County deletes controversial sections of UDO

Published 6:12pm Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Considers rescinding MRPO
The proposed Polk County Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) will apparently be an issue for the new board of commissioners that will be elected in November, because the current board on Monday deleted some sections of the UDO and put others on hold. Further work on the document will not occur until after the November election.
During a workshop held Monday, Oct. 1 to discuss the UDO, the Polk County Board of Commissioners deleted the slopes section from the document and also took out or put on hold other controversial sections.
Commissioners scheduled another workshop for Nov. 19 to further discuss changes to the draft UDO. By that time, the election will be over, and the three open commissioner seats will have been filled. The new board will be elected on Nov. 6 and sworn into office the first meeting in December.
While commissioners seemed unanimous on their decision to delete or put some sections on hold and to go back to the land use table that is currently in effect, another decision regarding the current mountainside and ridgeline protection ordinance (MRPO) caused disagreement.
Commissioners Ted Owens and Tom Pack along with chair Ray Gasperson voted to add to the regular agenda a discussion of rescinding the current MRPO. The board subsequently voted to send the MRPO to the planning board for a recommendation on rescinding it.
Commissioner vice-chair Renée McDermott and commissioner Cindy Walker argued that according to the board of commissioners’ own rules, items added to the agenda the night of the meeting must be either emergencies or issues with time constraints.
McDermott said adding the issue of rescinding the MRPO to the agenda is a flagrant violation of the rules. She said a lot of people in the county would be interested in that and there was no notice to the public or the news media that commissioners would be discussing the issue.
“I think it’s a huge insult to our constituents that you would try to rush through something like this,” said McDermott.
Pack said sending the MRPO to the planning board will give the public plenty of notice, and there will be a public hearing before commissioners consider a vote on rescinding the ordinance after getting a recommendation from the planning board. The planning board also has 45 days to get back to commissioners, Pack said.
“We’re not asking for a vote tonight,” Pack said. “There will be a public hearing so the process will be followed.”
After the board voted to send the MRPO to the planning board to consider rescinding it, Walker expressed her disappointment.
“I’m pretty disappointed,” Walker said. “I thought everybody was here for the House of Flags.”
An audience member interrupted Walker, and she said she was talking and didn’t want to be interrupted.
“I didn’t know this was a setup,” Walker continued. “It’s truly something. It’s truly something.”
During the two-hour workshop prior to the regular meeting, chair Gasperson went through the draft UDO article by article to gain consensus on which sections to cut from the document and which to leave. The first item on the table was to completely delete Article 24, steep slopes, which would have placed restrictions on building at slopes of 25 percent or greater (as recommended by the planning board) across the whole county.
“I’ll be honest with you,” Gasperson said. “I’m of a mind that we should at this time pull that article from this draft UDO and I would like to hear how other commissioners feel about that.”
McDermott said she completely agrees.
“I think it’s overkill to apply steep slopes to the entire county,” said McDermott. “I argued and voted against it at the UDO committee meeting.”
She explained that article 24 as proposed needed to be looked at much more closely and she agrees with Pack, for instance, that the fire retardant section for homes is overkill.
Restrictions such as requiring fire retardant materials for homes were appropriate in the MRPO because that ordinance is restricted to very mountainous high elevations that put firefighters in actual danger to their lives, she said.
“But that’s not needed on the plains of Green Creek,” said McDermott. “All these concerns can be addressed by leaving the MRPO in place.”
Walker said she is fine with deleting the steep slopes section if the county leaves a place for it in the document to work on later.
McDermott and Walker said they were under the impression at the time of the workshop that the county’s MRPO would still be in place if the county deletes the steep slope section from the UDO.
“If (MRPO) doesn’t stay, Polk County will be with no protections in place,” McDermott said. That is not what Polk County wanted. I think it would be a real slap in the face to the citizens that worked on this thing, submitted all those surveys (more than 2,000), in saying they wanted these kinds of protections. If this board rescinds those it will be a really sad day for Polk County.”
The other major change was to delete the proposed land use table for zoned areas and replace it with the land use table that is currently in effect, with two additions. The additions included the uses of energy generating facilities (for solar farms) and non-motorized recreational uses, which were recent requests made to the county that were not included in the current use table.
After much discussion, commissioners decided not to include the new home occupations II section of the proposed UDO. Pack said he was in favor of including anything new that expands uses but not for constricting uses.
“If you’re going to loosen up and add just the ones that expand I’m fine with it,” Pack said. “If we’re going to make it easier for people to have businesses I’m for it. I don’t want to constrict the ones we already have. That’s what the UDO does; it adds some, it constricts some.”
Gasperson and Walker said they were in favor of the new home occupation provisions, but McDermott argued that others in the county are in favor of other provisions and the county is taking an axe to those.
Commissioners also decided to go back to current verbiage regarding guesthouses. The proposed UDO placed a time constraint of 30 days or less on visitors in guesthouses and the current ordinances don’t place a time constraint.
The sections of the UDO that included no substantial changes from current ordinances were left in the UDO.
Walker said she is okay with deleting the major sections as long as the county holds onto the work so it can be looked at later.
She said the UDO committee and other volunteers went above and beyond by taking information from the surveys and vision plan and making compromises to draft the UDO.
“It feels like we’re undoing all that,” Walker said. “The only way I can be okay with that is if we reserve the space to refer to it down the road. They did above and beyond and it was too much to take in all at one time. I just don’t want to lose everything they did.”
The Polk County Planning Board is scheduled to meet on Thursday, Oct. 11 at 5 p.m.

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