Polk candidates respond to Hunting Country questions

Published 4:46 pm Thursday, October 9, 2008

Are you in favor of a county-wide water distribution system and if so, why?

Tom Pack (R): Yes, I&squo;m in favor of a county-wide water distribution system, but we have to be careful how we approach this. We have to make sure we&squo;re serving the current residents in need and not trying to serve new developments. And that&squo;s going to be a major balancing act for the board of commissioners to make sure it&squo;s put in areas that&squo;s really needed and wanted by the citizens and not just to establish more growth.

Cindy Walker (D): I support a county-wide water system also. I would really like to see a strategic water plan; something that&squo;s actually on a piece of paper that I could look at so we could understand exactly what&squo;s going on with it and that&squo;s what we will base our decisions on and measure our success. So, I hear what Tom&squo;s saying and I agree there are people in need and they need it, but we also need a plan by which we&squo;re getting from A to B.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Ted Owens (R): Yes, I certainly do support county-wide water. Lake Adger is a great asset to us. Luckily we&squo;ve gotten it. We do have many people in need and we do have plans to provide those needs and we also have plans to lay the lines where they need to go. We will have a system and the next board will have to look at that. But we do have an outlay. We had an engineer a couple of years ago who was asked to give us a layout. So we do have it already in the works; we just need to carry through on it. But we do need to provide for those people whose wells are running dry and we need to provide that to them.

Ren´e McDermott (D): I&squo;m in favor of a water distribution system in Polk County for those who want it and need it. That may or may not be a county wide system, at least in the relatively short term. I&squo;m in favor of a county-wide strategic water plan which would consider the needs of the people and coordinate with the comprehensive land use plan that is now getting under way.

The commissioners who are candidates have distributed flyers saying they will set aside money yearly to expand lines to citizens desiring county water. I&squo;m (hoping) all the commissioners will do that; and all the candidates will. But the budget process for this year took place just a short while ago. Was there any money set aside for that purpose in this budget year? No. Was that money set aside for that purpose with anyone thinking ahead just even a few months to today? Apparently not.

The issue of water line extensions was well known at the last budget time, but the incumbents didn&squo;t plan them. The taxpayers need to assure that their tax dollars and water are being allocated fairly and above the board, not based on promises made outside the meeting. Once again, Polk County is getting the cart before the horse. Making promises before making a plan. It&squo;s the same old thing all over again. Ready. Fire. Aim. (Failing) to plan ahead, quick get it done, we have to get going on this before the election. When is the prioritization of water line construction going to be made? It hasn&squo;t been made yet and we&squo;re already planning where water lines will be laid. Ad hoc. Seat of the pants. It&squo;s essential that the strategic water plan be adopted promptly along with comprehensive water distribution policy to take the politics out and be fair to all Polk County citizens.

David Moore (R): Yes, I do support a county-wide water system. It would give each citizen in the county an opportunity to hook on to that system if they so desire to. They will not be forced to do so. (We&squo;ve got situations in the county now) and our acting commissioners did act on that Monday night to take care of those citizens. And I think as a board that&squo;s what we&squo;re here for to take care of the citizens of this county.

Ray Gasperon (D): I too am in favor of a county-wide water system. I think the time of those who had great fear that a water system might spur a lot of development, I think we&squo;re past that because of the droughts that we&squo;ve had for the past few years and now a large number of people are starting to have water problems with their wells. I think we are in a very unique period. Unfortunately it&squo;s difficult for those in the housing and building trades and the realtors with the downturn of the economy. However, we have this period of time that through proper land use planning and unified development ordinances we can put in place the necessary ordinances to help control growth while these water lines are planned. We need to get the strategic water plan in place so we have the right plan and so that those citizens that need and wish to hook into it can do so. Another thing a county-wide water distribution system will do is put fire hydrants around the county, too. Even those who do not hook on to it that would certainly prove to be a great thing in terms of fire protection.

Would you support zoning the unzoned areas of the county?

Cindy Walker (R): I think it&squo;s not time to think about that yet. I think what we need to do is get that comprehensive plan going; we need to get a good company in here that&squo;s going to be able to prepare that plan specifically for Polk County. And they&squo;re going to work with the visioning committee, the oversight committee of the residents from different parts of the county, and that&squo;s going to let the voices be heard from all the different townships to work with the comprehensive planner to get to the point where we understand what is needed and wanted everywhere. Then we start putting it into the ordinances that says this will be where this is and that is. And so once we get there; if that seems to be the best way to go is that we have to do zoning, I feel confident that we can&ellip; we&squo;re all in the same boat here. We&squo;re all on the same page. Everybody wants to protect Polk County. And so I think that if we get to that point where we need to have those kind of discussions, if we go with respect and share information and put our heads together I&squo;ll bet that we can figure out ways for our friends and neighbors to do what needs to be done to protect this community.

