Saluda says ridgeline ordinance blocks commercial development in township

Published 5:17 pm Friday, November 12, 2010

Saluda commissioners said this week they have concerns about Polk Countys relatively new mountain and ridgeline protective ordinance (MRPO), which prohibits commercial development other than residential above elevations of 1,650 ft.

Because all of Saluda Township is above 1,650 feet, the ordinance affects all Saluda properties except those inside Saluda city limits, which are controlled by city regulations.

Polk County officials say the MRPO was intended to protect against over-building and over-clearing in the higher areas of the county for both residential and commercial building.

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Other counties, including Buncombe County, have experienced considerable construction in the steeper and higher areas of their county, and citizens wanted to avoid that in Polk County, says Polk County Commissioner Rene McDermott. [Polk residents] want to preserve Polk Countys rural atmosphere, natural resources and scenic beauty.&bsp; The people of Polk County have said that over and over again.

The solution to Saluda’s problem, McDermott says, is for the city to annex properties into city limits when it wants to allow commercial development on those properties.

Saluda commissioner John Morgan said Monday during a Saluda City Council meeting that he wants the city to be proactive and make sure the county is planning for the future.

Council gave approval on Monday for John Morgan and Mayor Fred Baisden to speak with the Polk County Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) Committee, which was recently established to work on combining all the countys ordinances into one document and is scheduled to review ordinances and make needed changes in the process.

Morgan and others have said that sites are available just outside city limits that would be attractive for commercial development.

We need to raise our voice and have a little more control over whats going on, Morgan said. Theres level ground right outside city limits.

The city was recently approached regarding a voluntary annexation request for property off Holberts Cove Road, whose owners said they were planning to build an RV park.

McDermott says the best solution for the proposed RV park, if Saluda thinks it is important to have that development, is to voluntarily annex the property.

Wouldnt that be better than allowing commercial exploitation of all the steep slopes and higher altitude areas in Polk County, which is what would have to happen if the mountain and ridgeline protection ordinance were amended to allow commercial activity? McDermott asked.

But the proposal would require a satellite (non-contiguous) annexation, which brings up concerns over state law that says a municipality can annex only 10 percent of its total property through satellite annexations. At some point, the city will not be able to annex additional outside properties, which would limit commercial development.

In order to be exempt from the law, cities and towns have to petition the state for an exemption. The only town in Polk County that currently has the exemption is Columbus.

The annexation of the proposed RV park property has not been brought back to the table in a couple of months, but Saluda is considering adding conditional use permits to its zoning ordinance that would allow the city to put use restrictions on some properties.

Saluda Township resident Betsy Burdett suggested that the county could simply change the definition of terms in the MRPO and add that which has steep slopes. She said because of the restrictions, her husband cant build a fix-it garage on his 45 acres, which has no steep slopes.

The MRPO ordinance restricts building above 1,650 ft. in the zoned areas of the county, which includes Saluda Township. There are other restrictions at higher elevations and different regulations for zoned and unzoned areas of the county.

The ordinance allows residential properties and home based businesses, but nothing commercial. The ordinance, along with an erosion ordinance, was adopted by county commissioners in June, 2009 with overwhelming support from residents and unanimous approvals by the Polk County Planning Board and board of commissioners.