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Need for zoning cited at White Oak vision meeting

Preserving farmland, limiting density, providing affordable housing and a place for Polk County&squo;s children to come home to topped the list of visions of White Oak Township residents last week.

The fifth of Polk County&squo;s Visioning Committee meetings&bsp; was held last Thursday for White Oak Township. About 40 people attended the meeting at Polk County Middle School with Ernie Giannini serving as moderator.

&bsp;The first speaker said she was concerned about children not having a place to come back to, managing growth to protect streams and slopes and preserving farmland. She asked if Polk County really wants to be the premier place for an older population and if the children are going to come back if there&squo;s nothing to come back to.

&dquo;Our vision must be towards the future,&dquo; she said. &dquo;I&squo;m absolutely sure decisions won&squo;t be hard if we keep that in mind.&dquo;

Another concern was that there is currently not enough land nor designated areas for affordable housing.

One man said he picks up sizeable amounts of trash between Mill Spring and the county transfer station and something should be done to clean up the county.

Bill Smith and others spoke of the need for commissioners to have the &dquo;guts to stand behind the (comprehensive) plan&dquo; and enact regulations, such as zoning, to achieve what people want. Smith said he calls Polk&squo;s current multiple use zoning a form of &dquo;stew pot&dquo; zoning because it permits practically anything.

Smith said he believes Polk&squo;s zoning is useless and, if zoning is too political, commissioners should put zoning on each township&squo;s ballot. Smith said he is in favor of development rights, Polk&squo;s current 7-acre minimum on major subdivisions and using land transfer tax revenue to preserve farmland.

Some people also said they would like to see Polk&squo;s former transfer station (adjacent to the current transfer station) converted to a park because of the beautiful views there.

County officials who attended the meeting said they agree the location is one of the best in the county, but there are regulations on former landfills and no structures could be built. Officials also reminded residents of walking trails at the county recreation complex near the middle school and the county&squo;s current plans to purchase Alexander&squo;s Ford for a future park.

Herman Walker noted that people can&squo;t afford to keep large tracts of land to farm. He said it&squo;s difficult to make a living farming and until that issue is addressed economics will continue to drive the county&squo;s growth.

There were fewer speakers at the White Oak visioning meeting compared to some previous meetings in other townships. That was partly because Joe Epley of the visioning committee said the purpose of the meeting was to hear from White Oak Township residents. Some of the same people have been attending each of the meetings.

The county&squo;s last visioning meeting was held last Friday for the Coopers Gap Township. The visioning committee plans to use comments gathered at the meetings, as well as the results of a survey mailed to all residences last fall, as it develops a report. The committee is expected to issue its report to commissioners sometime in June.

Polk County Manager Ryan Whitson attended Thursday&squo;s meeting. He was asked what county commissioners are doing to preserve farmland, and informed residents that the county has in next year&squo;s budget $250,000 for farmland preservation. He added that the county also has&bsp; $50,000 budgeted to complete a comprehensive land use plan.