Ted Owens (R): The board before us wanted to zone two of the unzoned areas and one of the things I told them was we need to educate those people of what zoning&squo;s about and what it would affect and how it would affect them and we didn&squo;t do that. Matter of fact (we talked them up) and started in one direction and changed and they lost the trust in us. So we need to build up trust in those unzoned areas. And like Cindy said, and I have to agree with her, they all just want the same thing whether we grew up here or we live here. So we&squo;ve got to convince the people that&squo;s unzoned that it&squo;s good for them. You can&squo;t just&ellip; most people want and you and I too want to do what we want to do with our land, but we don&squo;t need to encroach on our neighbors. And I just think it&squo;s an educational thing and I think we&squo;ve got a lot of people over there that would accept the thing if they were educated and if we went at it the right way. And don&squo;t go out with a shotgun because they&squo;re going to come back at you with another shotgun. So we need to educate those people and zoning is a good thing when it&squo;s used right. I would like to make this point and I know we&squo;ve got a realtor in the audience tonight ‐ a good friend of mine. But I&squo;ve never heard a development person tell me they didn&squo;t want zoning. Matter of fact they tell me they want it, so it&squo;s not going to discourage developers from going in an area and we need to recognize that, but the point is we need to educate those areas that are not zoned.

Ren´e McDermott (D): The unzoned areas of the county are White Oak Township and Coopers Gap Township. They should have the same opportunity to be zoned as the other townships, but zoning should not be forced on them. As we&squo;ve recently seen with the AR5 zoning in the Collinsville area and with RE5 here in Hunting Country, groups of citizens can organize and successfully ask for zoning. One of the beauties of area zoning like that is that groups of citizens can come together and design the kind of zoning that will be best in their own area. For instance, some residents were concerned about putting MU (multiple use) zoning in Coopers Gap because it could limit the amount of commercial or business development in their area and might make existing businesses non-conforming uses especially along 9. This doesn&squo;t have to happen when the residents of an area can design their own zoning; like Hunting Country did itself. Another method that can be used is to have a referendum in each of the unzoned townships, maybe with a menu of zoning options from which to choose, including &dquo;none of the above.&dquo; Haven&squo;t all of us wanted to see &dquo;none of the above&dquo; on the ballot from time to time? But as much as I think Polk County needs land use regulations to protect from sprawl&bsp; and undesirable, runaway developments, I don&squo;t think we should force zoning on the currently unzoned communities.

David Moore (R): This is an easy one for me because I live in the Coopers Gap Township. I&squo;m like Ted as well; we need to educate our citizens in those two townships. And the only way I&squo;d support zoning is if they came to us and said we want it or we need it. The majority. I (don&squo;t think) we should force something on our citizens that they don&squo;t want or deserve.

Ray Gasperson (D): I said earlier I come from a long line of very independent mountaineers and zoning was one of the worst things you could talk about. Living out in Green Creek community now I have to tell you, I&squo;m glad we live in an area that at least has multiple use zoning. And I can see all the reasons for it, but I would never force zoning on Coopers Gap and White Oak areas. I feel like some of the others have said, there needs to be citizen education, gatherings, groups to talk about this if there is a number who wishes to pursue that course. And I would only vote for it in a case that there was a referendum and it was a very clear majority, not just a (small) majority, but more like a 60 percent approval rating. In other words there would be a fairly strong mandate and I hope through an educational process that this will happen in the future. It may not happen in the next year or two but hopefully within the near future.

Tom Pack (R): My views on zoning are like the others&39; ‐ you can&squo;t force it on anybody, it needs to be community based. It needs to come from the bottom up. It doesn&squo;t need to be forced on anyone. It worked well (here). Hunting Country years ago came to the board of commissioners and said what they wanted; that&squo;s what they got and the majority wanted it. Collinsville has done that and that&squo;s the way it works. The community has to get together and decide what they want, what they don&squo;t want in their community and then let the commissioners know.

What current controls does the county have over the erosion problem and how do we increase controls of the problem in the future?

Ted Owens (R): Our current control is handled through our inspection department and they have to (hand) that to DENR. DENR of course covers a lot of territory, but at the same token, DENR has a lot of power and authority that local control does not have. For example, I&squo;ve been told that they are the only ones that can shut down an entire development. So as you&squo;ve probably heard if any of you have been to the commissioners meetings there is some plan to try to get the DENR office in Polk County. I think that will enhance our erosion control situation if we can accomplish that. And I would work toward that.

