Experts help Polk planning board gain direction for ridge protection ordinance

Published 5:49 pm Friday, June 15, 2012

The Polk County Planning Board invited experts to a meeting held Thursday, June 14 to help gain direction in how the board wants to change the county’s mountainside and ridgeline protection ordinance (MRPO).
The board heard from Karyl Fuller, GIS planner with the Isothermal Planning and Development Commission (IPDC), local engineer Dave Odom and local grader Craig Ray.
County attorney Mike Egan also advised the board on what to do regarding development on high ridges. Egan said the board has three options when approaching such development. The board can create a map that would identify the viewsheds that are important to the county; the board can identify certain elevation levels to determine which ridgelines will be protected; or the board can take verbiage from the existing MRPO and protect the ridgelines that are visible, Egan said.
Fuller described how the county can determine which ridgelines are visible in the county. She showed some examples from White Oak Mountain, Round Mountain and Little Mountain showing what parts of the county can be seen from the highest point on each mountain. The programs Fuller uses can also determine which mountains and ridgetops can be seen from a particular point in the county.
Odom was asked to attend to review any issues related to the current MRPO and his experience with required studies required for the ordinance. Odom said his firm has completed three studies for homeowners, one of which was on very steep terrain. He said the studies were necessary for that particular lot. He said the other two lots were steep but the building areas were not. One of the questions Odom said he’s heard is how much do the studies cost. He said his firm charges approximately $1,500 to do the study, but they have not had to do a geotechnical study, which can be required in some cases and would cost more.
The board’s discussion changed when Craig Ray asked Odom what would happen with erosion control if the property were hit by a 35-year storm.
“Any property would suffer – let’s be honest,” Odom said. “As with any project where you’re doing construction if we get a 25-or 30-year storm right after construction, you’re going to have a problem.”
Board member Bill Ennis said the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) requires a permit for a 10-year storm. He said it becomes cost-prohibitive to build for a 100-year storm. He and Ray mentioned that Polk had a 50-year storm and a 75-year storm a week apart in recent years.
Officials at the meeting said they use a DENR manual to determine the classification.
Ray, who said he has worked in the grading business for 40 years, said some projects require engineering and some don’t. He also said he doesn’t think the county’s current ordinance would have stopped the erosion of Chocolate Drop Mountain.
Ray said the developers of Chocolate Drop had an engineering plan and he’s sure they had DENR approval. He said the biggest problem for the project was the storm that occurred exceeded the plan.
He said increasing the storm rating on the permit is not feasible and “you can’t control the weather.”
Ray also said each job is unique with different soil types and elevations and that he doesn’t think the current ordinance is right for Polk County.
“My advice to you is to forget this ordinance,” Ray said. “It’s not right for the county. (There’s) a lot of red tape for a very small return, if any.”
Planning board members also heard from the public with varying opinions regarding how the county should protect its mountains and ridgelines.
Carmen Emory said she thinks that the regulations in the ordinance are just trouble.
“It’s so confusing and can be misinterpreted,” said Emory. “I think it’s an insult to the permitting department and the engineers. You take an isolated incident and want to blame all builders.”
Bill Smith said whatever the planning board works towards should be for the health and safety of residents. He said the board should use the scientific and engineering facts.
“Landslides do occur, landslides do damage,” Smith said.
Christel Walter commended the planning board for its work and said she appreciates the board asking experts for advice. She said when you look at maps, the mountains and ridgelines are the backbone of this county and have to be protected.
“They are our crown jewel,” Walter said.
The board plans at its next meeting to bring a map and try to determine the county’s official ridgelines.
The planning board decided to hold workshops on Wednesday, June 27 and Wednesday, July 25 at 5 p.m. The planning board also has regular meetings on the second Thursday of the month at 5 p.m.

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