Regulations versus zoning

Published 7:06 pm Tuesday, August 14, 2012

An advertisement that ran in the Monday, Aug. 13 Bulletin has raised questions about what Polk County’s proposed unified development ordinance (UDO) will do in terms of regulating the un-zoned areas of the county.
The advertisement, paid for by, tells residents to “vote for the politicians who are against the UDO.” It includes a map on which the unzoned areas of the county, Coopers Gap and White Oak Townships, are shaded, with the statement, “shaded areas will be zoned by the UDO.”
Yes, there will be some new regulations if the UDO is approved, and many residents disagree with that idea, but saying it will “zone” those townships is not statutorily correct.
“The heart of zoning ordinances are rules on land uses – rules on what uses can go where, standards on building setbacks, the size of structures, required parking, size of signs and so forth,” explained
N.C. Institute of Government Professor David Owens.
Polk County already regulates several ordinances that are in place throughout the entire county, including Coopers Gap and White Oak townships. Currently, all townships are regulated by county ordinances for subdivisions, signs, flood damage protection, towers, junkyards, watersheds, mobile homes and mobile home parks and adult entertainment.
Currently, there are two Mountainside and Ridgeline Protection Ordinances (MRPO), one for zoned areas and one for unzoned areas. The MRPO for zoned areas currently regulates building at elevations of 1,650 feet and higher and allows no commercial building at those elevations. The MRPO for unzoned areas does not regulate uses of land, such as commercial buildings.
The MRPO’s elevation restrictions, which currently apply throughout the county, will be replaced by the steep slope regulations of the UDO, which will also apply throughout the county, including Coopers Gap and White Oak townships. The steep slope section of the UDO does not regulate land uses, which is the function of zoning.
The UDO will replace the MRPO with steep slope regulations and add additional regulations for energy regulating facilities for the entire county. Many other ordinances in the UDO have been amended but still apply to the same areas of the county.
Some may see the steep slope changes as positive – for example, many residents in Saluda Township, which is entirely above the current 1,650 foot threshold. Saluda residents argued there are flat sections of land at high elevations and it’s the steep slopes the county should be protecting, which can be anywhere in the county.
Other residents, at any elevation, may see the UDO changes as negative if they attempt to build on a steep slope anywhere in the county.
If the UDO with the steep slope restrictions is approved, residents will be required to obtain an engineer’s report and have certain tests performed if they plan to build on steep slopes, which will also mean higher costs. People will still be able to build on slopes; it just may cost more the steeper the slope.
County officials have decided the steep slope regulations will apply to the building envelope only, not the entire property, which they hope will encourage people to build on portions of their property with the least steep slope.
Counties are given the authority to enact ordinances by the N.C. General Assembly to protect the health and safety of residents.
General Statute 153A-121 says, “A county may by ordinance define, regulate, prohibit, or abate acts, omissions, or conditions detrimental to the health, safety, or welfare of its citizens and the peace and dignity of the county; and may define and abate nuisances.”
Although some may see the regulations as “zoning,” because government has the right to tell someone how to build on their land, zoning in its definition is telling someone what they can build on their land, which the UDO will not change in the un-zoned areas.
— Editorial staff,
Tryon Daily Bulletin

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