Polk candidates answer questions on Vision 20/20

Published 12:52 pm Friday, July 16, 2010

Editors Note: The Tryon Daily Bulletin in June asked the candidates running for three seats on the Polk County Board of Commissioners this coming November to answer five questions regarding their views of the recommendations in the countys Comprehensive Plan, the Vision 20/20 plan.

For several yeas now, past and current Polk County commissioners have been working on strategic planning for the county, twice conducting surveys to ask county residents what they want. Based on those survey results, this past winter, the county completed a comprehensive plan.

The current county board has now formed a committee to draft a Unified Development Ordinance (UDO). The UDO committee will be charged with compiling all of Polk Countys land use ordinances into one document. It is expected the committee will also work to incorporate new laws to achieve the goals of the Vision 20/20 plan.

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In light of this major effort just beginning, and the fact that the UDO will be under the jurisdiction of the next board, the Bulletin asked the five candidates to share their views on five key areas of the Vision 20/20 plans recommendations.

All eight candidates responded. They are: Democrats Ray Gasperson (incumbent), Margaret Johnson, and Benny Smith; Republicans David Moore, Ted Owens and Tom Pack; and Independents Tommy Melton (incumbent) and Warren Watson (incumbent).

The first question and the candidates answers are listed below. The additional four questions will appear each of the next four Fridays.

Question: Although development is stalled right now, the N.C. Office of State Planning predicts the Advantage West region population will have grown by 17% between 2000 and 2020. It is predicted that during the same period, Polk County itself will have grown 14%. To guide the future of Polk County as it grows, the Vision 20/20 planners propose strong measures. Do you support this recommended step up in Polk County governance as regards land uses? Why or why not?

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Ray Gasperson: I am committed to staying the course that was started by the prior BOC that resulted in the Vision Statement:&bsp; Polk Countys rural atmosphere and serene natural beauty will be vigorously protected. &bsp;

I believe that this course of action has consistently been reaffirmed each step of the way by unanimous votes of the Visioning Committee, Comprehensive Plan Committee, the Planning Board, prior and current Board of Commissioners. &bsp;

As a county commissioner and a member of the UDO Committee, I will at all times strive to be a visionary and pragmatic leader of our community as this document is drafted.

* * *

Margaret Johnson: The recommendations made by the 20/20 Visioning Committee were based on the desire of Polk County citizens to protect our countys beautiful, rural character and to prevent the wounds and scars of catastrophic developments, such as occurred on Chocolate Drop Mountain. I share their commitment to this vision and support their recommendations regarding land use. I do not, however, support forced zoning.

* * *

Tommy Melton: Yes, I support the Vision 20/20 recommendations (although, according to my research, 14% growth rate may be a little high.&bsp; The US Census Bureau reveals that Polk County experienced a 5.1% growth rate from July, 2000 to July, 2009, a&bsp; dramatic slowdown compared to the 1990s). &bsp;

As one of the 22 Polk County Visioning Committee members formed in May, 2007, I discovered that the majority of citizens who participated in the Vision 20/20 survey had a desire to vigorously protect Polk Countys rural atmosphere and serene natural beauty.&bsp; I voted to approve the Vision 20/20 Plan, the Comprehensive Land Use Plan, and I recently voted to approve a committee to establish a Unified Development Ordinance (UDO).

* * *

David Moore: I will support it up to the point that we dont infringe on personal property rights of our citizens that have worked hard to own the land which belongs to them.

* * *

Ted Owens: I was on the Board of Commissioners when the Vision 20/20 plan was commissioned and the hiring of professionals to do the formation of information and recommend a plan.

In every survey that has been conducted and answered, the majority of the citizenry wanted to keep the rural character of the county and I agree with that fully. &bsp;

The Polk County 20/20 Vision Plan should be used as a guideline, remembering it is an instrument that will continually need to be fine tuned and up-dated, in any Polk County&bsp; governance of land uses. &bsp;

However, common sense and discretion should also be used by anyone making decisions affecting the rights of the citizens of this county. Also, one should be careful using percentages in making decisions.

Im a member of the Region C Area Agency on Aging Advisory Committee and a report from the State states that in 2008 the population of Polk County was 18,992 and their prediction is Polks population in 2029 will be 19,518. That is more like 3% not 14% or even 17%.

* * *

Tom Pack: We all want to keep Polk County rural.&bsp; I will not make a blanket statement of support as I need to see each proposed ordinance and the impact it has on private property rights.&bsp; We have to be careful as not to adversely impact private property rights as we try to protect our rural character.

* * *

Benny Smith: I think our Vision Plan Advisory Committee gave us a helpful tool to use in the development of a plan for recommending priorities and establishing a vision for our county. I believe all goals in the comprehensive plan are critical and of utmost importance. I feel the 20-20 Vision Plan fully embodies the responsibility of those in leadership roles. This vision is what we must always be cognizant of during our time of service and beyond.

* * *

Warren Watson: As part of the 2007 Board which initiated the Polk County 20/20 Vision Plan, I believe it is imperative that we follow through and implement plan recommendations.

The strong survey response and clear opinions expressed indicate a commitment by our citizens to the plan goals.&bsp; Some specific goals are County/ Municipal collaboration on planning and services, such as water resources management, ground water protection, protection and enhancement of our environment and natural resources, farmland preservation, promotion of forests and farms. &bsp;

Additionally, we can foster economic development and managed sustainable growth through a continued commitment to agriculture, viticulture, the equine industry, local access to high quality healthcare, and support and enhancement of our public school system. &bsp;

Furthermore, good land use planning will provide a balance between the protections we seek and the need for job growth in construction and light industry, along with the need to provide affordable housing opportunities for County residents.

Upcoming Questions:

Friday, July 23: The Vision 20/20 plan recommends that a high percentage of the county be divided into land use sectors, about 65% of which would be included in the conservation and greenspace sectors, where development would be severely limited. Do you support this concept? Would you vote for specific ordinances that would provide a path to the establishment of these land use sectors?

Friday, July 30:&bsp; The Vision 20/20 plan calls for a revision of county ordinances to tighten regulations regarding subdivisions, making their approval in the future contingent upon a review of their impacts on water resources, traffic, consistency with the proposed land use sectors, and to encourage cluster development. The planners also recommend requiring developers to extend water lines to their developments, and to build a subdivisions interior roads such that they serve lots abutting primary roads. Would you support such ordinance changes?

Friday, August 6: The Vision 20/20 planners recommend tightening county regulations regarding commercial development, requiring impact statements prior to approval, discouraging strip development, requiring green buffers between commercial centers and roadways, and guiding such development to designated commercial nodes. Would you support such ordinance changes?

Friday, August 13: Vision 20/20 planners forecast a serious shortage of affordable housing. &bsp;Strategies outlined in the Vision 20/20 plan to correct this shortage include creating zoning districts specifically for lower cost housing, providing density bonuses to developers. What steps would you take to encourage more affordable housing in Polk County?