountainTrue: Add “conservation and outdoor recreation, bike/ped/transit” to initiatives, as they will bring in the kind of businesses the community desires.
Rec. 6.4 (p.79): Facilitate placemaking efforts to reinforce community character and attract businesses and investment.

MountainTrue: We strongly support this and would be willing to assist in community engagement around such placemaking efforts.


Rec. 7.1.B. (p.80): To avoid conflict with agricultural areas and natural resources, major subdivisions should be located near defined centers and within Medium and Low Density Residential areas as defined on the Future Land Use Map.
MountainTrue: Discourage rezonings for higher-density residential subdivisions outside the defined Utility Service Area and within the Agricultural/Rural districts identified on the Future Land Use Map.

Rec. 7.1.C. (p.80): Allow for a variety of housing types, including condos, townhomes, and multi-family complexes, in the defined Urban Service Area.
MountainTrue: We strongly support this and recommend that “missing middle” developments, including Accessory Dwelling Units, townhouses, duplexes, and triplexes, be allowed by right in Medium Density Residential districts. 

Rec. 7.2.E. (p.81): Continue to allow for manufactured homes in designated zoning districts in the county.
MountainTrue: Consider allowing manufactured homes by right in all residential districts. They represent the last option for truly affordable housing in the region.

Rec. 7.3 (p/82): Support the ability to “age in place.”
MountainTrue: Include language encouraging the implementation of Universal Design best practices that create homes that are accessible and habitable for all ages and abilities.


Rec. 8.1.B. (p.84): Address facilities and programming priorities, document ongoing maintenance needs, and provide benchmarking related to facilities and staffing within a master plan.
Rec. 8.1.E. (p.84): Develop a master plan for Jackson Park. The master plan should address connectivity, parking issues, and facility enhancements, and involve a variety of user groups.
MountainTrue: Jackson Park is already at capacity for hosting recreational events. We recommend expanding master planning efforts to encompass all county park facilities.

Rec. 8.1.L. (p.85): Require major subdivisions to provide pedestrian connections or provide easements to immediately adjacent greenway facilities.
MountainTrue: We support establishing concurrent sewer/trail easements where sewer expansion is permitted.

Rec. 8.3.  (p.86): Expand healthy food access.
MountainTrue: Add “F. Continue support for a food waste program.”

Support a Plastic Bag Ban in Asheville

Support a Plastic Bag Ban in Asheville

Support a Plastic Bag Ban in Asheville

Join MountainTrue, the Sierra Club, NCPIRG, and the rest of the Plastic-Free WNC coalition at the August 23 Asheville City Council Meeting and show your support for a bill to ban single-use plastic shopping bags and styrofoam.

We’ll gather at Pack’s Tavern at 5 p.m., then head to City Hall as a group.

Pre-City Council Meeting Gathering
Pack’s Tavern at 5 pm
20 S. Spruce Street, Asheville, NC 28801

Americans use 100 billion plastic bags and 25 billion styrofoam cups every year. Most of that ends up in landfills or as litter, polluting our forests and our environment.

It’s time for the City of Asheville to join the more than 500 communities around the nation that have already passed plastic bag bans. The Plastic-Free WNC coalition is pushing the City of Asheville to pass a bill to ban single-use plastic bags and styrofoam while putting a 10-cent fee on paper bags.

Come to the Asheville City Council meeting on August 23 to let City Council know this is a priority! We’ll meet at Pack’s Tavern at 5 p.m. to discuss key talking points before the City Hall meeting.

ACTION ALERT: Protect Our Forests and Farms from Sprawl

ACTION ALERT: Protect Our Forests and Farms from Sprawl

ACTION ALERT: Protect Our Forests and Farms from Sprawl

We need you to email the Henderson County Board of Commissioners to ask them to take action to prevent sprawl and protect our forests, farmland, and rural communities.

