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Interview with Marion Lytle

Lytle, Marion
Cumming, Gabriel and Goodman, Adele
Date of Interview: 
Agriculture; Dairy farming; West Rowan County, NC; Land use planning; Rural development
Catawba Lands Conservancy, West Rowan Series
Collection Description: 
Gabriel Cumming conducted a series of interviews about values and land use with residents of rural communities in North Carolina's Southern Piedmont. The goals of the project were 1) to stimulate discussion of land use and values, 2) to increase region-wide awareness of rural attitudes toward land, 3) to enable the sponsoring conservancies to reach the region's diverse rural populations and 4) to challenge conservation and environmental groups to consider the cultural dimension of conservation issues.
GC: -Yeah, off and on, I mean I've worked with him a lot now, it-
ML: He's one of those people you look to [pause] help out-
AG: Umhm.
ML: and generally willing to help.
AG: Umhm.
GC: So should we go ahead and get started?
ML: Sure absolutely.
AG: You going to shut the door or leave it open?
ML: I'm going to go ahead and shut it.
AG: Ok.
GC: Umm, so- I'm Gabriel Cumming. This is Adele Goodman. And you are?
ML: I'm Marion Lytle.
GC: And if you could just spell your name for transcription.
ML: M-A-R-I-O-N L-Y-T-L-E.
GC: Thanks. And your age? It's what we ask everyone.
ML: Forty-five.
AG: You can lie on that, its ok. [Laughter]
GC: Yeah, Adele always does. She gives a different estimate every time. Um, so uh, first of all I was just curious how you ended up here, in this position in Rowan County. What sort of lead you here? Is this where you're from? Or-
ML: No, actually I uh, [pause] met my wife- well my only wife. At uh, Carolina and she was uh, I was a geology major and at that time I couldn't get a job and she was a library science- got a library science masters degree at UNCG and she was offered a job here and we moved here then. Then I went back to graduate school and uh, started here as an assistant planner in '91 and then left for a couple years and came back as the planning director - county planner. So I've been here in that position since 1994. So we've been in the county for almost seventeen years.
AG: Now how'd you go from geology to county planner?
ML: Well I got a masters in public administration-
AG: There ya go.
ML: And uh, I did an internship in a small town and realized that I probably didn't want to town manager, which would be one of the natural things.
GC: Where was that?
ML: Gibsonville.
AG: Yeah. I know where Gibsonville is.
ML: And uh, [pause] I also was a planner in Mint Hill for a couple of years, and realized that I probably liked county planning better than municipal planning in a lot of ways. It's different- different thing. Municipal planning is more of a micro kind of issue and county planning deals with more broad policy kind of things. So- that's why I'm here.
GC: And so you went to Department of City and Regional Planning?
ML: No, I went to- I got a public administration, masters of public administration.
GC: Ok, that's it.
ML: From uh- from UNC. No, I do not have a planning degree.
GC: Ok got it.
ML: I have a public administration degree.
GC: Got it, got it. Um, and where did you grow up?
ML: Uh, east of Asheville.
GC: Oh.
ML: In a community called Fairview.
GC: Ok.
ML: Which historically was a farming community and now is a product of rural gentrification. A lot of rich people moved out there. Used to be the redneck area of the county, now it's the ritzy area.
GC: It's in the same county? It's in Buncombe County?
ML: Yes, in the eastern side of the county. [Pause] It's a very beautiful area, and my grandfather was a farmer - dirt farmer up in the mountains. So I've always had a natural inclination towards farming.
GC: Hmm.
AG: Did your dad farm at all? Or helped out on? He grew up farming?
ML: He grew up farming- uh, you know, by that time farming in the mountains [pause], unless you were a tobacco farmer was not very profitable and uh- he uh, his family was a large family and his parents died early and they were split up. So he did not farm. Well, I mean-we, you know we raise cattle and stuff but we didn't really truly farm.
GC: Hmm.
ML: And I look now - when we built a house we built out in western Rowan County and so I go to church and socialize- they have time to socialize. A lot of people are farmers now who were historically were farmers. The church I go to still has probably [pause] five active dairy farmers.
AG: Where's the church you go to?
ML: St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Bear Poplar.
AG: Yeah, ok! Isn't that cool- uh, Melvin Cheek was in the Bear Poplar.
ML: What's that?
AG: Melvin Cheek, my uh, great uncle.
ML: He was buried there?
AG: Umhm, yep. Well he's still alive, Margaret, Aunt Margaret died.
ML: Oh Margaret died!
AG: Yeah, umhm.
ML: I'm sorry- I-
AG: That's ok- no that's ok.
ML: And I was- when you said that I was thinking, uh, I was thinking of somebody else.
AG: Hauss- Ann Hauss stills go there? And uh-
ML: Mitchell Chris, just Mitchell was buried out there. Yeah.
AG: Um, there's a bunch of farmers that go-
ML: How's Melvin doing?
AG: Doing good, you know.
ML: I don't see him out in the yard as much.
AG: No, no, no. He can't see at all. He- he can see a little bit, but somebody goes over and stays with him and sits with him- he doesn't garden like he used to.
ML: Right.
AG: He's a good farmer. He was.
ML: Oh he had a heck of a garden!
AG: Uhhuh. He-
ML: I'm sure he was a good farmer, too.
AG: Yep. He had good vegetables.
GC: So- but- and so you- that's sort of natural or comfortable for you because you grew up in a farming area and now you're living in one again- or is that-
ML: Absolutely! Yeah, I mean some of the happiest times in my life are on my grandfather's farm. You know, I used to think it was heaven and looking back at the pictures by that time he was older and it was just a very run down farm. But when he- when my grandmother passed away, I was sixteen. My grandfather died when I was six, my grandmother passed away- one of my mother's sisters bought the farm, her and her husband, and they built the farm back up and its still- its now an active beef farm. So that farm is- and there's actually an voluntary farmland preservation program.
AG: That's great.
ML: In Buncombe County. So- I'm very interested in trying to see what we can do to preserve it. Preserve that lifestyle.
GC: When you say where you're from you say here- at this point?
ML: Yes. I'm from Rowan County- this is home.
GC: How long has it been?
ML: Seventeen years, this- seventeen years this January.
GC: Um, what do you think, uh, if you were to describe what makes that area, where you live now, west Rowan County special or unique, in the region or the state? Um, how would you describe that?
ML: [Pause] I think that it has a [pause] western Rowan has a real sense of place, historically. For years it was a- pretty much bypassed by the pressures of development and that type of thing. That's obviously changed in the last ten or fifteen years. People out in western Rowan really identify with the agricultural lifestyle, that's part of what they are. They identify with the open space, they identify with they type of community that historically is in those places. And they're very proud of that- they uh, they recognize that, that there's a lot of people out there that recognize that they have to make sacrifices to keep it that way. In fact there was a lady- a lady who still goes to my church- she had a beautiful farm on uh, Graham Road- Hagen Hope Davis. And-
AG: Davis Farm.
ML: I guess it's the Davis Farm. And they sold it and I can't remember which farmer they sold it to. But I mentioned to a county commissioner that it was sold- and this commissioner was a developer who was not a pro-farming person- they rolled. And he said, "I've been looking for land out there for twenty years. Why wouldn't they sell it to me?" And I said, "Dave, they wouldn't sell it to you because you would have developed it." And they took the lower price to keep that lifestyle. And there are people out there still willing to do that. Uh-
AG: I was speaking about another Davis Farm- the 200 arces off-
ML: Oh yeah, right, right. The Fathsam Road farm. AG Yeah, yeah.
ML: Uh, and it's a beautiful area, I mean it just a lovely part of the world. And there's still areas out there that don't look that different than they did thirty-forty years ago- not many- but there's some and its just a wonderful place to be.
GC: What about environmentally- how would you characterize it in terms of just the certain natural features of it or- well including the agricultural features, but-
ML: Environmentally in what sense?
GC: Just like- I mean-
ML: The terrain?
GC: Yeah, umhm.
ML: Uh, its rolling, its mostly open land, uh, I mean its typical upland Piedmont soil. You don't really see a lot of uh, hardwoods and if you look at where the hardwoods are in my opinion, uh, the standing hardwood forests tend to be where you really can't farm; where its really rocky or whatever. And if you look at the soils' layers, but its uh, basically a mix of open, there's still a lot of cropland out there. And there- there's a lot of pasture land uh, I think one thing you see out there that probably is uh, part of that sense of pride in that area. I thank the farmers for what the current practices were, the farmers were, a lot of the farmers tended to be pretty environmentally conscious from the farming standpoint. There were exceptions the Cobwell Farm, obviously was a big exception. But even years and years ago, you know the first terraced farm in North Carolina was out in western Rowan County.
AG: We still see a couple of those every once in a while.
ML: Well I mean- you know my land's terraced.
AG: Umhm.
ML: And my land, you know, its grown up in woods. Ever- I mean terracing was very common out there, and still is and you can't really tell land was terraced until you walk on it if its been overgrown. But I mean its uh, I think there was a real sense of uh, [pause] uh, of being- doing farming the right way. You know you have- you have farmers out there that uh- people that aren't farming now but take pride in being a Class A dairy, and they were a Class A dairy, and you know the Knox Farms, I guess the first Class A dairy in the state, or one of the first. And there's just, there's just always a sense of pride-
GC: What does that mean?
ML: It's just- its just uh, I'm not sure exactly, but it relates to the quality of the milk, the cleanliness of the operation, it can be used for the highest- you get the highest grading, the highest price. And a lot of its sanitation and how you cattle- the health you cattle; just the whole quality of the milk. So I think that- that- that community out there has always had a real sense of being- doing farming right and being proud of farming. And that sense is still there even though, you know, a lot of the people- the farmers are less and less. The sense of wanting to keep the community that way is there.
GC: Umhm.
ML: And from the standpoint of what I do, uh, which is land use and zoning [pause] there's been a lot of strong support in many areas out there. Much, I mean there was support out there in the western part of the county when nobody else would support. The farmers in western Rowan County were some of the agents that first spoke of wanting zoning in the county to try to protect those open areas. They recognized that it could be [pause] a true agent to help preserve the rural lifestyle. And this was back in the mid '80s; that was a very unpopular thing, uh, you look at Frank Patterson and David Knox, and some of those guys, yeah they were the very first ones, you know, coming to plate for a pro-active land use planning of that area. And that was a result of the education they had had from, you know, cooperative extension or whatever, that stated, you know, this is what we need to do. And that's what they tried to promote.
AG: We can tell you, we talked to Frank and a lot of the people that you would know that you've dealt with before and they're all for stricter zoning. Everybody that we- I can give you a list if you want first-hand information, the people that we've interviewed they're all for stricter zoning.
ML: And you- uh, Gabriel we've only had zoning for five years in the county.
GC: I see.
ML: When I came in '94 there were basically almost no land use regulations, now we're up to where we have, you know, subdivision and you know, use of ordinances and that type of stuff but unfortunately because of some county commissioners in place the ordinances were really watered down. We're in the process now of trying to ramp those back up. We actually have a very, I think uh, a pretty good, uh, agricultural overlay zoning in the ordinance, at that- what was put in there, kind of through the back door. Which- so if areas are designated, and we have at least the backbone of I think a very good agricultural zoning, which really [pause] limits subdivisions to families, limits business to agriculturally related businesses. It doesn't have to be a bona fide farm, you know, you can have liberty shops and tax shops, and you know, horse stables and that kind of things. But really the kind of things that I think the modern agriculture, uh- to maintain modern agriculture you're going to see more and more people that are horse farming that type of stuff. We had a guy come in the day before yesterday- it was a private horse farm and their boarding horses. They're building a 6,000 square foot riding arena, which is not huge, but you're talking a fair amount of money.
AG: Umhm, that's pretty big.
ML: Another 4,000 square foot barn and breezeways, I mean you're talking- they're building about 12,000 square feet, to their existing
AG: Where's that going to be?
ML: Up on Hobson Road. I didn't even see who it was. They just came back and asked me about it. And we allow that as a use, you know, as long as they're not doing horse shows, that's- I mean we recognize, you know, agricultural production is permitted. You know, bona fide farms are exempt, but even that is not true agricultural- its not bona fide farm use under state law, but we recognize that that's something that we need to allow to happen out there.
GC: So that would be permissible under the agriculture overlay?
ML: Yes, it would be permissible under the general's only.
GC: Oh ok. Sure.
ML: Yes.
GC: That even under the agricultural overlay that would be acceptable? [Pause] How is that being used now, that agricultural overlay?
ML: Its really only being used for people that [sigh] that really just want it. So it really needs to be applied to a broader area.
AG: Umhm.
ML: And even if something within that area is rezoned at that point in time you have more control over a subdivision, or whatever. If it happen to come through the rezoning process, you can put conditions as far a buffering and clustering, or more, you know, more neo-traditional smart growth kind of things, you can make them do that. Our ordinance isn't set up to do that kind of stuff out right.
GC: Umhm. [Pause]
AG: Is that-
GC: So it's kind of- Its by- I'm sorry.
AG: Its only by request, that- that's not something- is that something you all are looking at- at ah, stricter zoning, or enforced, or um-
ML: Well, what- we got two things going on now, of course we ask you to be on one of the boards but because of your schedule you couldn't do it- the Farmland Preservation Board. But I think the bigger board [pause] is a Land Use Plan Advisory Board. We uh, right here's the three companies that we've selected, uh, interviewed to do our Land Use Plan up. And obviously one of the big issues in that Land Use Plan is gonna be open space and rural preservation. And one of the first thing that Plan is going to do, is do a comprehensive survey of the county and by definition be able to break the county down into West, South, East, and North. And asks specific question about things like farmland preservation, open space, greenways, subdivisions, you know, whatever. So we can say- like for example, I think, you know, if many of us could sit down on a map and draw what we think the prime farming area is that should be protected in western Rowan County are. But when we go to the actual point of developing regulations, there gonna be a lot of people really upset to be inside those districts. We can at least go back to the survey and say, "Well we interviewed, you know, 287 people's a scientific survey, and 68 percent favored the concept of what we're doing."
AG: Umhm.
ML: In western Rowan County. Not county-wide; in that area. And that-that's- so the Land Use Plan would be the first step in really looking at how to ramp up our farmland preservation to a regulatory [pause] thing. An- and that-
GC: So there is no land use plan at this point?
ML: There's no land use plan.
GC: Ok.
ML: And to be honest, to play the other side of the issue, to- to do that type of thing from a regulatory standpoint, is very honorous. It is- you know, you start talking about the kind of zoning you have to do to really protect farm land, you know, you're going to get- even the Darryl Corriher are going to say, "Now wait-" you know, well you know. One house per twenty-five or one house per fifty acres, that's- that's strict. And you're taking a lot of uh, [pause]. It's an equity issue and I know you talked to Frank Tadlock- you got to recognize the equity issue in anything. I think a lot of planners don't recognize that. Not saying that you have to give people what they want, but you got to recognize the value of that land and what it means to these people, and uh, but- but to get back, the Land Use Plan within- I think one of the things gonna come out the Land Use Plan is very specific recommendations on all aspects of zoning. And- farmland and open space will be part of that issue. The people out in West Rowan, you know, when you talk to them they will tell you they want it. That's what you just said right?
AG: Umhm. Umhm. Everybody we've talked to- Patterson Road, Mell Bridge Area, I live on Corriher Grange Road- I tell you, everybody on our- from Bra- I live on the end of Bradshawd on Corriher Grange Road- all through there and that's all family land. And it's a beautiful chuck-
ML: Oh yeah. They're the one- they were some of the ones that came in and wanted some stricter zoning up front.
AG: Umhm.
ML: Uh, Frank Patterson, had an area on Patterson Road.
AG: Umhm.
ML: It wouldn't have stopped Patterson Farms but uh, those people, the McLaughlin's, they were wanting stricter zoning and it really got- you know, there was some people, there was a uh, I think its Jimmy Chewing, has the body shop out there or used to.
AG: Is that the one off 150? Corriher Grange towards 150?
ML: I think so.
AG: Its like a- oh what's it- it's like a mid-state machine? Is that what you're talking about?
ML: No, no. This is one down there, right- right off Corriher Grange Road. Uh, but anyway, there was some people there that opposed it and went out and really spread some mis-information about what the zoning would do out there. And that was not the agricultural layover that was just a little stricter zoning that we had proposed for the area.
GC: Hmm.
AG: So you know, Corriher Grange Road right now- our road is pretty much in tact and preserved. You know, no development goes on that road, and even Jackson Farm-
ML: Absolutely.
AG: on this end. So we've got a nice chunk right there. But John Graham, he's a ninety-one year old cousin, he had- he was a dairy farmer- had a beautiful farm, and Craig Coyer still leases it from him. Um, that's a perfect example- he's got a 100 acre farm- he's got frontage down Bradshaw and this lower end of Corriher Grange Road. He's got hardwoods, he's got a pond, he's got beautiful fields, he's got an orchard, and everybody's worried about what happens-
ML: Sure.
AG: to him. He has nothing in place. So you're saying that a subdivision can go in there?
ML: Absolutely.
AG: With no, you know no thought.
ML: No zoning notice.
AG: No zoning notice.
ML: I mean you have to put in roads and stuff like that.
AG: Yep.
ML: Absolutely. Its-
AG: So if he passes away tomorrow, and his three daughters- who live in Maryland, Tennessee, and Greensboro- and they're all in their late 50s- if they sell it then that whole 100 acres right there in the middle of- pretty much right now its family preserved that whole area.
ML: Just like Davis Farms.
GC: And so- so that's what you're trying to address, with this plan and-
ML: That's- that will be one of the hot issues in the plan. It will address everything. It will address everything from multifamily, high density development to uh, you know, farmland preservation. Another thing that's happening now, uh, is we have a farmland preservation board that is just been started in the county and we actually have $375,000 to buy development rights. Between the county- the county is actually funded money to buy development rights. Its not as much as some of the commissioners wanted but we have a program in place and uh, you know, that's stunning for Rowan County. Rowan County is an extremely conservative county. [Pause]
GC: So- yeah it's a great start.
ML: Absolutely, and you know it will be enough to do a farm or two, and I'm working right now to do some mapping and you came to the meetings where we went over the point systems. And we've had farmers review it. I mean, you know, we've done a lot of work, and that work was done a couple of years ago [pause] and by January we hoped to have a farm or two recommended for purchase of development rights and it'd be done through the land trust. They'd be the ones administering the adhesiveness.
GC: Oh ok. I was going to ask that.
AG: Yeah.
ML: But uh, you know that's exciting and you know if you can get a Johnny Moore or a Terry and Jerry Hoffner.
AG: I'm sorry to say there's a chunk right there.
ML: Right.
AG: And- and they both- I interviewed them a year and half ago and Gabriel working the land conservancy. I worked with Jason, I interviewed the Cleveland County farmers, including Hoss Dill, and you know everyone of 'em, aside from Hob- the Hoffners and Johnny Moore said, if they could sell their development rights, they would in a heartbeat. The- the people that Gabriel and I have interviewed, I'd say the bulk of 'em have said that as well.
ML: Right. And you know it's a matter of, you know- but once again back to the equity issue, and then you've got to understand they've got to get some money out of it. They're giving up a huge- huge- huge [pause] amount of money over the next twenty years. And you know, I don't- I think it's a great program, I think it's the way to go but I think- Johnny and Terry and Jerry will go- they'll go with their eyes open. They understand what they're doing and I appreciate that. But once again, uh, it- it's a big step.
GC: So your concern is that people be aware of what this involves, and not think its worse than it is, but also realize what it is?
ML: Right.
GC: And what kind of sacrifice-
ML: Right, and Jason and Andy- the land trust they do a good job, they don't- I mean they try to sell, that's their job, and I try and sell it, but you know, I'm not going to try be a used car sales man.
AG: Umhm.
GC: Right.
ML: It's a big step. And I think that's a good interim step but you know, to really [pause] you know I think Hoss Dill will tell you much favors- and Darryl- favors a voluntary program such as the Development Right Program. Uh, but some point in time the county gets really serious, it would just about have to be some type of zoning-type step to protect really broad areas. I think even then you've got to recognize that there will be some development in that area, you just got to try to manage to- to the benefit of the whole area.
GC: The limit on the voluntary is- is the funding- basically, right?
ML: Right.
GC: I mean you just can't come up with the millions and millions that it would take to do that on that scale?
ML: And another issue with the county is um, [pause] the land out there, is the land that septic tanks and if- if developers could develop like for example down right on I-85 and 29; the soils down there are terrible. That's why there's not much development there. But if you had water and sewers there, developers would jump the chance to build on quarter-acre lots, or five lots per acre, close to the interstate- with water and sewer. But uh, at some point in time, you know, you talk about money the other issue is: can and will the county and Salisbury and Kannapolis provide water and sewer in that area where these developers can develop, yet address that housing demand in that area. You're always going to have people want to live out in the country. But you see a lot of the people out in the country would probably be just as happy to live closer to the interstate. There's a huge amount of vacant land in that area and I think- going back to the Land Use Plan part of the policy had got to be to target that area; we have tracts of land that we identify from employment centers in that area. And smart planning tells you you're going to have people living close to those employment centers. We've locked up the land on the interstate that has economic development potential. We- we've resolved it, it gets locked up. But there's plenty of land a quarter of a mile or half mile from the interstate on twenty or thirty acre tracts. Part of the policy has got to be to provide a place for people to build houses. You can't- or I don't think you can shut down development. You know, you can say it can't go out here, but you've got to have development at least under the current model that we work under to have a vibrant community.
AG: We can control it.
ML: You can control it, you can put it where it belongs, and you know, I think the on- the interstate, you know around the existing towns, uh, that- that's what- that's part of what needs to come out of this policy. Everybody agrees with that, but you talk about money, you know, run a major sewer line, we talking $200-$300 a foot. You start running three or four miles and you know, then you got to run it off of that line to service specific properties. So-
GC: So you're trying to incorporate sort of smart growth principles with clustering and having- having more density here and then being able to have open space?
ML: Yeah. And the real issue of the county is nobody's been able to give me the right answer to this, yet. If you don't have a place for the developers to develop a higher density how do you employ smart growth out in the county; it's a different kind of smart growth than you'll talk about in Salisbury.
GC: Right.
ML: Uh, you know, you can just shut down development and then you'll have that group of commissioners voted out and everything will be undone. But you got to find that balance and you got to find, is it going to be you know, the cluster subdivisions and conservation areas around? You got- you got to sell some developer the idea that you can go out there only develop a third of that land and keep the rest of forested and make money. And you have to sell it to the community.
GC: I live in- my family lives in Davidson and you know, the planning ordinance that they put in uh, does that basically, says, ok you can develop but you have to leave 50 percent open space and you can increase the density on your remaining portion.
ML: Right. The problem with us is with sewer you can't increase the density. I mean wha- I mean the septic tanks you can't- that's the part's that missing. You can't- you've gotta have twenty-twenty-five thousand square feet for a house and umbrella septic tank. That's-
GC: Right.
ML: That's the way it is. And the southern part of the county is in watershed, you got to have an acre there for a septic tank. Forty thousand square feet; and that's where all the prime farm land is. So you know you've got regulatory and just pure- I guess engineering issues with septic tanks. And you can do smart growth in other ways, you can do conservation easements uh, you can do greenways you know, you can do some clustering to a degree.
GC: Yeah, but you're saying- yeah, that's a good point that that limits that.
ML: And nobody's been able to come up with- unless you just shut it down- what you do out there.
GC: So you don't see- you don't see water and sewer being run there anytime?
ML: No, no, and I- and you wouldn't want it out there.
GC: It'd bring development like crazy?
ML: You want water and sewer but we have a backbone you know, down 70 uh, nope, sorry- yeah down 70 but also down 85 and you want around the small towns. The small towns are great places to live. They have a lot of the smart growth which they did because that's the way small towns were developed; that's what you're trying to emulate.
GC: Right.
ML: But what they also have at the new, you know, Davidson doesn't have is you have truly affordable housing opportunities. Davidson doesn't have affordable housing opportunities for you know, people that you know, have a $30,000 year income.
GC: Right.
ML: Like- I mean its that- that- that's the downside of smart growth and I'm no- I'm not a Kool-Aid drinker with smart growth; I'll be honest with you. There are a lot of problems I have with it.
GC: Yeah.
ML: And one of 'em is nobody you know, nobody's been able to come up with a truly affordable housing, and a lot of things with smart growth you know, the profiles for roads and sidewalks and bypass- I'm a big bike rider; I love sidewalks and greenways and all that stuff, but they drive the cost of road up. You know you start putting sidewalks on both sides and a plant strip; you know you may add, you know ten-fifteen thousand dollars to a lot. And you know if you're on the margin that's a lot. So I don't know what the answer is there.
GC: Right, I mean, I- not trying to be an apologist for what Davidson's doing, I'm just uh, they uh, included twenty percent affordable housing in there.
ML: No, I- I- I think that Davidson's on the right track, in fact I do a little work for a small town in Cleveland, I got Davidson's ordinance in that bag there I'm trying to digest. Try to come up with something simplified that a town of seven or eight hundred people can use for their downtown. Now I think Davidson is on the right track but Davidson's different than western Rowan County.
GC: Yeah, you're right, you're right.
ML: And Davidson's trying to address it, and they- and part of the way is you get that density up and those small, you know if you start looking at six or seven or eight houses per acre then you know, when that land is worth $100,000 per acre you can bring the cost down. [Pause]
GC: So, you think there will a combination of ultimately of regulatory and voluntary programs?
ML: Yeah, and I think the voluntary in the sense that there needs to be- there needs to be continued funding of the development lots. And I think if you do that uh, you got to maintain a critical mass of farming in the county. And I'm talking true farming; you know the dairy farmers and the Darryl Corrihers that are actively out there buying seed and fertilizer and selling things and, you know to keep the farm support businesses in place. I don't know how close we are to that not working, but I know that John Steel is really concerned about where he's going to keep his business going. And he's looking to ways to diversify, whether it's a restaurant or whatever, to- he wants to keep his, his seed and fertilizer business going but its, its tough.
AG: It is hard.
GC: Yeah, what do you see in terms of the land use trends in past couple of decades and looking into the future, in terms of what the actual picture of it is out there right now?
ML: What- what you had in the early- late 80s, early 90s is you had, uh- we became the [pause] the location of choice for manufactured housing developers. Kannapolis in the late 80s uh- I don't have these dates exactly right but they started ranting up their zoning and they drove a lot of manufactured housing out of Kannapolis as well with junkyards and other things. And these very naturally went into the adjacent areas, which is right in here, and they're all over the county but especially right in the corner right here you have a lot of mobile home development and one reason we started having regulations in this county is because these were typically done on shoddily built roads and that type of stuff. And the mobile home developers really kind of uh, they messed up their own game because they were selling these homes for way too much, asking for way too high rates uh, they really drove people into realizing that what you can get in double-wide you can get in a small house. So what has happened since then, is as farms come for sale- come up for sale for the right price, developers buy 'em; it really doesn't matter where they're at as long as they're south of 801 or south of 70. If the land's for sale and it perks a certain level then they will build houses. It may be small houses, it may be big houses, there's really no rhyme or reason about what road it's on. There better roads than others, uh, the south and west high school districts are both seen as desirable high school districts. You know they both- they have small minority- relatively small minority populations, they don't have the intercity issues- I'm being blunt here but-
AG: No, it's true. I went to South.
ML: That's a fact, you know that's why- that's why its not developing up around northern Salisbury, you know-
GC: Because they don't want-
ML: That's not- that's not the only reason, but that's a lot of the reason. And you have people that can come out and buy uh, land and have a relatively quiet lifestyle and drive down to Cabarrus or Mecklenburg County. [Pause]
GC: So you think its at this point is it- is most of the development still relatively affordable, as in double-wides or small house equivalents or is it getting more sort of large as is upscale kind of thing?
ML: The time of the mobile home in Rowan County is past. We're issuing very few mobile home programs. Um, we don't allow single-wides, typically. We don't have 'em on the Grandfather Lots, but a few subdivisions typically you don't see single-wides and with the cost of having to build roads, people want developed subdivisions for single-wides. So you see a mix of starter homes, then you see, see they're probably starter homes or more of Davis Farm where you're talking 250-300 thousand dollar homes; we are seeing more and more upscale homes. And you see out in the county people coming and building pretty big houses, typically on larger tracts of land you know there's six or seven or eight thousand square foot house. And that house may be right by single-wide- it don't- I mean you've seen it. It just- it doesn't-
AG: No rhyme or reason.
ML: I doesn't- no rhyme or reason, its just part of the landscape. It's been part of Rowan County for so long, you know a few trailers around is just part of the rural scenery. And so it's been there for years and years. I don't see any real change in that development pattern unless there's some regulatory constraints put on it. As farms come up for sale- the one you're talking about, you know the one Sally Murphy bought, which is close to my house, that'd be a fine area to develop. You know 100 acres, on top of a hill, beautiful area, great elementary school, you know, pristine farmland all arou- well there's a development right across, but the development right across has some fairly nice housing in it, so I knew it would have been developed in a heartbeat.
AG: Was the development there when Sally moved here or was that after the fact- after she moved here? Do you remember?
ML: It was done before; Bill Hall did that.
AG: 'Cause she pretty much- she said she moved away- I think she was in Maryland- moved away because they were going through some of the same things we're going through now, and that's why she moved down here. Kind of came back home, and she said now here it is again, which is really upsetting her. So we're going to interview her Sunday.
ML: Yep.
AG: But now, what- what happens if um, if this money becomes available for development rights; what happens if you see, you know, this- this big influx of interest from farmers that- that are ready to sign up- they're ready to have their farms ranked? Is that going to change you're attitude even a little bit more, and say, we've got all these farmers, they're willing to do this, so you know, is that going to change anything?
ML: You mean as far as my views on the regulations?
AG: Umhm.
ML: Well, I think- I think that would be one of the best ways to keep the critical mass of farmers, but it would not be as affective in keeping the rural vistas. Uh, if you want zoning protection and I zone your property, that's not going to help you a lot because your neighbors aren't zoned that way. To buy a farm, develop rights on that farm, is going to protect that farm, its not going to protect the land around the farm. So if the ultimate goal is to keep this rural lifestyle and this rural air, this rural feel, you know, to allow people that don't live there to go out and see all the pretty angus cattle, I mean its got to be- it has to be more ultimately than purchase development rights. Purchase development rights I think would be very good in keeping [pause] areas in active farming. And I think uh, that's got to be part of the mix, but I think if you want to protect the- the views and the vistas, and uh, you know, the viewscape or the viewship of whatever then you need-
GC: And the continuity.
AG: Umhm.
ML: The continuity. And even if- even if development did occur out there; that it not be, you know, the traditional, you know- layout out the lots and not screening or buffering, and don't try to maintain trees and- so it's got- I think ultimately if that's the goal then that has to be part of the mix. Because unless there's some major change in our economy, the land will be- continue to be gobbled up.
GC: What is the goal as far as you're concerned? Is that it? Or I mean in other words to look at- sort of maintain a rural landscape, of that kind? [Pause]
ML: I- we'll find out what the goal is. With the Land Use Plan we'll find out. That's something that I want to promote that is at the goal of the county.
GC: I mean I was talking more personally; what's your vision of it?
AG: Yeah.
ML: I- I would like to do that. I would like to find a good balance between the rights of those property owners and maintaining that [pause] and, you know, I'm part of the problem, I went out and their farm was cut up and bought it. So [Laughter] It was close to the town of Cleveland so it may not quite fit in to, you know, exactly what we're talking about but you got to- I think we have to do it; I don't think it's too late to do it but you've got to find that balance. And you've got to- you've got to use several tools to do it.
AG: And how long do you think it will take to put something like that or to find out what everybody wants and to put something like that in place? Are you talking about over the next couple years?
ML: Yes, the Land Use Plan is about an eighteen month project. And then there will be public hearings and after that, you know, you'll probably look at going through zoning text amendments. And sometimes that, when it- is when it gets really kind of hairy because you're actually saying- people actually finally understand that, you know, you're saying that- that I can't do this. And then sometimes it maybe after that is in place people aren't paying attention and will come into that county to want to do something we tell them they can't.
GC: Umhm.
AG: Are you gonna- you mentioned, like, open forums and big town meetings, when you guys get to that point, are you gonna have it in the Salisbury Post, uh, how will it be communicated that- mainly through the post and publications?
ML: Mainly through the- yeah and we're planning to have at least three meetings at each of the high schools.
AG: Umhm.
ML: And it's going to- we've hung our hat on the geographic representation- geographic areas defined by the high schools. We've got west, south, and east, and then Salisbury and north are combined because a lot of theirs is in the municipal jurisdiction.
AG: Some- some things that I've found that- I talked to Jane Patterson, we've talked to Frank and different people, uh, there- there's- people are all, you know, they're all talking about zoning and the majority that we've talked to, everybody pretty much wants farmland preservation or some kind of zoning, some kind of restricted area so it's protected. But the problem- I told Gabriel and I talked to Jason about it- there's like a lack of communication; where you hear things from this person but there's not one database or uh, a lot of information is not getting out to these people where they know exactly what's going on. I don't know- I don't know if they don't have time to read the paper- I don't know, you know, what's going on but we've got different sales working on this, this, and this but its like bringing it together, sort of- I think that's the break down.
ML: Right, and that's- that's a good point and uh, in the defense of other people there's really only a very short season, which you can communicate to the farmers and that's, you know, December, January, February, you know. They have their farm meetings and then the rest of the time the people that are truly farming you can't get 'em to come to meetings because, you know Darryl missed a meeting yesterday morning I'm sure 'cause he was getting ready- getting something ready to combine some beans. I mean, you know, so you know, you have a short window with that you know, what we hope-
GC: Right, we tried to set up interviews and we know-
AG: Oh we tried! [Laughter]
ML: Oh absolutely! Absolutely, you know we have voluntary farm land preservation- we have a- the first two or three in the state was done out of this office. And we still, you know we- our staff demands have had to be pushed to more pressing matters, but that will come back. I have a very good staff person. You know one problem we have here is we just- we have very few planners on staff; we have three. And I've gotten a lot of people added to my staff but you know they can't just double it. You know, we don't have anybody truly committed to long range planning and that's something that has been brought up and it's very true. I'm very interested in that, but also I deal with [pause] the old lady who you know, I mean Wednesday I spent 30 minutes on the phone with this old lady right on 801 there, I'm sure I know some of her kids or nieces or nephews, one of my guys- she said one of my guys told her she could keep her old trailor to put a soda shop in. And she's wanting to get a permit for a double-wide. I mean, you know, that's the kind of that I'm dealing with-
AG: You deal with all the time.
ML: Yeah, I mean it- it's, this week's been a bad week, but ultimately you know, I'm over-zoning and sometimes it comes up to me, and you know and sometimes compromises are made that they can't make that I can make. I mean its- I wish I could spend more time doing it. I'm spending a lot of time doing it, uh, a lot of my current zoning duties are being turned over to another planner. But one thing we don't have that I think gets to what you're saying is we don't have a long range planning position persons; all they do is long range planning. We got to where we need to have one.
GC: Rather than day to day.
ML: Right, long range versus current.
GC: More like envisioning.
ML: Current planning is what-
AG: That- that's what Darryl (Blackwater), when I talked to him on the phone, that's one thing you know, he'll tell you in a heart- he- that's what he said that we're lacking in this county. We don't have any long term, long range goals. We can't look that far ahead. Listen, I don't mean the next five or ten years, I mean, he said long, long, long term and that- that's kinda out of the mix too.
ML: Yep.
AG: You know, but what do you do about that though?
ML: Well, you know, you start off with the land use plan uh, the county- I'm sorry the meeting- Darryl missed the meeting [pause] last Thursday, yesterday was a strategic planning commission that's getting started to try to keep the county in a strategic planning mode. We had one done and may that not necessarily address uh, farming issues, but the last strategic plan- one of the big things that came out of it was getting the Land Use Plan done. It's taken us five years to get to the point where we'll get funded; this is $150,000 project.
GC: Umhm.
ML: And its going to be "turn key" job, you know, I'm clearly going to need to spend a huge amount of time tracking this because I'm the one that's going to be implementing it.
AG: They're more than welcome to use the interviews we've done. Uh, they're going to transcribe them and you can pull the information-
ML: I'll do that.
GC: Yeah, I was going to say, I mean, if one thing that you've mentioned is- is the need of documentation of support for farming and for conservation uses and so forth, we don't have obviously, a statistically large number, randomized sample, but we have voice, and we have images to go with it.
ML: Right.
GC: So if that becomes useful, you know.
ML: I'll let 'em know; whichever one you choose, and uh-
AG: We have a chunk, in Corriher Grange, Millbridge, Patterson Road, we have a chunk of people right through that; those communities out there.
ML: Yeah, and you know, they're very aware of- I just looked at- they took these pictures; they got farming on that one. And that's somewhere in Rowan County, I'm not sure where.
GC: So you think this will be a five year process?
ML: Well this Land Use Plan will be about an eighteen, twenty-four month process, and then after that you get into, you know, you'd hope within in another year- year and a half you would be getting the zoning in place.
GC: The ordinance.
ML: The ordinance changes and that kinda stuff.
GC: And you'll actually regulate.
ML: And the real issue's going to be this next budget year is getting this farmland preservation program, having fund to continue. Whether- even if its another $150,000 bucks; just keeping it alive-
AG: Exactly, keeping it going.
ML: You know, until the economy turns around, until there's, you know, the revenues for the county are a little
AG: Haus Dill mentioned to me, when I interviewed him, he said that if you have a farmland preservation program in place, um, or whatever he called it, for- I think he said for 10 years that you get federal funding. I think that's- I have to go back and read what he said. He said something about, if you can have the program in place for ten years, you automatically- I cannot remember what he said. But you automatically get funding from federal.
ML: I'm not- you know, I'm not as up on a lot of that stuff as I uh, need to be, but we had a farmland preservation forum in 2001, which was done as uh, a kind of a spin-off of a spin-off, of a strategic plan. At that point in time we had found and talked about the state putting in seventy million bucks.
GC: Oh yeah, I was there.
AG: Yeah, I was there.
GC: We were all there. We didn't know each other at the time.
ML: That's something- that's something we did, you know, we were kind of the staff behind there- the FCDC did it.
AG: And to me- I left there, I felt pretty good.
ML: Absolutely.
AG: That was two- three years ago?
ML: 2001.
AG: Yeah.
ML: And, you know, I went back and pulled up the new articles off the internet. But you know, that seventy million bucks is gone. AG/
GC: Yeah.
ML: You that didn't happen.
AG: Nope.
GC: Well a lot of budgeting.
ML: Well also, the people that were championing that are gone.
AG: That balances out.
ML: Fact-[inaudible speech]
AG: Callahan is gone.
ML: They're gone. So I mean, its coming back down to the local, and you got the feds up here, which, you know, surprisingly do have some money. And uh, you know, we've done- I think we've done a good job in getting the county in position to use it. You know, that FCDC, you know, that- part of this point system was part of the FCDC effort because you had leaders that are not farmers, as well as farming leaders pushing it. And I think that's something this-this county has is a strong [pause] well has a strong leadership in Salisbury that are not farmers but are very interested in trying to work with the farming community.
AG: That's nice to hear. Stay blunt, you know.
ML: Even like Bill- even our current EDC chair- executive director, Randy Harrell, feels strongly about farmland preservation. And our former EDC director, if you- you know, if your old man you talked about, called him up and said, I want this as an industrial site, by golly, he'd be showing it to industrial people.
GC: What's EDC for?
ML: Economic Development Commission. And, you know, our current [pause] EDC director, uh, recognizes that, uh, it's got to be in the right place. And you know, you may want to interview Randy. Randy Harrell might be a good person to interview sometime because he's got a pretty good view on, you know, he's a economic development guy, but his views on farming are refreshing for that type of position. [Pause]
AG: That's nice to hear. Cal Cannahan going to show back up.
ML: He will; he chose not to run, I mean I remember it part of the redistricting and stuff.
AG: Well, he had a new baby, but then he emailed me and I said "Well, ok we'll see you around in a couple of years." So I know he's going to- which I know is good because with his background, so that's something to look forward to.
ML: Absolutely. [Pause]
AG: God, I hate politics, but [mumbles] its aweful.
GC: [inaudible]
ML: What else do you got, I'm going to need to head on out in a few minutes.
GC: Yeah, I know you got to- well I mean
ML: We've covered a lot of ground.
GC: Yeah, I think we did, um, so it sounds like- I mean one of the main challenges is how to enable the people who want to protect their farms to do so, while at the same time not compromising the ability of people to- END OF TAPE 1 SIDE A START OF TAPE 1 SIDE B
GC: -the ability of people to make money off of their land? When you come right down to it.
ML: Well, I think you've got to recognize, you know, I've got some retirement funds and that type of stuff, nothing too extent- extensive. But, you know-
GC: That's the land.
ML: If- if I can stay here another, you know, twelve-fifteen years, I'll have a good retirement, and these people don't have that.
GC: Right.
ML: They don't have health insurance, they, you know, if- its just like Mitchell Chris. You know, he had a stroke- he needed twenty-four hour care. What he had to- he sold land. I mean that's all he had.
AG: Right.
ML: I mean, and he had the community all behind him, our church raised a bunch of money for him. You know ten thousand bucks for somebody in his situation is just a drop in a bucket. And, you know, you've got recognize that. There's got to be a balance, uh, a planner, Fred Brian, who was a guy that actually zoned Mecklenburg County; told me one time, "sometimes the best compromise is one where nobody is happy." And that may be what comes out of this. It may be balance of these different competing issues because you've got to recognize also if you get to pure votes, the farmers are outnumbered. You know the political side of it you've talked about; the development community has a very strong lobby. And our development community is very conservative in this county. In some places, home builders embrace zoning. Home Builders Association. This county, home builders are supposed to annoyed, and a lot of that is their leadership. It's Mack Butner, I know Mack, I like Mack, but he's just arch-conservative. And that's just- its reflected in the policies of that board. You've got to have those people at the table, you've got to have them involved, and you've got to find something that you all can live with. And uh, that's what we got to do.
AG: Umhm. Hmm, hmm, hmm.
ML: So what else?
AG: You got anything else?
GC: But you do hope, yourself, that working- I mean, as you say an actual functioning farm landscape is part of part of the picture.
ML: I think it has to be, I think that's the rational for the whole effort. You know, you can't just expect to have an area with a pretty good drive by without having some economic viability there.
AG: [mumbles] Find it usefull.
