White Oak development moves forward with county approval

Published 8:11pm Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Public hearings

Twenty-six people signed up for citizen comments during the first public hearing regarding the county’s consideration of the equestrian district.

Pete Mahler, a Polk County resident since 1947, questioned how many of the commissioners had visited Wellington, Fla. where Tryon Equestrian Properties developers Mark Bellissimo, along with partner Roger Smith, created the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center.

None of the commissioners raised their hands in response. Instead, commissioner Ted Owens noted later in the meeting that county planner Cathy Ruth had in fact visited the area as the commission’s “spy to see what was going on.”

Mahler commented, as did several others, that he felt the project was moving along too quickly.

“Let’s not get in a hurry to promote this and approve this ordinance; let’s take an awful long look at this. The commissioners have not seen what these people have done and they are shooting from the hip. I think this is very, very bad,” he said.

Nancy Wilson said she came to speak as a mother and former teacher. She said the project excited her because she saw opportunity for Polk County to grow without the rural feeling being drastically changed.

“I think this is truly a unique opportunity to grow here. We can have jobs, increase visitors and tourism, our local businesses will benefit, our children will benefit,” Wilson said. “Everything about this area can stay unique, can stay strong and the equestrian heritage that is so unique to this area can be enhanced. I understand the concerns but I cannot help but believe the great balance this project can offer all of us is clearly the right opportunity for Polk County and its future.”

Others brought up concerns over property values and taxes increasing.

Jason Craig said he moved to Polk County with hopes of building a future for his family, but he said he’s concerned the potential for skyrocketing property values would prevent him from doing so.

“When you consolidate land you are raising the value of the land, which is fine if you want to cash out and leave, but I am going to be here in 33 years with my children. The land prices will rise and what that means is land will no longer be affordable for young farmers like myself,” Craig said. “If the value of the land goes up that means we will not have farmers anymore and the essential character of the rural community will be gone. I as a young farmer am somewhat alarmed unless land and markets remain available for young farmers like me.”

Anita Williamson said instead of preventing young families from moving to Polk County, she feels the project would allow the youth she loves to stay in or return to Polk County when they are ready to raise their own families.

“I’d like to see children I love have a future in Polk County,” said Williamson. “This is the finest thing I’ve seen come along in my experience here. It has all kinds of outward ripple affects, in a positive fashion, that might give my grandchildren and other children a living wage and an opportunity to stay instead of having to go elsewhere.”

A handful of people who said they felt weary of the project initially came forward to speak in support of it Monday night.

Jason Head, who lives in Spartanburg but was one of the first to purchase property in the White Oak development, said after months of research and attending planning board meetings, he’s in support of the project.

“At some point we have to have change; change has to come,” Head said. “There is a way this can be done and it not affect everybody in a negative way. It can be a positive impact on everybody. I truly believe the developer is putting a package together and the package will be the best for everybody.”

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