Henderson County is drafting its new Comprehensive Plan — the blueprint that will guide growth and development here for the next twenty years. As part of that process, they have surveyed members of our community, and that survey shows broad support for conservation.

Henderson County residents identified:

  • protection of open spaces and forests (55.30%),
  • farmland preservation (45.16%), and
  • conservation (35.04%) of unique natural areas

as their top 3 priorities for the 2045 Henderson County Comprehensive Plan.

Unfortunately, MountainTrue has serious concerns that the comprehensive plan being created by the county’s consultants is out of step with the desires and needs of Henderson County residents. The County has circulated a draft Future Land Use Map that prioritizes sprawl — development that spreads too far into the countryside, unnecessarily destroying forests, farmland, and rural communities — at great expense to taxpayers and against the desires of county residents.

So we need you to act today. Email your Henderson County Commissioners, and ask that they adopt a smart, responsible and sustainable comprehensive plan.

Watch: How Henderson County can accommodate growth without sprawl.

Chris Joyell, MountainTrue’s Healthy Communities Director, discusses how Henderson County can welcome far more population growth than the state anticipates without causing sprawl. Watch.

Learn More About the Henderson County Comprehensive Plan

Henderson County’s new Comprehensive Plan will serve as the blueprint for growth and development over the next twenty years. Learn about how this plan will help determine how our communities grow and develop to meet the challenges of climate change, a growing population, and increased pressures on our built environment.

What are Algal Growths and How You Can Help Prevent Them

What are Algal Growths and How You Can Help Prevent Them

What are Algal Growths and How You Can Help Prevent Them

The most powerful nutrients for the growth of plants, including algae, are nitrogen and phosphorus. When nutrient concentrations are low in a lake, algae are relatively sparse. In contrast, high concentrations of nutrients can cause excessive growths of algae and other aquatic plants. An explosion of algal growth can cause the water to look like “pea soup”, form surface scum, or have an unpleasant odor.

Typically, reservoirs in the Southern Blue Ridge Mountains contain very low concentrations of nutrients and are relatively clear with only a small amount of green coloration. Because this natural condition exists, a seemingly small amount of nutrients — particularly phosphorus — can cause a relatively large amount of algae growth or an “algal bloom.”

While nitrogen and phosphorus can come from fertilizers applied to lawns, agricultural fields, athletic complexes, or golf courses, human and animal waste is the largest source of nutrients in our waters. Leaking sewer pipes, faulty wastewater treatment plants or septic systems, livestock operations, and even large concentrations of wildlife, such as Canada geese, contribute to excess nutrient and bacterial problems. (Bird waste is exceptionally high in phosphorus!) Nutrients from these sources are primarily delivered to a waterbody by stormwater runoff, but livestock accessing waters directly is also a problem in some areas.

Erosion and sediment pollution also contribute to higher levels of nutrients in our lakes. Nutrients, bacteria, and pollutants can attach to soil particles and be carried along with stormwater runoff. Soil erosion in the watershed leads to more sediment in streams and lakes and, therefore, higher levels of nutrients. When sediment fills in shallow areas of a lake, these areas become warmer because sunlight penetrates to the lake bottom over a larger area. These shallower, warmer, and nutrient-rich waters are prime conditions for algae growth.

You can help combat algal blooms by ensuring that septic tanks are being properly utilized and maintained, finding ways to minimize water usage and stormwater runoff, and discouraging populations of domesticated Canada geese. Property owners can also evaluate their properties for ways to retain or treat stormwater and plant native trees or shrubs along the streams and the lake. And residents should encourage their local governments to implement water quality protection measures.

You can also report algae blooms in our Southern Blue Ridge lakes when you see them. In North Carolina, you can use the NC Division of Water Resources Citizen Report Form to report algae blooms and fish kills.

