Polk County’s Unified Development Ordinance goes dormant

Published 8:55 am Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A document that Polk County spent more than $74,000 on and a volunteer committee spent almost two years compiling is all but dead for the foreseeable future.

Polk County’s Unified Development Ordinance (UDO), which was a highly controversial document throughout 2012, was barely mentioned by commissioners in all of 2013.

The UDO has not been mentioned at a county commissioners’ meeting since Feb. 4, 2013 when the board voted to table work on the ridgeline section of the UDO after being asked direction from its planning board regarding Article 25 of the document.

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Before February 2013, the previous board of commissioners decided to let the new majority, elected in November 2012, make the final decisions regarding the UDO.

Before that, on Jan. 7, 2013, the board voted to rescind the county’s mountain and ridgeline protection ordinance (MRPO).

The last discussion the previous board had regarding the UDO occurred on Nov. 19, 2012 when the board decided to schedule the next workshop for a meeting in January 2013 following new commissioners being sworn in.

The workshop was never scheduled.

The Bulletin recently asked commissioners if the UDO is completely dead and how they each feel about the money spent on creating the UDO if they are not planning to revisit the document.

According to figures compiled in September 2012, Polk County spent $74,167.75 on the UDO, of which $57,100 went to Holland Consulting for the UDO and $17,067.75 to attorney Michael Egan for his work on the UDO. The figures did not include employee time.

The majority of the current board of commissioners who responded to the Bulletin’s questions said the county has different priorities since being sworn into office, with one commissioner saying the county needs to complete and approve the document and another saying the document should not be revived.

“People who own property have invested their hard-earned money and should have the right to build on or do with their property what they want, as long as it does not affect the health or safety of their neighbors,” said commissioner Tom Pack. “Just because a small vocal group does not like the way something looks, it does not give them the right to trample on someone else’s dreams or rights. We don’t need an ordinance (UDO) telling people what their house or property should look like and that is exactly where the majority of the previous two boards (Ray Gasperson, Renée McDermott and Cindy Walker) went.

“They gave the UDO a bad name and it should not be revived. To try and organize our existing ordinances and making sure they don’t conflict with one another is important, but they (Gasperson, McDermott and Walker) went way beyond that and tried to steal people’s private property rights.”

Current commissioner board chair Ted Owens began by responding that in his 13 years of being a commissioner, the county’s 20/20 vision plan is one of the best documents he has seen to assist and guide county commissioners as they carry out their responsibilities and plan for the future of the county.

The credit for the 20/20 vision plan is because of the fine leadership and committee members who developed it, Owens said.

Owens said as he has told many people, including the Bulletin, every commissioner board has its own cross to bear.

The present board is no different and its priorities were changed and set quickly.

Polk County Manager Ryan Whitson was called for active military duty sooner than the county expected, which necessitated the hiring of an interim county manager. The county needed one who knew the workings of Polk County, Owens said.

“This board had to devote much time and attention to issues that should have been rectified a long time ago,” said Owens. “The first challenge was to get the budget process for 2013-2014 under way without the presence of the county manager.

“The way the majority of the voters of Polk County voted in the last election told this board that they wanted a change in priorities and wanted the issues corrected. This board has spent its attention, time and effort in doing just that.

“As far as your question on monies spent, each board must bear the responsibility on how they do that.”

Commissioner vice chair Michael Gage, who was high-vote getter in the 2012 election and spent 2013 as the county’s chairman, said the issues the current board dealt with the past year exceeded what most boards encounter in a four-year term.

“The priority for the commissioners, in my opinion, should be number one the budget, which has been – and I expect it to be this year – very time-consuming due to funding policy changes at both the state and federal levels,” Gage said. “The issues that our board dealt with this past year were greater than most boards deal with in a four-year term.”

Gage said the current board has and will continue to work hard for the citizens of Polk County and in doing that it must prioritize the issues commissioners face.

“At this time that challenge is the economic development policy. The citizens of Polk County need employment that provides a living wage,” Gage said, “This living wage will allow many families to realize the American dream of prosperity. This is my top priority, and it should’ve been the previously controlling board of commissioners’ priority also.

“As the board works through the second half of this budget cycle I hope we can look at a variety of issues that we have had to hold off on thus far. Time will tell. On the subject of funds being allocated to special projects, I can only comment on those funds that I have voted on to be appropriated. Previous majority boards must be held accountable for their actions.”

Gasperson is the sole commissioner who responded the county should continue work and approve the UDO.

“There is no need, at this time, for new land use regulations/ordinances,” Gasperson said. “However, the current Polk board of commissioners needs to return and complete this vitally important document which can help guide land use policies for decades.”

Gasperson said much of the extensive work has been completed, such as the sections related to subdivisions and approved by unanimous vote that included himself and commissioners Owens and Pack on Nov. 1, 2011.

“The remainder of the UDO document, which removes ambiguities and helps clarify and unify current land use ordinances, has languished in draft form for over one year,” Gasperson said. “By moving forward, the current Polk BOC will be able to confirm that wise use was made of taxpayer money paid to consultants (originally commissioned and authorized by commissioners Pack and Owens starting with the 20/20 Vision Plan) and county staff over several years. Most importantly, completing and passing this document would honor the volunteers who spent many hundreds of hours toward this vital effort.”

The UDO process began as an effort to compile all of the county’s ordinances into one document in 2010.

Discussions regarding creating a UDO first began on May 3, 2010, with then commissioners Gasperson, McDermott, Walker, Tommy Melton and Warren Watson saying they wanted to consolidate and organize all land use ordinances into one document as was recommended in the county’s approved comprehensive plan.

On June 21, 2010, the county appointed a UDO committee and on July 12, 2010, commissioners approved a contract for consulting services to prepare the UDO with Holland Consulting Planners Inc.

The UDO process continued with the UDO committee working to recommend a draft UDO, which was approved by a split vote on May 9, 2012.

The process evolved and at times created new regulations, but commissioners ended up taking out most of the controversial regulations.

These changes took the document from being 400 pages long at one time to being approximately 300 pages and making the document more closely mirror current regulations.

Commissioners saw the controversy of the document erupt during its September 2012 public hearing on the UDO, where approximately 300 residents attended and 64 of those spoke.

Of the speakers, 54 opposed the UDO and 12 either spoke in favor of the UDO or made neutral comments.

The UDO was a significant factor in the 2012 election, where Republicans swept three open commissioner seats.