The Watauga County Board of Adjustment recently ruled unanimously in favor of JW Hampton Co. and Maymead Materials Inc. in their appeal of Planning and Inspection Director Joe Furman’s decision to revoke a high impact land use permit issued in 2011.
Furman said his 2015 decision to revoke the permit was based on a lack of progress being made on the site.
“You could look at the site and see that there was very little going on,” Furman said. “There was nothing that you could visually see that indicated they were moving towards having an asphalt plant there.”
Wiley Roark, president of Maymead, said that Watauga County has issued only five HILU permits and that none had expired before their projects were completed.
“We prevailed in convincing the BOA that the facts were on our side and that we had vested rights and they agreed with us unanimously,” Roark said.
Cherie Hampton Smith, president of JW Hampton Co., said that Johnny Hampton made that asphalt plant his main project and that grading work had been going on since 2011.
Over the course of the 60 hour hearing Smith said she produced documents showing equipment purchased and work done towards creating an asphalt plant at the site. A project that was taken up by Maymead early in 2015.
High Country W.A.T.C.H, who intervened in the hearing to represent Carolyn and Randall Henion, is currently pushing for an appeal of the decision. The appeal must be filed within 30 days after the receipt of the decision, Furman said the decision is still under review by attorneys from both sides.
David Sengel, of High Country W.A.T.C.H, said the group formed around residents of the area who felt their quality of life would be negatively affected by the plant’s presence.
Susie Winters, of High Country W.A.T.C.H, said allowing the permit to be held for that long left homeowners in a spot they likely would not have decided to build a home in had they known there were plans for an asphalt plant nearby.
“There is no zoning in this county and it’s been fought tooth and nail by primarily local business people who’ve never wanted anybody to tell them what they can do with their property,” Winters said. “So as a result we’re in this bind, where there are no protections for citizens.”
Sengel said there have been steps taken to give citizens greater protection, with legislation being passed that limits high impact industry’s proximity to residential areas that better represent the interests of what he said is a largely residential county.
Roark said he felt the location was ideal for providing necessary materials towards the construction of the U.S. Route 221 corridor from Deep Gap to West Jefferson.
“I think what’s important to stay focused on is that we’ve got to maintain an industry that is capable of delivering those kinds of services because we need it for economic development,” Hampton said.
Smith said she felt that those who intervened distorted the purpose of the hearing.
“It wasn’t a time for them to say whether or not people like asphalt plants,” Smith said. “It was we had already gotten a permit and it got revoked and they wanted to claim it should stay revoked and not be reinstated just because they didn’t want one close by.”
Regarding the appeal, Smith said that she is not eager to see more taxpayer money be spent on what has already been a lengthy and expensive process.
“To spend any more taxpayer dollars at this point to me seems to be counterproductive and unwise,” Roark said.
Winters said she is cautiously optimistic about the possibility of appeal, citing comments at the Feb. 16 Board of Commissioners meeting as encouraging for their cause.
“I think it was a toss-up leaning against us until the citizens spoke at that hearing,” Winters said. “They were just so good that I think the commissioners began to be more open to an appeal.”
Furman said that an appeal is possible, but not likely.
“The county could appeal, but it would be appealing its own board of adjustment,” Furman said. “It’s rare, it’s not unheard of, but it’s rare.”
Story by Sammy Hanf, News Reporter