For Lake Chatuge & Lake Nottely, you can report these incidents to MountainTrue’s Western Regional Office. Please include the following information:

  • Date and time the event was first observed
  • Waterbody where the event occurred
  • County and nearest town
  • Location (Coordinates or Street Address, if you have them) and some type of landmark (e.g. bridge, road, community)
  • Photos, if you have them

Henderson County Can Accommodate Growth without Sprawl

Henderson County Can Accommodate Growth without Sprawl

The Henderson County Planning Department is circulating a draft Future Land Use Map that contradicts our community’s priorities as reflected in the County’s own survey results. The draft map prioritizes sprawl — development that spreads too far into the countryside, unnecessarily destroying forests, farmland, and rural communities — at great expense to taxpayers and against the desires of county residents.

Fortunately, Henderson County has plenty of space to accommodate new residents in areas where development and infrastructure already exist.

This is the Future Land Use Map released by Henderson County. Source:
It looks very green, but let’s take a closer look.

Here is Henderson County. Permanently protected lands like Pisgah National Forest and DuPont State Forest are shaded green. Greenways appear as dotted green lines, with the Ecusta Trail running east-west and the Oklawaha Greenway running north-south.
Here we’ve shaded the municipalities in gray –Hendersonville, Fletcher, Laurel Park, Flat Rock, and Mills River. The County’s plan does not include these towns. County land that is served by water & sewer is shaded in dark yellow. Taken together, these areas have the existing infrastructure to support new development.

The state estimates that Henderson County should expect about 32,000 new residents over the next 20 years. If vacant land in the towns and the shaded county land were built out according to existing zoning, they could absorb three times as many people–nearly 95,000 new residents.

Here’s our version of the County’s Future Land Use Map. We’ve changed the color of areas open to development and sprawl from green to a more neutral light yellow.

If this land were built out, the County could accommodate an additional 75,000 people. If you add the 95,000 people that can already fit on vacant land served by sewer and water, you get a plan that accommodates 170,000 new residents when we need less than 1/5th of that.

In short, this is a recipe for sprawl, and it comes at the expense of taxpayers and our agricultural and natural heritage.

So to repeat, Henderson County can protect more forested lands and farms, save tax dollars and still accommodate new residents.

Let our commissioners know there are smarter ways to grow. Click here to take action.

Take Action to Support Good Comprehensive Planning

Henderson County is drafting its new Comprehensive Plan — the blueprint that will guide growth and development here for the next twenty years. This is a critical opportunity to have a voice in how our communities grow and develop to meet the challenges of climate change, a growing population, and increased pressures on our built environment.

Julie Mayfield: I’ll be taking on a new role as MountainTrue’s Senior Policy Advisor

Julie Mayfield: I’ll be taking on a new role as MountainTrue’s Senior Policy Advisor

Julie Mayfield: I’ll be taking on a new role as MountainTrue’s Senior Policy Advisor

Dear members and supporters,

I want to let you know about some changes coming to MountainTrue. Starting next year, I will be taking on the new role of Senior Policy Advisor and stepping aside as co-director of MountainTrue. Bob Wagner, with whom I’ve worked side-by-side as Co-directors since 2013, will become MountainTrue’s Executive Director. 

As you know, I was elected in 2020 to the North Carolina State Senate, where I represent Asheville and most of Buncombe County. I find the work of representing my constituents and, more broadly, the people of North Carolina to be deeply rewarding. However, my growing responsibilities in Raleigh and within the Senate Democratic Caucus leadership don’t leave me with the time I need to maintain my day-to-day management responsibilities at MountainTrue. 

Looking back, I’m proud of everything that MountainTrue has accomplished during my time as Executive Director and Co-director. When I was hired as Executive Director of MountainTrue (then known as the Western North Carolina Alliance) in 2008, the organization had five staff and a budget of $232,000. In the 14 years since, the organization has grown to a team of 25 and a budget of $1.8 million, with offices in Asheville, Boone, Hendersonville, and Murphy.

Looking ahead, I’m excited to continue to be part of the MountainTrue team in this new capacity. As Senior Policy Advisor, I will continue to play an integral role in planning and will lend my policy expertise and my relationships with the community and government to the work of our advocacy and policy teams. I still love this work and MountainTrue, and I look forward to being part of many future successes.

Bob and I have built an incredibly strong team that just keeps getting better, and my new role is part of that. This management restructuring will ensure continuity of leadership and a bright future for MountainTrue. In addition to Bob assuming the executive director role, staff members Gray Jernigan and Karim Olaechea will be moving into deputy director positions to support Bob and help lead the rest of the staff.

These changes will go into effect in January 2023. In the meantime, if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to email me


Julie Mayfield
MountainTrue Co-Director



The Henderson County Planning Department is circulating a draft Future Land Use Map that contradicts our community’s priorities as reflected in the County’s own survey results. The draft map prioritizes sprawl — development that spreads too far into the countryside, unnecessarily destroying forests, farmland, and rural communities — at great expense to taxpayers and against the desires of county residents.

Take action: Email Henderson County Commissioners and ask them to fix its Future Land Use Map and adopt a responsible, sustainable Comprehensive Plan.

The Case Against Sprawl

Perhaps the greatest threat to clean air, clean water, and natural landscapes in Western North Carolina is sprawling, poorly-planned development. 

Sprawl is a financial loser, too.  It wastes taxpayer dollars on unnecessary roads, sewers, and other infrastructure, even as it threatens the farms and orchards that make our county attractive to visitors and investors.

What is Sprawl?

Sprawl is development that spreads too far into the countryside, unnecessarily destroying forests, farmland, and rural communities. The key word here is “unnecessarily.”

Between 1976 and 2006, Henderson County’s developed land area grew eight times faster than its population, according to a UNC Charlotte study.  In other words, as the county’s population slowly grew 92%, its developed land area exploded by 730%.  At the same time, other counties in Western North Carolina experienced something similar.

What is at Stake?

Unfortunately, the same sprawl-inducing forces are still at work today.  Growth in Henderson County is governed by antiquated rules that allow low rural land prices to drive development out into the countryside.  And … roughly 40,000 new residents are expected here between now and 2045.  About 17,000 new homes will be built.  If we don’t take action, current rules will allow new development to explode all over the county map, endangering…

  • Clean Air:  Sprawl forces residents to drive more miles, increasing air pollution and exacerbating climate change
  • Clean Water:  Sprawl threatens the purity of creeks and rivers.  Asphalt, roofs, and lawns dump polluted storm water directly into waterways, rather than letting it be filtered through the soil.  More asphalt, roofs, and lawns means more pollution.
  • Wildlife:  Sprawl displaces wildlife.  The Southern Appalachians are a global biodiversity hotspot.  To protect the amazing variety and abundance of local species, we must protect more land — not just forests, but also the habitat provided by open fields and pastures.
  • Rural Heritage:  Sprawl undermines rural heritage.  Henderson County lost one-third of its apple orchards between 2002 and 2017, according to the county’s comprehensive planning consultant.  If this trend continues, the consultant added, no apples will be grown here by 2040.  For decades, Henderson County has been “apple country.”  Why destroy our heritage, and our branding, unnecessarily?
  • Fiscal Prudence:  Sprawl burdens taxpayers.  When developed land grows faster than the population, each taxpayer becomes responsible —unnecessarily — for fixing more potholes, maintaining more sewers, repairing more electrical wires, buying more gasoline for fire and police protection, etc.

Hiker’s Guide to a Successful Hike-A-Thon

Hiker’s Guide to a Successful Hike-A-Thon

Here are some helpful tips to help you recruit supporters and raise money!

Set a Goal

Setting a goal can be a powerful motivator. Be sure to pick a specific goal, whether miles hiked, dollars raised, or both. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s attainable between now and the end of September. Personalize your Rally Up page with a photo of yourself, and write updates along the way so your friends and family can track your progress.

