Polk to consider eliminating elevation restrictions from MRPO

Published 6:13 pm Friday, May 11, 2012

The Polk County Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) Committee decided last week by a split vote to recommend eliminating elevation requirements in the mountain and ridgeline protection ordinance (MRPO).
The MRPO has been contested, especially by Saluda residents, because the ordinance restricts any commercial development at elevations above 1,650 feet, which includes all of Saluda Township.
The UDO committee met Wednesday, May 9 and approved recommended amendments to the UDO, which combines all of Polk County’s ordinances into one document. The committee agreed to send the draft document, consisting of 434 pages, to the Polk County Planning Board. The planning board will make a recommendation and send its draft to the Polk County Board of Commissioners for final approval. Prior to commissioners’ approval, a public hearing will be required.
The amendments recommended by the committee include:
• That the regulations for land-disturbing activities of slopes that are 30 percent or greater (as stated in Article 24 of the MRPO) will apply to all of Polk County
• That the approval process for land-disturbing activities of slopes less than 30 percent will be decided by the Polk County Building Inspector
• That the table of uses and activities in Section 8.5 (pages 8-7 through 8-20 of the UDO) will apply to all zoned areas of Polk County; thus, Section 24-17 of the MRPO (use restrictions) is deleted
• That the subdivision regulations in Article 6 of the UDO remain unchanged and will apply within all Polk County townships
• That all elevation threshold requirements stated in the MRPO be removed
The UDO committee also recommended that the Polk County Planning Board consult with the county attorney to develop ordinance language to protect the aesthetics of the highest ridgelines, particularly where slope is not a factor.
The motion to make the amendments was made by Henry Bright and approved by Bright, Ray Gasperson, Evangelena Barber, Doug Harmon, Jim Carson, Wayne Horne and Roger Odel.
Christel Walter, Mark Byington, Renée McDermott, Harry Petersen and Lisa Krolak voted against the motion to amend the UDO.
Approximately 40 residents, mostly from Saluda, attended last week’s meeting.
Shane Bradley said he’s lived in Saluda all his life on property that has been handed down for generations. He said he wants his children to live on his land but the lot size requirement is way too big.
“I want y’all to look at this and take into consideration young people that want to live and stay in Polk County,” Bradley said.
McDermott said she’s afraid there’s been a lot of misunderstanding about the ordinance. She said many uses have been added and there are provisions in the ordinance to make constructing single-family homes easy.
“It was intended to be that way to help individual homeowners and their families,” McDermott said.
She added that up to eight lots are allowed in a family subdivision, which was also intentional so people wouldn’t have to comply with requirements such as a hydrological study.
“What the writers were trying to do was avoid things that are happening in other counties,” said McDermott as she mentioned areas such as Henderson County where people lost their homes and some were killed because the soil wasn’t appropriate to build on and houses slid downhill.
“That’s what we’re trying to avoid,” McDermott said. “Not to single out Saluda. Not at all. (It’s) for health and safety and to keep the county beautiful.”
But Bright said he has problems with the MRPO.
“The real bone of contention is that it affects one part of the county,” Bright said. “If you’re at 1,649 (feet), you’re not affected. I believe we should remove all requirements of elevation from the ordinance.”
Bright said he thinks the ordinance should apply to the entire county. He also said the county has a set of permitted land uses for the multiple use district, which covers most of the county, that is about 30 pages long and then has a set of uses for above 1,650 feet and it’s only a couple inches long.
“I’m from Saluda,” Bright said. “It’s punishment to not allow you to develop your property with anything but a handful of uses.”
Gasperson said he agreed with Bright and said he has come to believe that if the county applies the 30 percent slope restriction to the entire county it will put citizens on an even playing field.
“It’s not what everybody would want,” Gasperson said. “It’s not perfect but I think it’s a document that has come a long way and will serve citizens for years to come.”
Committee chair Byington said he agrees with McDermott. Byington said there are many natural features of this county the ordinance was intended to protect. He said he just doesn’t think the committee has enough understanding of how the regulatory implications of the motion will be put into effect.
The Polk County Planning Board will next come up with a recommendation to send to commissioners. The planning board regularly meets on the second Thursday of the month at 5 p.m., but will likely meet more often with work sessions concerning the UDO currently being planned. To see the entire UDO draft ordinance prior to the proposed amendments, visit http://www.polknc.org/departments/development/documents/RevisedUDO5-9-2012.pdf.

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