Ren´e McDermott (D): Polk County has little control over erosion at this time. We could have had more control. Prior to 2004, that board&bsp; of commissoners adopted an erosion control ordinance. They recognized that there was a significant erosion problem, like pretty much everybody here does. But when commissioners Owens and Pack took office that December, one of their very first acts was to repeal that erosion ordinance. They assumed it wouldn&squo;t be enforced and they said it shouldn&squo;t even be on the books. (At the time I opposed that position) urging that the ordinance be enforced. But I argued further. I had read that when an ordinance is on the books, at least 90 percent of people will voluntarily follow it. I thought that even voluntary compliance especially at 90 percent would be better than no compliance whatsoever and nothing on the books. But that&squo;s no longer here. (There&39;s) an urgent need for a comprehensive steep slope and ridgetop protection ordinance. After having heard commissioners talk about over the years without taking significant action, I drafted such an ordinance and submitted it to the commissioners myself. It&squo;s now supposed to be considered by a sub-committee on the planning board, but with no deadline for reporting back to the commissioners. Not too long ago the planning board did adopt an ordinance that claimed to protect slopes, but didn&squo;t kick in until 50 percent slopes were reached. That&squo;s awfully steep. And there needs to be more protection for Polk County than just that. At least one of the town&squo;s planning boards have raised the possibility of all three towns and the county joining together to adopt the same erosion control ordinance and jointly paying the costs of an enforcement officer. That&squo;s worth looking into. Another possibility is hiring a state employee as a contract officer to help with erosion control in the county.

David Moore (R): The building inspection department is overseeing this and they determine, before a permit is issued, if there is a problem they will contact DENR at that time. And attending the board of commissioners meetings the last few months, I know Mr. Pack requested for a DENR official to be placed in Polk County and they got a report Monday night that&squo;s still being worked on and looked at and that&39;s happening in the very near future.

Ray Gasperson (D): It&squo;s really unfortunate when it takes something like what happened on Chocolate Drop to really get everybody talking about this issue. It has nothing to do with the board of commissioners; that was in the Columbus town limits. However, every day I drive by I just, again, your eyes can&squo;t help but go to it. Obviously, we need to have proper erosion controls and ridgetop controls. And we&squo;re making this movement with a DENR officer who can be connected directly to Polk County; that&squo;s one of the best things that can happen.

Tom Pack (R): As it&squo;s been stated before we have little control other than the building department looking to see if a DENR permit is required. If so, they will not issue a building permit until that permit with DENR is issued. And I brought up, and it&squo;s in the process now of trying to get a DENR official stationed in Polk County. I think that&squo;s the best route. The route of the county having their own&bsp; erosion control ordinance, the problem is once you do that, DENR will wash their hands of Polk County. They will not come in and help you. You are own your own. You lose all their expertise. You&squo;re down to whatever staff you can afford to hire. But if you bring in somebody from DENR and we&squo;re looking at this, it&squo;s legal to do, DENR is to come back with a contract to tell us ‐ (the contract) has to be for at least two years ‐ what the costs will be. Approximately $70-$80,000 is the figure that&squo;s going around. And that&squo;s fairly inexpensive for all the expertise you get, plus all the support you get from DENR from the state. They have engineers, expertise. If there is a problem they can come and help.&bsp; And also we have the power of the state. Like commissioner Owens said, they can shut things down and I think that&squo;s our best option.

Cindy Walker (D): I think this local land agent will be good. It&squo;s unfortunate that it took 4,200 acres, 1,600 lots and 54 subdivisions, three and a half years to get here. But I&squo;m proud we&squo;re here. If it works it will be a model for the state that there is a contract with agents here. And from what I understand they will still have an office in Asheville and in Polk County and that way they have the resources up in Asheville to use the computers and talk to the engineers, so I&squo;m real excited about it. But if it doesn&squo;t work, we had a sedimentation and erosion control ordinance that was very good and very strong. And I talked to Greg Hauser, who is the head of the sedimentation, the local group and he said he helped work on that and it was a really strong ordinance. If this other thing doesn&squo;t work out, it would only take about three months to tweak that a little bit and get it back in there and then there&squo;s even grant money available to fund a position for someone to come in and monitor that. And we don&squo;t have all the things that the state&ellip; we don&squo;t have all the engineers and all that, but it would be something local and in place and there&squo;s educational opportunities for them. There&squo;s lots of options and I&squo;m really excited that we&squo;re talking