Ask for Support

Let your people know what you’re up to and how they can help out. You can do this in person, over email, or with your social media accounts. See page two of this guide for examples of how you can ask your network for support.

Keep Your Supporters Updated

Your supporters want to know how you’re doing! Take photos and short videos when hiking and post them to your social media. Give updates on how many miles you’ve hiked and how close you are to your fundraising goal. We recommend giving your network two to three updates along the way. To reach your supporters directly, compose an update on your personalized Rally Up page. Your post will automatically be sent to everyone who has pledged to your hike.

Invite Others to Join

Host a group hike and invite others to become a hiker as well. Make it a friendly competition to see who can hike the most miles, raise the most money, or just team up and enjoy your days in the woods with some of your favorite people.

Asking by email

Here is a sample letter that you can modify and send to friends and family:

Greetings, Friends and Family!

I have accepted the challenge to raise money for MountainTrue’s 40th-anniversary event: 40 Miles for 40 Years Hike-a-thon. The Hike-a-thon takes place from June until the end of September 2022. Hikers (that’s me!) raise money for every mile hiked during this time. My goal is to hike [insert #] of miles and raise [insert $amount.]

[Why MounTrue’s work is important to you]

Every dollar raised through the Hike-a-thon supports MountainTrue’s work creating and sustaining a healthy environment by ensuring resilient forests, advocating for clean waters, building healthy communities, promoting sustainable living and clean energy, and increasing civic engagement in policy-making. You can find out more about MountainTrue and their important work here:

Please support me in celebrating MountainTrue’s 40th anniversary! You can make a pledge for my miles or a one-time gift here: [insert your personalized link (don’t forget to make it a hyperlink)]. Donating through the site is simple, fast, and secure. You can also send a check at the end of the Hikeathon to MountainTrue 29 N Market St., Suite 610 Asheville, NC 28801.

Many thanks for your support — and please consider forwarding this to others who might want to donate too!


Social media ask

Here is a sample social media posts to inspire you:

Hey friends! I have accepted MountainTrue’s 40 Miles for 40 Years Hike-A-Thon challenge. [Why MountainTrue’s work matters to you]. My goal is to hike [insert #” of miles and raise “insert $amount.]

Please support me in celebrating MountainTrue’s 40th anniversary by pledging your support! You can make a pledge for my miles or a one-time gift here: [insert your personalized link.]

*Post with a photo of you hiking or enjoying the outdoors.

Download This Guide As a PDF


Raleigh Report: Reviewing the Primaries and Looking Ahead to the Budget

Raleigh Report: Reviewing the Primaries and Looking Ahead to the Budget

Raleigh Report: Reviewing the Primaries and Looking Ahead to the Budget

Congratulations to all of us for getting through a particularly energetic and crowded primary election season. 

In this update, we will get you up to speed (quickly) about who in WNC won and lost on Tuesday, then turn our attention to the North Carolina General Assembly, which began its so-called “short session” on May 18.

For Western North Carolina, the primary season was dominated by the Republican nomination in the 11th Congressional district, where state Senator Chuck Edwards defeated incumbent Madison Cawthorn. But, there were a few other races of note as well. Perhaps the most closely watched was the GOP primary for the 47th state senate seat, where incumbent GOP Senators Ralph Hise and Deanna Ballard faced off. Hise won the race narrowly – by 311 votes. In other races, GOP state Senator Warren Daniel likely earned a return to the Senate after defeating Mark Crawford in a Republican-leaning 46th Senate district. In Buncombe County, incumbent Julie Mayfield (and MountainTrue co-director) defeated Asheville City Council member Sandra Kilgore and entrepreneur and community activist Taylon Breeden in the Democratic primary for the heavily democratic 49th Senate district. In the House, Rep. Jake Johnson defeated Rep. David Rogers for the GOP nomination after redistricting forced them to run in the same heavily Republican 113th district

With primary elections complete, lawmakers will come into the capital as focused on the general election as any bill or budget. For the last few years, Republicans — who control both the state Senate and House — have been unable to find the votes to override Gov. Cooper’s numerous vetoes. The GOP leadership hopes to pick up enough seats in both chambers in the general election to secure veto-proof supermajorities for Cooper’s last two years in office. 

With so much at stake in November, the 2022 session is expected to be short, and many lawmakers have talked about adjourning for the year by July 4. So look for the General Assembly to avoid controversial issues and pass relatively few bills. 

The major work of any short session is to revise the second year of the state’s biennial budget. This year, lawmakers have more money than ever before to accomplish this task. State revenues are expected to be at least $5 billion more than projected when the two-year budget was approved last year. Whether and how to spend that money will be the major issue of the session, along with expanding Medicaid eligibility for the approximately 600,000 North Carolinians without health insurance. 

On spending, look for the Senate Republicans to push to put most of the surplus in the state’s strategic reserve. House Republicans will also support increased savings, but will want to spend more to win votes in November and keep rank-and-file members happy with investments in their districts. 

Of course, a revised budget requires the Governor’s signature, and last year reaching a budget deal took months of negotiation. With a budget already in place for FY22-23, another long stalemate is very unlikely. If they cannot get a budget deal, the GOP leadership is more likely to shut the session down, proceed to electioneering, and return to pass a bill in 2023 when they hope they won’t need Cooper’s signature to pass a budget or a bill. 

For MountainTrue, our priorities for the session are simple. We’d like lawmakers to use some of that surplus to help farmers, property owners, and local governments keep our rivers and streams clean. That means investing more to help farmers pay for fencing and other strategies to keep animal waste from causing spikes of E. coli in WNC waters. Like this agriculture assistance money, demand for state funds to help homeowners and local governments keep their runoff and wastewater out of rivers and streams is also far outstripped by demand. We’d like to see those funding shortfalls addressed. 

Finally, MountainTrue has developed a list of shovel-ready, noncontroversial projects for river and stream access, trail development, and dam removal across the region that we hope rank-and-file lawmakers will support as part of their budget priorities in their districts. 

Providing WNC with a voice in Raleigh for clean water, clean air, and a sustainable future is a cornerstone of MountainTrue’s mission. For more information about our advocacy efforts, visit our website and, as always, thank you for your support – we could not do what we do in the mountains or in Raleigh without you. 

Shovel-Ready Projects for WNC

  • Polk County – Expand public access to the Green River by developing a new public river access point on property owned by the Polk County Community Foundation at S. Wilson Hill Road ($150,000 nonrecurring to Polk County Community Foundation).
  • Watauga County – Improve public access to the Watauga River Paddle Trail by purchasing an additional access point ($500,000 nonrecurring to Blue Ridge Conservancy).
  • WNC – Promote eco-tourism in Western NC by creating the Blue Ridge Snorkel Trail – includes at least one publicly-accessible site in 24 WNC counties, a website, a printed trail map, and an educational panel at each site ($150,000 nonrecurring to Mainspring Conservation Trust).
  • Cherokee County – Improve public access to the River Walk & Canoe Trail on the Valley and Hiwassee Rivers in downtown Murphy by fixing erosion under the bridge at Leech Place, building a boardwalk for the Fisherman’s Loop, and extending the path to a new workforce housing development ($250,000 nonrecurring to Town of Murphy).
  • Jackson County – Improve public access and water quality by constructing green infrastructure in Sylva’s Bridge Park. This project is recommended in the Scotts Creek Watershed Action Plan and is shovel-ready ($700,000 nonrecurring to the Town of Sylva).
  • Haywood County – Enhance Chestnut Mountain Nature Park by building new hiking, biking, and walking paths and trails and installing a playground and creekside park. This project is shovel-ready, including a detailed budget and construction plans ($600,000 nonrecurring to the Town of Canton).
  • Transylvania and Henderson Counties – Help manage a steep increase in public use at DuPont State Recreational Forest by creating one additional recreation staff position ($70,000 recurring to NC Forest Service).

