UDO plans to amend MRPO for Saluda

Published 6:11 pm Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Polk County’s Unified Development Committee Tuesday, Jan. 17 voted to move forward with work to amend the Mountainside and Ridgeline Protection Ordinance (MRPO) with regard to its effect on the City of Saluda and Saluda Township.
Committee members voted to work on making amendments after almost 45 minutes of discussion with audience members in which several town officials, residents and business owners of Saluda said they felt the current ordinance stifles their ability to do business or plan for economic growth.
Zach Waldbillig said he felt it was ignorant to assume sustainable development could not be carried out at 1,650 feet – the elevation limit under the MRPO, which includes mostly the western portion of the county.
“I think there is a sustainable way to develop – we don’t have a development problem, we have an erosion control problem,” Waldbillig said. “There are ways to do this – it’s just not jumping to conclusions and jumping to shut down development. If you don’t develop you die, if you don’t grow you die.”
Saluda Mayor Fred Baisden said he took offense to the fact that an email sent out by a UDO committee member claimed Baisden’s opposition to the ordinance was political in nature and that Saluda officials had not presented any solutions.
“This is not political … this is about Saluda being singled out because it is above 1,600 feet,” Baisden said. “It [the email] says we did not provide an option, but we provided option one… What we asked was that Howard Gap be left as the old stated use [multi-use zoning]. It would never be developed into anything until someone who owns that property wanted to sell it and there would have to be a public hearing.”
UDO committee member Jim Carson implored residents to remember that the committee had not created a final resolution to present to commissioners.
“A lot of the comments that I heard were almost given as if we were about to vote either to leave the MRPO as it is, which would prevent any commercial development in Saluda above 1,650 feet, or not,” Carson said to the audience. “But that’s not the vote we are about to take – we are about to take a vote to amend it so that you can build in Saluda above 1,650 feet. We’re about the process of doing that [changing the ordinance to amend the issue].”
UDO Chair Mark Byington said, in fact, committee members had three options.
The first option would provide for an overlay of Saluda and Saluda Township that would exempt underlying areas of zoning from the use restrictions of the MRPO only. The overlay would define a specific area and that would be it. Uses under MRPO would be restricted to residential, agricultural, etc. Byington said this would be the most restrictive of the options.
Option two would exempt currently zoned areas from the MRPO such as highway commercial and residential (five parcels near Ozone Dr.) and would open the door for possibly looking at other exemptions for bed and breakfasts, nature preserves, recreational facilities and produce stands.
Committee member Renee McDermott submitted the third option.
McDermott said her proposal offers a set of exemptions from the use limitations of the MRPO, but requires that anyone wanting to develop their land must go through the public hearing process to rezone that land as highway commercial, neighborhood commercial or residential. Option three would also provide for home occupation allowances, in addition to what option two allows.
“If we go with this option, then wherever it [home occupation] was designated, you could do that but it would need to go to the planning board and have a zoning change and allow the public the right to talk about it,” McDermott said. “The thing about this is it’s flexible. It allows it in different places and not just in one area of the corridor.”
Committee member Ray Gasperson quickly brought up the question of whether such exemptions could lead the county into troublesome spot zoning claims.
Planning consultant Dale Holland said spot zoning is a very complicated issue.
He said it would amount to determining whether the “property zone was consistent with the wishes of the county. A court would not say it was spot zoning if it is consistent with long range planning.”
He said, for example, a parcel of land zoned commercial in the middle of 1,000 acres of residential might not be consisted congruent with the county’s stated objectives or long-range plan. He said if this were the case and someone wanted to develop a parcel of land in Saluda that went along with the countywide vision, they could potentially do so.
Konnie Hall and her husband, Kirk, have owned and operated Orchard Lake Campground in Saluda for 16 years. They said they believe the growth of their business would be in line with the county’s efforts and desires to grow tourism-based businesses. They have objected to the initial plans for the MRPO, however,  because they said they felt the restrictions would choke any future growth of their business.
“We love this area; the mountains are beautiful. I just want to say in these tough economic times Orchard Lake Campground has been a bright spot in Polk County because it has grown,” Hall said. “So it would be sad to keep us from being able to grow and prevent us from serving those who want to come to Polk County and spend their money.”
Not all Saluda residents are for growth, though.
Susan Welsh said she moved to Saluda six years ago after being drawn to the area by its beauty.
“Shortly after I moved here I was very pleased to see two surveys that said the citizens were very interested in keeping the rural beauty and limiting development,” Welsh said. “I believe it is important to give Saluda some options, but still protect the residents of Saluda.”
Steve Herring, who lives with his wife off Ozone Rd., said his property is not far from where officials hope to one day see a small manufacturing plant move.
“How are you going to put a plant out on a two-lane road that already has too much traffic? Before you know it, it will become a four lane,” Herring asked. “These things tend to get approved. Once you open the door there probably will be a Michelin plant out there. I hope I die before that happens.”
Byington noted that many of the rezonings that might be sought would be considered conditional uses, which would put the burden on the person wanting to have that use to prove that their proposal would be consistent with the county’s long-range plan.
Carson, also a Saluda resident, said he preferred the zoning-related options.
“The reason I like the zoning process better than the overlay is that normally you do get some say-so when areas are changed from one permitted use to another permitted use,” he said. “It doesn’t mean you are going to stop what they are going to do… but at least it gives you a forum in which to go in to put your issues out and it’s not shoved down your throat.”
Committee member Emily Clark made a motion that the UDO move forward with an option that would be zoning based with some additional permitted uses; commissioners approved the motion.