Planning board recommends replacing MRPO

Published 2:00 pm Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Proposed slope threshold increases to 30 percent

The Polk County Planning Board voted Oct. 22 to recommend that commissioners replace the current mountainside and ridgeline protection ordinance (MRPO) with a new Article 24 (steep slopes) in the proposed unified development ordinance (UDO).

The majority of commissioners recently asked planning board members to work on rescinding the current MRPO. Board member David Smith said he and other planners didn’t feel fully comfortable with taking such an action.

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“We all felt like rescinding MRPO without anything taking its place wasn’t a good idea because it would leave us defenseless,” Smith said.

The planning board reviewed a draft steep slope ordinance compiled by planning board members Smith, Bill Ennis and county attorney Mike Egan. After some discussion, the board unanimously recommended that the county replace MRPO with the new steep slopes ordinance.

Major changes to the Article 24 steep slopes ordinance in the UDO include replacing the current proposed 25 percent threshold where studies are required with a 30-percent threshold. The planning board is also recommending that the previously required geotechnical analysis not be required by the ordinance, but to leave it up to an engineer to determine whether or not a geotechnical analysis is necessary.

The steep slopes ordinance recommended by the planning board will be for both zoned and un-zoned areas of the county. The MRPO currently in place only applies to elevations 1,650 ft. and above and restricts all commercial building above that elevation.

The recommended steep slopes ordinance still requires a soils report and hydrology report at slopes of 30 percent or greater, but those reports can be done by the engineer at low costs, according to planning board members.

“The real expense for steep slope development as it’s written now in the MRPO is the geotechnical,” Egan said. “It’s an expensive item.”

Other changes to the proposed steep slope ordinance include deleting fire retardant requirements for buildings. The board is also recommending the county move some items from the steep slope ordinance into the current subdivision ordinance.

Another change was to ensure that the steep slope measurement only be applied to the building footprint. The previous proposal was unclear what parts of the property would be included in the steep slope measurement.

Smith said he, Ennis and Egan got together and tried to find a common ground that they could all agree on for the county.

Smith said the new recommended steep slopes ordinance would protect the county and residents at the same time. He said he feels good about the verbiage that says the county is not preventing anything at certain slopes.

“It doesn’t say you cannot do anything,” Smith said. “We said you have to take certain steps if you want to build above (30-percent slope).

He said he thinks that’s fair to the guy who may have owned a plot for 20 years and wants to build something.

Ennis said Polk’s steep slopes ordinance, if approved, would also be compatible with neighboring counties’ ordinances.

Egan said the two areas he’s worked with, Lake Lure and Jackson County, each have a 30-percent slope threshold.

The planning board also decided it would work on ridgetop and viewshed protections separately as a stand-alone ordinance.

During the Polk County Board of Commissioners’ Oct. 1 meeting, commissioners Ted Owens, Tom Pack and Ray Gasperson voted to send the consideration of rescinding the MRPO to the planning board. Commissioners Renée McDermott and Cindy Walker opposed the motion.

“The planning board was not in favor of repealing the MRPO without putting in place regulations addressing development on steep slopes,” states a memorandum from the planning board to commissioners. “Accordingly, it is recommending the board of commissioners replace the MRPO with the draft steep slope ordinance accompanying this memorandum. The draft ordinance was patterned after Article 24 of the proposed Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) with some major modifications: 1) the slope at which regulations are triggered has been increased to 30 percent; 2) a geotechnical analysis is no longer required if the project engineer certifies that, in his or her professional opinion, one is not necessary.”

The board of commissioners cancelled its next meeting scheduled for Nov. 5 so it will not address the planning board’s recommendation until Nov. 19 at 3 p.m. Commissioners are scheduled on Nov. 19 to hold a workshop on the UDO before a regular meeting.