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Potential bamboo business bothers neighbors

When a large lot went up for sale along Mountain Creek Road in Albemarle, nearby residents were not surprised. At least two houses had sold along the street already and so another was nothing unusual.

Until they heard about the bamboo, that is.

Over the last month, talk has been circulating that a bamboo farm may be planted on the 24-acre residential lot.

Potential buyers have told at least two neighboring households that they hope to put in such a farm.

The city’s planning and zoning department has recieved related inquiries.

“We got calls asking about agricultural uses in residential districts out there,” said department head Kevin Robinson.

Neighbors are now concerned.

“It is not something we want,” said Teresa Phillips, a resident whose property abuts the site.

She and about 10 other people from the neighborhood came to Albemarle City Council’s last meeting to express concerns about such a farm.

“I have a big concern about a business going in behind my house,” Phillips said.

She and her husband recently relocated to Mountain Creek Road after the lights and noise from an expanding business disrupted the environment around their previous Albemarle home. So when potential buyers for the Mountain Creek property told Phillips they wanted to put in a bamboo farm next door, she started looking into it.

“At first I thought, bamboo, pretty neat,” Phillips said. “But as I looked into it, I found out I didn’t like bamboo at all.”

Like any kind of crop, bamboo farms require regular workers, heavy machinery, trucks for transport, she and other residents discovered.

“Is that going to be all night? Lights? Gas powered?” Nicholas Lamonds said. “If they’re going to be using the neighborhoods (for transport), I’ve got a 2-year-old son and there’s a lot more kids in that neighborhood now than there used to.”

In addition, many kinds of bamboo are considered invasive species in North Carolina. Running bamboo can spread up to 15 feet per year and can take years to kill off, speakers pointed out.
Indeed, nearby Misenheimer has been battling a growth of bamboo behind its historic Gladstone building for more than two years. And Albemarle has a large thicket of bamboo to deal with on a property downtown.

“I’m all for farming, but there’s a lot of difference between corn and soy bean roots than the roots of a bamboo plant,” said Aaron Deese, a nearby resident who is already dealing with an encroaching clump of bamboo near his property. “Once it gets in I’m afraid of the problems we’ll have to deal with.”

Since the 24-acre property runs behind Mountain Creek Road it is not just those houses that could be affected, Jean Smith added.

“The other concern is they plant it and then leave,” Smith said. “Who’s going to take care of it then?”

City councilors told residents they share many of those same concerns. Particularly because the lot is less than a mile from their Highway 52 Water Treatment Plant.

However, due to Albemarle’s agricultural roots and rural environment (as well as state statutes), the city has always allowed residential land to be used for both housing and small-scale farming. And that’s not a tradition the city wants to change.

So in order to address concerns about potential bamboo farms, they would need to explore other options. At their last meeting they asked staff to research how other municipalities deal with bamboo and bamboo-based businesses.

“It looks like there might be some avenues for us to address this,” Robinson said. “But we really have to find out exactly what that is going to be first.”

Further discussion is on the agenda for the City Council meeting at 6 p.m. Monday.