Saluda residents want mountain, ridgeline ordinance to be based on slope

Published 2:50 pm Friday, December 2, 2011

UDO committee reviews changes to MRPO

Saluda residents who attended a Polk County Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) committee meeting said they want the county’s mountain and ridgeline protection ordinance to be based on slope, not elevation.

The UDO committee met Thursday, Dec. 1 and discussed possible revisions to its mountain and ridgeline protection ordinance (MRPO). One of the issues was how to handle Saluda Township, whose elevation is high enough that commercial development is prohibited according to the current ordinance. Currently, the MRPO restricts commercial development on elevations 1,650 feet and above and places further restrictions at 2,250 ft. and above.

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“One thing we feel like is you’ve arbitrarily picked two elevations,” said Saluda Mayor Fred Baisden. “The rest of the county is below that. If you’d picked slope (instead of elevation), then you could cover everything in the county.”

Baisden and several other Saluda residents who attended the meeting said they feel the county drew a line based on elevation to restrict any commercial development, with no rhyme or reason for the line.

“1,650 feet is not going to stop Chocolate Drop, but slope would,” Baisden said. “We just want the opportunity sometime in the future for growth.”

Polk County Commissioner Renée McDermott, who also serves on the UDO committee, said when the MRPO was created years ago, slope was looked at, but there was a lot of disagreement with that option. She said Polk looked at other counties and felt that picking the 1,650 mark seemed to move the restrictions out of a lot of the county and concentrate it in the places with the highest altitudes and generally, the steepest slope. McDermott said maybe there is a way to achieve the desired goal basing the ordinance on slopes, but the protection ordinance is not just about slopes: “It is also how people below the areas will see what’s above them and what affect that will have on them.”

An audience member responded to McDermott’s comments by saying, “What about the people who live up high and have to look at all the people down below? What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”

McDermott proposed an alternate solution by creating an exemption for areas zoned highway commercial, some of which exist in Saluda Township, or creating a neighborhood commercial district.

McDermott said she had a discussion with Saluda officials, along with commissioners Ray Gasperson and Cindy Walker, and visited Saluda to look at places the city is concerned about.

“Even before that, I’ve been struggling with a way to deal with this,” McDermott said.

The issue first arose last year when someone proposed opening an RV park off Holbert’s Cove Road in the Saluda Township. It was discovered that such a commercial use is not allowed because of the elevation, even though some of the property is located on flat land.

Kirk Hall, Orchard Lake Campground owner, said much of the discussion has been about the Howard Gap Road area and he doesn’t fit into that. He said if the Saluda and Howard Gap problem is solved, there are other properties in the area that are above the 1,650 ft. elevation level.

“There’s going to be more issues if we don’t address it in a way other than drawing a line across the mountains,” Hall said.

Hall mentioned the proposal to create a new RV park off Holbert’s Cove Road, saying the ordinance ended up protecting him from any competition but that the man should have had the freedom to create another campground.

“If his property is conducive, he ought to be able to do that,” Hall said. “If we want to expand right now, my understanding is we don’t have that choice.”

McDermott said she personally wants feedback from residents in the area regarding what the MRPO regulations should be. Her suggestion of exempting the areas zoned highway commercial, for example, would mean property owners in the highway commercial district could have uses allowed in the highway commercial zoning district and not have to adhere to the MRPO restrictions.

Other issues discussed at the UDO meeting included a decision the committee has to make concerning whether to include the county’s new subdivision ordinance changes on lot sizes. Polk recently changed minimum lot sizes to allow two-, three- and five-acre lots in major subdivisions compared to the previous five- and seven-acre minimums.

The UDO committee will meet again on Dec. 13 at 7 p.m. at the Polk County Library and will further discuss McDermott’s exemption proposal for the Saluda area and whether to change minimum lot sizes in the MRPO to match the new subdivision ordinance.

The UDO committee is made up of community members and is drafting changes to county ordinances in an effort to combine all ordinances into one, unified development ordinance. The new subdivision ordinance was approved unanimously by commissioners on Nov. 21.