County board receives ovation for passing ’20/20′ plan

Published 3:51 pm Wednesday, March 17, 2010

It was a sight citizen watchdogs rarely see.
The Polk County Board of Commissioners got a standing ovation Monday night after officially approving a new comprehensive land use plan, titled the county’s “20/20 Vision.”
Among other things, the plan calls for limits to development in “green space” sectors of Polk County, and on steep mountainsides in the county.
The commissioners meeting room was packed with residents supporting the plan, many of whom pointed out that the recommendations it contains reflect citizens’ stated hopes given in over 2,500 returned survey questionnaires.
A survey was sent to 12,100 residences in 2007, when the planning process began, and 21 percent of those were filled out and returned, an unusually high return rate.
“This may be the boards best, last chance to do what Polk County residents have asked for,” said Pat Salomon.
Susan Speight said Monday was an historic night for Polk County. She told commissioners her passion is children, but when she looked at Chocolate Drop Mountain after it was cleared, she got a new passion.
“I have never lived anywhere where people loved their community more than people in Polk County,” Speight said. “You must protect our land. Im sorry for the builders; I want them to make money, but not at the expense of our land.”
Bill Smith urged commissioners to adopt the committees version of the plan. He said the county is not an employment agency and should not be concerned with providing jobs for developers.
The Polk County Planning Board recommended some changes to the 20/20 Vision committee’s draft, but commissioners went against two of the recommendations. One recommendation was to add five percent of slope to the plans adjusted suitability analysis for “least suitability, low suitability, moderate suitability and high suitability” development areas.
For example, the planning board recommended that least suitability be areas over 35 percent slope, but the board of commissioners decided that least suitability should be anything over 30 percent.
Jim Carson, the visioning committee chairman, said the committees intention was to limit development in the green space sector and to limit all development. He said he thinks about slope when driving down the Saluda grade, which is seven percent slope.
“If thats a seven percent slope, then five percent is pretty steep too,” Carson said. “We want to prevent over development on steep slopes.”
Another planning board recommendation was to add a sentence to the 20/20 plan’s green space sector section stating that major subdivisions are allowed in the green space sector, as a “conditional use.” Commissioners said that statement was contradictory to the green space intent, which states, “development in this sector should be kept to a minimum and should only be permitted under limited conditions.”
Commissioner Rene McDermott said shes been lobbying for the plan since she moved to Polk County and is pleased to see it approved.
McDermott said that there are 50,000 acres in Polk County open to considerable development, not counting the 6,000 subdivided lots which are already approved or are in the approval process.
“The green space sector is the heart and soul of the rural character of this county,” said McDermott
Commissioner Tommy Melton said hes been waiting eight years to have a comprehensive plan.
“The citizens of Polk County said to take control of Polk County and protect us,” Melton said.
Commission Vice-Chair Ray Gasperson said the plan is like a recipe book for the future of Polk County.
“We have an excellent document here,” said Gasperson. “Its not going to gather dust I assure you.”
A comprehensive plan is a guide that sets goals and objectives for all aspects of the county. The plan is not enforceable itself, but is used as a guide to create land use regulations and capital improvement plans for the county. Commissioners say the real work has not yet begun, as new ordinances to follow the plan will need to be implemented.
The plan can be viewed on the countys website at
The comprehensive plan process began in 2007 and a volunteer committee of 22 residents met regularly to draft the plan. The county spent about $100,000 in hiring Dale Holland Consultants to help with the plan.
Commissioners held an “open house” to take questions and provide answers about the 20/20 plan prior to the meeting. About 45 residents attended, and 15 spoke in support of the plan. No one spoke in opposition. One submitted a letter of support.
Those speaking Monday favored the 20/20 committees original green space and steep slopes limitations on development, rather than the less stringent rules sought by the county planning board.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox