Comments on UDO ‘Steep Slopes’Published 6:01pm Monday, August 13, 2012
To the Editor:
At the planning board meeting last night, Aug. 9, I was in the minority, voting against a “slope of 25 percent or greater” as being the threshold that would trigger the requirements of Article 24, “Steep Slopes,” of the proposed Unified Development Ordinance (UDO). Article 24 is intended to replace the current Mountainside and Ridgetop Protection Ordinance, if and when the UDO is enacted by the Polk County Board of Commissioners.
Although I advocated a slope threshold slope of 40 percent or more, I fully expected that inevitable comprise would reduce it to a lower number, and would have agreed to 30 percent. I won’t go into all my reasons for being in favor of a higher slope threshold, but as a building contractor they were based on empirical data. To my disappointment, no compromise resulted; myself and two other planning board members were out-voted, 4 to 3.
The UDO process has been one in which all the existing county ordinances dealing with land are being housed under a single ordinance and thereby become separate articles rather than separate ordinances. During this process, some of the existing ordinances have been transferred with little change while others have received major changes; the Mountaintop and Ridgeline Protection Ordinance being one of the latter.
I bear no ill will to the majority who voted in favor of the 25 percent slope threshold; they, like me, are entitled to their opinions and beliefs. I think it came down more to our individual philosophies about the function of government rather than issues of potential slope failure, erosion, ground water recharge and the like.
I’m a “less is more” kind of guy when it comes to the function of government. Government is expensive and the more of it we have the less we keep in terms of our freedoms and income; this is fundamental. I also feel that in most situations people are responsible and do the right thing; and, that “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” Which leads me to some comments regarding proposed Article 24, “Steep Slopes.”
Several years ago, when serving my second term on the planning board, we were instructed by the commissioners to come up with some language to protect our mountainsides and ridge tops. At the time I assumed this language would be added to the existing subdivision ordinance. However, at the very next planning board meeting, copies of three proposed ordinances, drafted by a Polk County resident not serving on the planning board, appeared on the table before us. Two of these proposed ordinances dealt with mountainside (slope) protection, one version for the zoned part of the county and another for the un-zoned. The third proposed ordinance dealt with ridgetop protection in the zoned parts of the county. We moved forward with these proposed ordinances as if they were our own; they were not.
I felt they were too restrictive and probably overkill. One of the primary concerns of the ordinances was slope failure (landslide); however, to my knowledge there has never been property damage, personal injury or loss of life due to slope failure in Polk County. There are existing laws and systems in place that afford protections from potential property damage due to slope failure. Our building official has the authority when he feels it is warranted to require an engineer’s involvement on any building project. Building contractors are professionals, experienced in dealing with slope issues, and very protective of their reputations; one poorly conceived project could ruin them. Homeowners, by nature, are concerned about the quality and safety of their homes, and typically employ the services of an architect or engineer when slope issues exist.
Several of us on the planning board at the time were able to reduce some of the requirements of these proposed ordinances. We voted in favor of the ordinances in the end, fearing that if we didn’t, being in the minority, we might fail to receive the concessions that were approved. These proposed ordinances would ultimately become our current Mountainside and Ridgetop Protection Ordinance, now proposed to be replaced by UDO Article 24, “Steep Slopes.”
I too care about our beautiful mountains and ridge tops, no doubt Polk County’s greatest natural resources. However, proposed Article 24, “Steep Slopes,” in its current form is overkill. It will require all development activity, including home construction, on slopes of 25 percent or more to be engineered, and that the exteriors of all “buildings” be constructed of fire-retardant materials; adding a minimum of $2,500 to the cost of building a home. I don’t know what the additional cost of government has been, will be and will continue to be for the implementation, oversight and enforcement of UDO Article 24, “Steep Slopes.”
– Bill Ennis, Mill Spring