Polk candidates answer 2nd question on Vision 20/20

Published 1:46 pm Friday, July 23, 2010

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

For several years 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 second question and the candidates answers are listed below. The additional three questions and answers will appear each of the next three Fridays.

Question: 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?

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Ray Gasperson: A key recommendation of the 20/20 Vision Plan is that newly plotted major subdivisions require a conditional use permit.&bsp; This would give residents of conservation and green space sectors a voice in allowing more dense development in their communities, or rather staying rural with a more open space atmosphere. &bsp;

Currently there are already large numbers of approved, but vacant subdivision lots in these areas.&bsp; Also its important to note that representatives from the proposed green space and conservation sectors on the Comprehensive Plan Committee strongly recommended that their communities be designated Conservation and Greenspace Sectors.

I will strongly support a UDO that has this vision.

* * *

Margaret Johnson: Using land use sectors to protect the rural nature of our county is a very good concept that fits the vision our citizens have for our county.

The conservation and green space sectors would be steep slope, agricultural or recreational areas citizens would not want developed. Thirty-five percent of the county would not come under this category, which would provide more than ample space for development in a rural county. &bsp;

The new Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) committee, which has broad countywide representation, is just now beginning to organize and evaluate our current land use ordinances and will then make recommendations to implement the Vision 20/20 Plan.

I would want to see the specific ordinances before deciding how I would vote, but I do support establishment of these sectors.

* * *

Tommy Melton: Yes, Yes.&bsp; Allow me to quote the following from the Vision 20/20 plan concerning the Conservation Sector:&bsp; These portions of the county represent the ecological backbone of the community, providing critical habitats for wildlife; protection of water quality and protection from flooding and erosion; and providing recreation and greenspace (open lands) for residents and visitors.

The Greenspace Sector would possibly include natural preserves and natural heritage areas, agricultural operations, public low density recreational facilities, very low density single unit housing and future government civic sites.

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David Moore: I feel that the percentage is too high. I do support this concept of green space and conservation. We also must consider the impact of those areas that will be affected.

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Ted Owens: I have actively supported conservation having represented the Commissioners on the Agriculture Farm Preservation Board. I support the concept of green spaces.

However, the percentage of 65 percent seems to me to be out of balance and too high.&bsp; &bsp;

One must look at what it will do to the cost of land. Many have told me they cant afford to live in Polk County anymore. They are referring to the cost of land as well as taxes.

* * *

Tom Pack: I support having green space and also support having conservation easements.&bsp; Much of this will be provided with the agriculture that we have in Polk County. These areas need to be more voluntary and not forced on land owners. It would be unfair of county government to increase the value of one citizens property by allowing development on their property and decrease the value of another citizens property by not allowing development on their property.

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Benny Smith: Section VI Future Land Use states: All portions of the county have been classified into five primary sectors based on development criteria and land use types outlined for each sector.

Land Use Sectors are: Conservation, Green Space, Restricted Growth, Control Growth and Intended Growth.

Resulting policies and implementing strategies for future land use will serve as a guide for staff, elected officials, citizens and developers.

* * *

Warren Watson: The number 65%, is not as extreme as it sounds, if we consider that areas included in the Conservation Sector are typically areas such as floodways, wetlands, public gamelands, and land trust parcels which are areas that most citizens expect to be protected anyway.&bsp; And although the plan recommendations do not prohibit development within the greenspace sector, it does recommend specific limitations for development, such as clustering, to prevent sprawl. &bsp;

Greenspace Sector property is rural land that is also not likely to have access to major thoroughfares in the future, is possibly adjacent to conservation sector lands, is potentially targeted for acquisition by State or Federal government or land trusts, has moderate to steep slopes, or is prime farmland. &bsp;

The concept is solid, and I will support it.&bsp; However, I cannot emphasize how critical it is to involve affected landowners in the process, and to engage in a sincere effort to consider and address their legitimate concerns.

Upcoming questions:

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?