UDO meeting to focus on ridgeline protection, table of permitted uses

Published 6:03 pm Thursday, January 12, 2012

Saluda officials urge residents to attend
Two items occupy the agenda of the Tuesday, Jan. 17 Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) meeting – the table of permitted uses and the mountainside ridgeline protection ordinance, the latter of which has caused a stir among Saluda officials.
Saluda Mayor Fred Baisden, at Saluda City Council’s meeting Dec. 12, urged residents to attend the next UDO meeting in an effort to sway committee decisions regarding the Mountain Ridgeline Protection Ordinance (MRPO).
“They are imposing a restriction on part of the county, i.e. Saluda and Saluda Township, that they are not putting on other parts of the county,” Baisden said in an interview Jan. 12. “If citizens want to have their voice heard, they need to be at this meeting.”
Findings of the Mountainside Ridgeline Protection Ordinance, or MRPO, state, “The mountainsides and ridgelines of the mountainous region of Western Polk County are characterized by steep slopes and thin soils. Land-disturbing activity on these steeper-sloped, thin-soiled mountainsides and ridgelines potentially threatens the public health, safety, welfare and economic progress of Polk County.”
UDO committee and Polk County Commission member Renée McDermott said the MRPO seeks to address the following concerns:
“• Unregulated development of our mountains takes place at the expense of environmental concerns.
• It can impair groundwater recharge.
• It can eradicate unique vegetation and wildlife communities.
• Our mountains have aesthetic and economic value to Polk County as a whole, including the Towns of Tryon and Columbus, not just the City of Saluda. The economic value is illustrated by the ‘First Peak of the Blue Ridge’ slogan of the county’s tourism development effort.
• Vegetation clearance and landform grading, as well as the bulk, shape and height of buildings materially alter the viewscape.”
McDermott said the current MRPO also combines a steep slopes approach with an altitude approach and that “steep slope” proponents overlook the protections provided by the MRPO. She said all they can see are roadblocks for what they would like to happen in Saluda.
“The development proponents’ steep slopes proposal would affect the entire MRPO district in Saluda, Tryon and Columbus townships (not just the environs of the City of Saluda) and would eviscerate MRPO,” McDermott said. “The Saluda development proponents don’t seem to understand the full extent of the objectives/concerns.”
Baisden said the MRPO disregards the fact that all of Saluda is above the 1,650-foot cap for development.
“We’ve invited the chairman of the UDO to see that not everything on top of the mountain is at a steep slope; there are flat places where you can build,” Baisden said.
Baisden said he feels the UDO committee has painted a picture in which the residents of the county are going to have to bear the burden of taxes, because in his opinion, few places have been left open for the potential of industry.
“We need to have the opportunity in the future to have some sort of industry that could be low impact and provide income to this town,” Baisden said.
The mayor mentioned hope of small industry, such as a business providing parts to BMW, for example, locating off Howard Gap, where there is a new water line.
“If we have an opportunity for growth, that [Howard Gap] is where we need to grow,” Baisden said.
Saluda resident Jim Carson served as chairman of the county’s 20/20 Vision Plan and is now also a member of the UDO committee.
“I don’t think we will continue with the ordinance as it currently exists in that there will be no commercial development, but at the same time we don’t want to just allow anything,” Carson said. “Those of us who worked on the 20/20 Vision Plan also don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. It’s a matter of how we weave our way between not allowing any development, which is not right, and allowing anything that would want to come along.”
McDermott recently dispersed to UDO committee members suggested amendments to the ordinance that would include Highway Commercial (HC) and Neighborhood Commercial (NC) on the list of areas that could supersede the MRPO overlay.
Baisden, however, doesn’t believe these changes will solve his concerns with the ordinance.
“What Renée has put together does absolutely nothing for the City of Saluda,” Baisden said. “You can leave the areas that McDermott is talking about as they were, but also what they need to do is to look at Howard Gap, which is currently multi-use, and multi-use would allow for us to have low-impact industries that might require, for example, a warehouse. What we have suggested in the past, but they have not listened to, is leaving that corridor down Howard Gap open for development.”
An area along Ozone Drive is currently zoned Highway Commercial, while other areas, such as land located along Howard Gap, are not currently zoned for commercial uses and would have to go through the typical rezoning process to make that change.
“I surely do hope that the proposed solution I circulated will fix the problems seen by the Saluda business people,” said McDermott. “But we all need to remember that the business people do not speak for all Saluda residents. I have heard from some residents who are quite concerned about commercialization of more of their beautiful, quaint area.”
Carson said there are always two sides of every issue and he thinks the committee should hear both sides before making any decision. He said he does, however, think it is important for the UDO committee to move forward with its efforts.
“This is the actual committee that is going to try and put into place the comprehensive land plan. I commend the county commissioners for assigning a committee to go through the process of actually implementing the 20/20 plan,” Carson said. “That’s something a lot of counties don’t have in place.”
During the Jan. 17 meeting there will be times for public comment after each issue is discussed. The available slots for comment will be limited to 10 minutes each.
The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. at the Polk County Library. The agenda for the meeting can be found at http://www.polknc.org/departments/development/unifieddevelopmentcommittee.php.