Smart Growth? White Oak agreements short on details

Published 10:08 am Friday, April 19, 2013

To the editor:

If you are like me, you were not aware just how much is at stake this Monday night (April 22nd) for ALL Polk County residences.

The county commissioners are taking public comment and may vote the same night on a 20-year White Oak Master Plan and Polk zoning change to add an ordinance called “Equestrian District” (created specifically by the developers, the title is somewhat misleading because it includes much more than “equestrian” events).

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Let me step back … when White Oak Plantation (Pea Ridge/Hwy 14) went into bankruptcy and was acquired by Roger Smith and Tryon Equestrian Properties, they partnered with Florida Developer Mark Ballisimo to attract high-end buyers. They also quietly bought out more adjacent landowners in order to bring major equestrian events here 9-10 months of the year, with event crowds of 9,000-12,000.

At Tuesday’s community meeting the developer’s were friendly, but light on details of this major stadium, i.e. noise pollution (from helicopters flying back and forth), traffic congestion, local job commitments and overall impact to the region.

That said, next year they are planning a(n):

• 6,000-seat stadium plus extra “portable” seating (think minor-league baseball stadium);

• R.V. park (size unknown according to the developer);

• Night lights (no height limit), Jumbo-Trons, Outdoor Sound System;

• Year round helicopter pad (Helicopters are NOT required to follow designated flight routes and fly much lower than planes. Routes from the Asheville Airport go over Lake Adger and Mill Spring. Routes from the Charlotte and Greenville Airports would affect other parts of Polk County).

I am not attempting to stop this growth. But I am alarmed at some of the pre-approved rights granted the developer, with no requirements for future input from Polk County citizens.

In reading the proposed agreements, I have more questions than I can print here. But why give White Oak the right, at their sole discretion, to make any changes within their boundaries to the location, size and configurations on their current development scheme – without review of planning or commissioners.  And, why not limit helicopter use for emergency purposes and not as a year round form of transportation for landowners from Florida and New York? (For event emergencies, a temporary LZ (landing zone) should be sufficient and avoid this noise and air space encroachment).

Outside of property taxes, I do not see substantial county revenue for increased services from White Oak events. So additional expenses to the county due to increased growth would not be the responsibility of the developer, but rather all Polk County taxpayers (water capacity, road improvements, landfill expansions, police, fire, etc).

Chocolate Drop mountain showed us that rural communities need “smart growth,” with meaningful input. So why not ask commissioners to keep existing planning and growth tools they already have to thoughtfully evaluate detailed development plans, impact assessments and other forms of “smart” growth.

Hope to see you Monday, 6 p.m. -Womack Building. Arrive early if you wish to speak.

– David Pschirer, Tryon