Polk rescinds mountain and ridgeline protection ordinance

Published 4:53pm Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Board does not replace with steep slope ordinance

Polk County no longer has an ordinance regulating building on its mountains and ridgelines.

Instead, the county plans to come up with a new procedure for the building inspector to inspect a potential building site prior to receiving a building permit. This site visit would be set up to allow the building inspector to determine whether or not an engineer is needed on a case by case basis.

The Polk County Board of Commissioners met Monday, Jan. 7 and rescinded its mountainside and ridgeline protection ordinance (MRPO) following a public hearing. The county planning board recommended replacing the MRPO with a newly drafted steep slope ordinance but the majority of commissioners agreed instead to send a recommendation back to the planning board to have the building inspector make the call.

The motion to rescind the MRPO and send new direction to the planning board was approved by commissioner chair Michael Gage, vice-chair Ted Owens and commissioners Keith Holbert and Tom Pack. Commissioner Ray Gasperson voted against the motion.

Pack made the suggestion to work language into the building inspector’s procedures.

Pack said he wants to look at simplifying the procedure rather than go with the proposed steep slope ordinance. He said the building inspector can make a site visit and determine what’s needed for that specific site.

“It will save the homeowner or builder monies before they actually dig the foundation,” said Pack.

Pack said the building inspector will just be doing his job by going out to the site one step earlier. The building inspector currently performs his first inspection prior to the footings. The new procedure would require the first inspection to be made prior to a building permit being approved. At that time the building inspector would determine if the site needs an engineer because of possible issues such as a steep slope.

The meeting was standing room only with all speakers during the public hearing speaking in favor of the county approving the planning board’s recommendation.

Columbus resident David Weiss said he supports a steep slope ordinance. He also suggested that the county implement an educational course for the public that shows what could happen if someone doesn’t build on correct slopes.

“The costs of (an educational program) would be a lot less than trying to undo problems that occur with improper development,” said Weiss.

Weiss also suggested that the county hire its own sedimentation and erosion specialist in the future when building picks up.

White Oak Township resident Ruby Drew said she was a victim of a lack of a slope ordinance while living in Asheville years ago. She said there was a building put on the slope above her and after a hard rain she woke up to 8 to 10 inches of mud.

“Only after that happened were protections put in place,” she said.

Drew asked commissioners to consider something that is proactive rather than post active and asked that the issue remain nonpartisan.

Saluda residents Bill Wilkerson and Fred Baisden both asked that the MRPO be rescinded and replaced.

Many Saluda residents expressed concerns over elevation being the trigger for environmental testing under the MRPO. Restrictions applied at 1,650 ft. elevations and above, including no commercial development allowed. The entire Saluda Township is 1,650 ft. and above.

“Everyone is concerned with preventing erosion and landslides,” Wilkerson said. “It’s the way we prevent it is the issue. We need to eliminate the elevation.”

Wilkerson said more restrictions shouldn’t be imposed on people in higher elevations than residents in lower elevations.

Baisden said if he’s not mistaken, the 2009 approved MRPO is still in effect. He asked for commissioners to rescind the MRPO and replace it with something with slopes that is equal throughout the entire county.

Chris Price said every day he sees the “absolute stupidity of what was done to Chocolate Drop (mountain).”

He said the development of Chocolate Drop was a pointless destruction for a quick profit.

“I do believe a person has the right to do what they see fit on their own property,” Price said. “However, that doesn’t give me the right to trash with mud the property of somebody else.”

Price urged commissioners to keep a slope ordinance in place.

Tryon resident and former Polk County Commissioner Renée McDermott said she wants the county to preserve the MRPO. She said the ordinance was adopted after years of study and was carefully crafted to apply to Polk County.

“It would be much easier to amend MRPO than replace it,” said McDermott.

She also urged commissioners to adopt the steep slope ordinance if they rescinded the MRPO.

The proposed steep slope ordinance was unanimously recommended by the planning board. It included no elevation triggers and changed a previous slope trigger of 25 percent to 30 percent where an engineer would have been required.

Gasperson said over the past year he thinks he’s made it very clear his concerns with the MRPO. He said the planning board has held many meetings and did extensive research and he thinks they did an excellent job addressing concerns, especially concerns from Saluda Township residents.

“This is an ordinance that will give protections without being overly restrictive,” Gasperson said.

Gasperson also told other commissioners he could not rescind the MRPO if the county was not going to replace it.

The planning board meets this Thursday, Jan. 10 at 5 p.m. at the Womack building.




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