ML: And you know, that's, you know, the only way you can keep uh, three, four hundred acres, you know, from being developed is to have some viable economic use. There are other issues out there, you know, something I've talked about is sometime of tax breaks for people that want to leave land, and- like mature forests. You know the way- [Cell phone rings]
GC: Oh, sorry that's me. That's probably Jason. [laughter]
ML: Afraid that might be-
AG: Yeah, it's Jason. Now, one good thing that we've learned, and we've talked to Randall Patterson, and Doug Carrigan, which you know, they're in their 40s, well I think Doug's fifty-one, um, and uh, Greg Heart's sold Tim's [inaudible speech]. They're relatively young farmers, and they've all told us that they want to do it for as long as they can.
ML: Sure.
AG: Doug Patterson- so we have, you know, I've heard from, you know, Frank Taddalack mentioned, no most of the farmers are old and dying out and they don't have anybody to take over, but you've got Johnny Moore and Brian Moore-
ML: You've got Brian Moore, uh-
AG: -and you got, you know, we've got plenty of young farmers in this area that want to keep going that have kids growing up and I out of six farm kids, one or two is going to want to take over the business.
ML: It looks like even- I can't keep Terry and Jerry straight, you know one of 'em's daughter married a guy that's worked on the farm, Chad, uh, [pause] anyway, anyway they go to our church and you know, I mean, like you said, you've got Chris Hoffner and Buddy Hoffner, I mean there are people out there.
AG: Umhm, oh yeah, yeah.
ML: And there are people that want to be in farming.
AG: Yep.
ML: And you've got the Darryl Nichols, Darryl Nichols, do you now Darryl Nichols?
AG: I don't think so.
ML: Darryl might be a good guy for you to interview because he's looking at the kind of the new side of farming. He's a vol- he's a fireman, not a volunteer fireman, and he was real active in getting some agricultural zoning put in place along where [inaudible speech], near the interstate.
GC: Umhm.
ML: And uh, he is a hay farmer, and that's how he keeps that land going. He's got a full-time job and he work 24 hours and he's off 48, and he's
AG: He can still do that- the fire
ML: And I think you- well look at Robby Hodge- you know Robby?
AG: No.
ML: He lives across from St. Luke's. Got the-
AG: I know where that is, but I didn't know that was-
ML: Yeah, they work at Freightliner, second shift. And he's got a very-
AG: They still do it.
ML: Vigorous, vibrant [pause] feed supply that basically- primarily cater to horse people. He grows a lot of his own stuff, he's got his- that's an example of an agricultural business wheel right out there, but he's also farming a huge amount of land.
AG: Yeah, umhm.
ML: So you got- I think-
AG: We've got some good, smart- we've got some smart young farmers too that they've all mentioned that they've kind of found their niche; that you have to now. And even Doug Carrigan called it agr- "agri-entertainment."
GC: "Agritaniment."
AG: "Agritainment," which is- it's worked for him, with the rock quarry and the catering, and its still part of it, he's still using a private farm at the rock quarry that wasn't being used at all- back in the woods. So they're all pretty sharp and-
GC: Randall does that, too.
AG: Yep.
GC: Randall Patterson.
AG: Yep, they're all- they're pretty sharp and they've got some really good ideas and that they know they've got to find their niche. The one's that haven't found their niche are looking for it. So the one's we've talked to are really passionate about it. A lot of the other farm owners, say like Jane Patterson, has eighty, seventy-nine or eighty acres. Her home place- her grandparents lived there- um, the original farm, Patterson Farm, and she said "I wouldn't take anything in the world for it." We've heard that from many people; doesn't matter about developer. She'd be one, if she got down, she'd sell it to somebody that could farm. Um, Brian Moore is going to need more land, and I know Terry and Jerry, if it came down to it, when they older, if they don't have family farming it then, it's be convenient for Brian to farm-
ML: Right, and that's part of the whole development right thing. Once those development rights are sold then you'd talked about selling it for, you know, a "farming price" as opposed to a "development price." You're talking about the day's dollar a $3,000 per acre versus $10,000. But down in southern Rowan County they're- well, even the tract that Sally Murphy bought one hundred acres for eight or nine thousand dollars an acre. You know that- that's not farming price. Farmers can't buy it at that price.
AG: No, they can't, and that's the problem. With the- some of these farms come up for, you know, they're available and the farmers, you know, Even Randall said we can't buy every single chunk of land, especially when they compete with development prices.
ML: Right, and that's the thing about the development rights, you know, then you back it back down to where it's going to a farming rate by definition.
AG: Exactly. Yep, Jeremy Mayfield bought the Jackson farm, I think he paid $12.5 [$12,500] an acre, I believe.
ML: Now where's that at?
AG: Um, Jackson Road. Jackson Farms right off of Corriher Grange, right there in the- yep, $12,500 an acre.
ML: And they're lucky that people like that buy it to get it back- and I do have to leave very quickly- uh, where I grew up at, the road I grew up on there were doctors and merchants came out and bought farms intact and kept 'em intact-
AG: Umhm, they can afford it.
ML: and then build their $100,000 barns. But you know, that- that's- but the development rights I think will keep- help keep that critical mass going.
AG: Umhm.
ML: And help provide a way for the "Brian Moore's", and the "Brian Moores' kids." You know, when that comes along, they get to the farming age to be able to sustain farming, because you've got land out there they can buy.
AG: Exactly. Exactly, and we've got good farmland, too. It'd be a shame to watch all of it-
ML: Sure.
AG: just go. How do you feel about, uh, Atlanta? [Laughs] I mean when you look at Atlanta, do you see either red flag, red flag, mistake, mistake, mistake- that's what I'm afraid Charlotte's going to do. That's what Sally mentioned, that's what she's afraid of. Well we're going to be a big suburb- she called Charlotte a cancer for, you know, the farmland and the rural area. [Laughter]
ML: Well she's right. There- there's not much farmland left in Cabarrus County.
AG: Umhm. Oh no, it's gone.
ML: And we still have some prime areas left in out county.
AG: Umhm, yep. Looking forward to meeting her.
GC: Well, thank you so much. We appreciate you taking a little time.
ML: Sure. Well, I've enjoyed the talk, I don't mean to sound like-
GC: Oh no! No!
AG: We appreciate it.
GC: I know your time is limited.