The McDowell County Planning Department is responsible for administering all county land use and land development ordinances. These include the Subdivision of Land, Mobile Home Parks, Watershed, Zoning, and Lake James Protection Ordinance.

The Planning Administrator works in conjunction with the Planning Board.  The Planning Board hears rezoning requests, approves major subdivision plats, and much more.  The Planning Board meets the 4th Monday of each month at 6:30pm in the County Administration Building.

The Planning Department's mission is to help landowners and developers work within the parameters of these ordinances to responsibly develop land in McDowell County. 


160D Ordinance Changes


The North Carolina General Assembly has adopted General Statute 160D that will henceforth provide for land development regulation in North Carolina.  The Zoning and Historic Preservation Commission Ordinances must be revised to confirm with this new statute.  Please click on the link to the left to read about the proposed changes.


New Land Development Permit

Prior to any Building Permit being issued you must have a McDowell County Land Development Permit signed by the Planning Department or Building Inspections. This permit can be obtained with a Building Permit.

It is the responsibility of landowners and developers to meet all rules that apply to land development. Contact the Planning Department to see what rules apply.

Ordinance Information

McDowell County Subdivision Ordinance: Governs the division of land into two or more tracts of land.  McDowell County Lake James Protection Ordinance 1996/2003: Governs all land disturbing activity within 250 of the shoreline of Lake James. You must file a shoreline protection permit with McDowell County prior to any land disturbing activity on Lake James.

McDowell County Watershed Ordinance: Governs the development of land located within the designated Public Water Supply Watershed areas. In McDowell County these areas are Buck Creek, Mackey Creek, Clear Creek, Lake Tahoma, and portions of South Muddy Creek and Shadrack Creek Please Note: All watershed areas have a 30 foot vegetative buffer measured from the top of the creek bank back. No land disturbing activity or under brushing may occur in these areas. If you think you’re located in one of these areas contact the Planning Department.

McDowell County Zoning Ordinance: McDowell County does not have county wide zoning. However there are areas of the county that are zoned. It is the responsibility of the landowner to make sure their property is not located within one of the zoned areas of McDowell County. Call the Planning Department to check the status of your property.

McDowell County Mobile Home Park Ordinance: In McDowell County a mobile home park exists when land is leased or rented consisting of 3 mobile homes on a single tract of land that is leased or rented as part of a single business operation. All Mobile Home Parks must be approved by the Planning Board.

McDowell County Off Premise Sign Ordinance: Before any sign is erected in McDowell County contact the Planning Department to obtain a sign permit.

See below for several of the ordinances enforced by this department:


Effective Immediately 10/13/2020
Changes to the McDowell County Lake James Protection Ordinance

The McDowell County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to adopt the “unified” Lake
James Protection Ordinance. The revised ordinance combines the three previous version into
one. The revised ordinance does not change setbacks. Owners in The Arbor, Sunset Point, Bear
Cliff, Black Forest, Old Wildlife Club, 1780, Mystic Point Landing and the Peninsula still have
county required setback of 65 feet or in instances where lot slope is greater than 2:1, 75 feet.


Some developments may require a greater setback as part of their covenants and restrictions.
Adherence to those setbacks are the responsibly of the induvial lot owner

However, the revised ordinance has some significant changes. Those changes are as follows:

All plats must now denote that the property falls under the Lake James Protection
Within 50 feet of the reference line all trees 6 inches in diameter and greater are
considered protected. Only those trees that pose a threat to the home, dock, dead,
diseased, or dying may be removed with approval from the Planning Department.
Individual trees may have limbs removed only in cases where they pose a threat to the
home or dock. The Planning Department must approve removal of hazardous limbs.
Mechanical clearing shall not be used unless in conjunction with a shoreline stabilization
project. This shall include but not limited to: bush hogs, mini excavators, large
excavators, etc.
In instances where trees and vegetation are removed and considered a violation of this
ordinance, the owner will have 30 days from receipt of a violation notice to submit a
replanting timetable and have temporary sediment and erosion control measures in place.
Species and location of replacement trees must be denoted. Replacement trees must be at
least 1 ½ inches in diameter and replaced within and throughout the area where the
violation occurred.
The 50-foot vegetative buffer and the 65 or 75-foot homesite setback (depending on
development) must be surveyed in and the corners in relation to the setback staked prior
to application for a Shoreline Protection Permit.

Between 50 and 100 feet of the reference line, existing trees with a diameter of 6 inches
or greater are considered protected. Only trees that pose a hazard to the home, are dead,
diseased, or dying may be removed with approval from the Planning Department.
Footpaths for individual lots shall be 4 feet or less in width and designed in a winding
manner to prevent surface runoff and erosion. Footpaths serving common areas or
multiple lots shall be 6 feet or less in width. Materials that are considered impervious
(impenetrable materials) are not permitted for use on footpaths. These materials are as
follows but not limited to: concrete, asphalt, gravel, stone, brick, etc. Plant root systems
adjacent to the footpath shall be protected by a layer of woodchips and other organic
The minimum lot size shall be 1.5 acres. (Excluding The Arbor and Sunset Point)
The minimum lot width at the reference line shall be 150 feet. (Excluding the Arbor and
Sunset Point.)
Shoreline Protection Permits shall be filed with the Planning Department by the property
owner or his/her designated agent.
Minor Shoreline Protection Permits cover only boat dock placement and establishment of
walking paths. No land disturbance or vegetation removal is allowed.
Major Shoreline Protection Permits are required for land disturbance, construction, and
vegetation removal.
Prior to issuance of a certificate of occupancy, homeowners must present the Planning
Department with a plat showing the 50-foot buffer, the setback for the home, the footprint
of the home in relation to all setbacks and septic system on a final plat.
Existing Development: A lot which is part of a subdivision, a plat of which has been
recorded in the Office of the Register of Deeds prior to August 1, 1996, is grandfathered
from this ordinance.
Lots not subject to the Lake James Protection Ordinance are subject to the Catawba River
Buffer Rule enforced by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality. It is
the responsibility of the owner of grandfathered lots to meet the Catawba River Buffer
The McDowell County Planning Department does not enforce individual Homeowner
Association (HOA) Property Owners Association (POA) or Architectural Review
Committee (ARC) rules. Enforcement will be the responsibility of the governing board of
the development. Individual property owners are responsible for meeting the rules of
their respective HOA, POA, or ARC.


Projects that are currently in progress or have had a Start Work Letter issued within the last 12
months do not have to meet the new requirements.
However effective immediately all expired
permits or new permit requests must abide with the new rules. (Permits dated October 13,
2019 and later are considered expired and require new permitting.)


If you have any questions or concerns you can contact the Planning Department at 828-659-0858

Ronald Harmon
Deputy County Manager for Community Development



Contact Info

Ronald Harmon
Deputy Manager for Community Development
(828) 659-0858


County Services Bldg.
60 E Court St.
Marion, NC 28752