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By Linda Anderson, Chairman of Merriwether Coalition.
Almost one hundred people attended the first organizational meeting of the Merriwether Community Coalition meeting on March 5, 2012, at the Merriwether Middle School. The enthusiastic crowd voiced their concern for the future of the Merriwether Community. Fifty percent of the growth of Edgefield County is in the Merriwether Community in the southwest part of the county. Speakers at the event were Linda Anderson, Coalition organizational member and host for the meeting; Roger LeDuc, Interim Administrator; Dr. David Hughes of the Clemson Extension Economic and Community Development. Local Representatives in attendance were; Genia Blackwell, County Council District 5 representative and Vice Chairman; and Rodney Ashcraft, County Council District 2 representative; SC State Senator, