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Preserving Polk as affordable, rural county priority for Saluda residents

If it is willing to write them, then Polk County should be willing to defend its strict, growth-limiting ordinances, Betsy Burdett told county officials last Thursday.

Speaking at the Saluda session of the Polk County Vision Committee&squo;s six community meetings, Burdett urged the county to spend whatever is necessary to defend its seven-acre minimum subdivision ordinance against a lawsuit brought by Ricks Mountain LLC.

Ricks Mountain, a 319-lot development on 1,275 acres on the western slopes of Tryon Peak in the Saluda Township, contends that Polk failed to advertise its new ordinance properly.

The county, Ricks says, was legally required to and did not advertise that it was changing a provision in its ordinance which would have given Ricks Mountain permission to go forward under the old rules.

The developers thus are not challenging the seven-acre ordinance on its legal merits as much as on a technicality.

Nonetheless, if the people have stated they want the preservationist ordinance on the books, and the commissioners are working for preservation, Burdett said, &dquo;then as a taxpayer, I want my money spent to fight that lawsuit. Put your money where your mouth is.&dquo;

&bsp;Burdett was one of about 20 citizens who attended the meeting designed by the vision committee to gather input as the county works to craft a comprehensive plan. The meeting was moderated by Ernie Williams, Saluda city administrator.

The nearly unanimous wish expressed by those attending Thursday was to preserve the rural, quiet nature of Polk County against development and growth. But the rising cost of living in Polk County also was a concern.

Sonny Pace said he worried that the seven-acre minimum lot size would actually increase the number of people wanting to come to Polk County, and would &dquo;fix it so our kids will not be able to live here.&dquo;

Pace said it was often more the case that landowners are selling out Polk County than big developers.

&dquo;It&squo;s affordable housing that we&squo;re talking about,&dquo; Burdett said. &dquo;It&squo;s not the seven acres.&dquo;

But Pace said the seven-acre minimums were likely to run up the price of one-acre lots as well.

Polk County commissioners Ted Owens and Harry Denton, both in attendance, joined in the discussion at this point.

Owens said it was his hope that the vision committee would help formulate a comprehensive plan that would show county leaders where residents and landowners in Polk County would accept more density for less expensive housing.

&dquo;The major point of the seven acres was to get to where big subdivision developers couldn&squo;t afford to come in and buy and break it up like that,&dquo; Owens said. &dquo;The two-acre minimums (previously in place) didn&squo;t seem to stop anything.&dquo;

But Owens said the ordinance was &dquo;not meant to hurt anyone&dquo; since it only affected major subdivisions. Minor subdivisions, those with eight and fewer lots, would still be able to create lots smaller than seven acres, and can still be divided down even to one-acre lots if public water is available.

Denton said commissioners were responding to citizen wishes with seven-acre minimums, &dquo;But now we can&squo;t afford one acre.&dquo;

Tom DeKay asked whether the county could &dquo;tie afford-ability to the major subdivision ordinance.&dquo;

County planner Cathy Ruth said that would be considered as part of the county&squo;s comprehensive plan. She said the vision committee report should be completed in June and that it is expected to take another six to 12 months to complete a comprehensive plan.

Bill Wilkerson said the county had gone through the &dquo;same process&dquo; of visioning twice in the 1990s, and subsequently, each time, &dquo;nothing ever happened.&dquo;&dquo;Don&squo;t let it die this time,&dquo; Ruth said. &dquo;Push for it.&dquo;

Commissioner Owens said the county board had already budgeted to move forward. &dquo;We&squo;re ready to go,&dquo; he said.

In addition to growth and development, the Saluda citizens expressed a desire for a greener community.

Beth Carson asked if the county could do anything to address the noise level and safety of travel on I-26 as its traffic count continues rising.

Carson also suggested that the county buildings &dquo;go green.&dquo;

Cindy Walker said she thinks the county schools need a budget line item to pay for recycling.

Burdett asked if a transfer station might be built nearer Saluda so folks from the community didn&squo;t have to drive so far to the county landfill, offsetting any environmental gains made by recycling with increased usage of gasoline.

&dquo;I think we need to be mindful of the generations yet to come,&dquo; said Shelley DeKay. &dquo;We have been nearsighted in preserving our resources.&dquo;

&bsp;Thursday&squo;s meeting in Saluda was one of six meetings, one for each township, organized by the vision committee. In addition to Saluda, meetings have already been held in Columbus, Tryon and Green Creek. The final two meetings are scheduled Thursday, April 10 at 7 p.m. for White Oak Township at Polk County Middle School and Friday, April 11 for Coopers Gap Township at Sunny View School.