UDO CommitteePublished 3:36pm Wednesday, November 7, 2012
To the editor:
I have been discouraged to see the level of negativity in our national political elections. But to witness that anger, that venom, and that degree of misinformation at the recent UDO (Unified Development Ordinance) public hearing right here in Polk County was appalling.
I want to set the record straight about how this came about.
I served on the 20/20 Vision Committee, made up of individuals from all our townships and cities, with a wide range of occupations and political philosophies. Our job was to draft a comprehensive land plan that reflected what Polk citizens had said in numerous surveys that they wanted: to keep the rural character, charm, and farm land of our county, while promoting smart growth and opportunities for our young people to live and prosper. Tom Pack, a Republican, was on the committee, which selected me, and that same committee asked me to serve as chairman, which I accepted.
After a year of study and work, the 20/20 plan was unanimously passed by both the 20/20 Committee and the county commission. The county commission unanimously voted to implement this plan by drafting an ordinance, which would combine the 20/20 plan into one streamlined ordinance, the UDO. I was also asked to be on that committee. That committee also was a diverse group, representing all of the county, and it also worked very well under the leadership of its chairman, Mark Byington.
At this point politics took control of the process. The Republicans had been in control of the county commission prior to 2008, when three Democrats won seats, which created a majority of Democrats on the commission. With the general health of Polk County in good condition under Democratic leadership, the Republicans had a real problem. The Democratic majority had lowered the county debt by 40 percent and lowered the tax rate by three cents per hundred, putting Polk County in the lowest 25 percent of counties in the state of North Carolina in tax rates – despite a recession.
When you have the facts on your side you pound the facts, when you have the law on your side you pound the law, and when you have neither on your side you pound the table.
The UDO became the “table” for the Republicans, and they began to pound. A major misinformation campaign began to make the UDO something that it wasn’t. And the crowd in the recent public hearing bought into the negative narrative that the UDO was evil, and that it was all the fault of the three Democrats.
There were those who thought the UDO did things that it simply did not, like dictating the color of your house. There were those who thought that the UDO forced zoning on Coopers Gap and White Oak. It does not. There were those who referred to the anti- business nature of the UDO, when, in fact, the UDO increases home occupation business use much more than the existing ordinance.
Several hundred people who did not participate in a countywide survey, which was mailed to every county citizen, who ignored countless notices and articles in the Tryon Daily Bulletin (some on the front page), who did not come to the many county commission meetings, then showed up at the final hearing to torpedo a process that had been proceeding, in a democratic manner, for years.
This was a stark reminder of what is wrong with the political system in this country. And it happened right here in Polk County.
The UDO is the result of a long and very public process to give the county what its people said they wanted. It is certainly not perfect, and could be made better, but to frame it as a document which takes away our liberty and pursuit of happiness is distortion at best and politics at its worst.
– Jim Carson, Saluda, former Chairman, 20/20 Vision Committee