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People Joined Together, and the Work was Done

People Joined Together, and the Work was Done

People Joined Together, and the Work was Done

By Mary Jo Padgett, Co-Founder of Environmental and Conservation Organization (ECO)

As a way to celebrate the 40th anniversary of what’s now known as MountainTrue, I’ve been asked to reminisce with you about the “old days” of ECO. The Environmental and Conservation Organization, popularly known as ECO, was one of the three organizations that merged together in 2015 to become MountainTrue. What comes to my mind as I surf through my mental movie of those early years are the things that made it exciting then and now – the intelligent, creative people, progressive ideas, and responsible, thoughtful action that was ECO and continues as MountainTrue.

It started as an idea while chatting around the kitchen table in 1987. My husband, David Malpass, and I were doing just that – discussing, as we frequently did, local political issues that seemed to us to have negative impacts on the environment. Among the topics of the day: a county-wide discussion about building an incinerator in Fletcher as a way to dispose of garbage; an attempt to build an asphalt plant in Rugby on land that was a recognized wetland; and NCDOT’s unpopular idea to cut down several trees on Four Seasons Blvd. (which had been planted as part of Lady Bird Johnson’s national beautification program) for no better reason than to allow better visibility of billboards. In Henderson County, where we lived, there was no shortage of environmental concerns.

David and I were average, employed, concerned citizens – he was a high school vocational ed. teacher; I was an associate editor at The Mother Earth News magazine. We decided we wanted to connect to the folks we saw and heard speak about environmental issues at the many County Commissioner meetings we attended. We also wanted to find people who wanted to get outdoors and explore our locale. So, we decided to call a meeting to see if anyone would show up to watch a video and talk about wetlands. We issued a press release to invite like-minded citizens to attend a gettogether. And they did! The 35 hiker-environmentalists who attended that first meeting on September 23, 1987, became the backbone of what grew to become the Environmental and Conservation Organization. They brought good ideas, a propensity for action, and more people to the next meetings.

We called it the Outing and Environmental Group, which for two years was managed from our kitchen table. Newsletters, program agendas, speakers, news announcements, projects, and finances were handled by us, the “founding couple.” Right away, the group had a big idea — build a Jackson Park Nature Trail. By 1990, the 1.5-mile trail was done (dedicated and officially opened on Earth Day that year). This was a growing group that liked to learn, hike, participate in political decision-making, and do environmental projects. It became clear to me that his organization needed an official structure.

Key folks hunkered down with us to hash out bylaws and create a nonprofit organization with a board of directors. In the process, the name became the Environmental and Conservation Organization (ECO), and by 1992, the 501(c)3 incorporation papers had been written, submitted, and approved by the State of North Carolina. Membership dues were established.

By 2007, ECO had nearly 500 members in Henderson County and beyond. Political advocacy and outdoor-oriented programming were plentiful and fruitful. Action was so profound that an army of ECO volunteers had received awards and recognition from the Governor; state, national, and local environmental agencies; and businesses. All efforts were focused on the goal of conserving the land that sustains us, keeping it safe, healthy, and productive. Our motto: take care of your own backyard.

David Malpass was a major force with ECO until our divorce in 1993. As co-founder, I served in various capacities over a 20-year span, from organizer to president of the board, PR chairman to interim executive director, and then as executive director from 1995 to 2007. I retired as executive director in 2007 and passed leadership on to others.

By 2015 a merger with other environmental groups in WNC seemed a good next step so that the productive meetings, exciting projects, and intelligent leaders could keep citizens engaged and the ideas and action continuing to flow. MountainTrue was born.

Photo: ECO volunteers do a presentation on recycling and composting for local school children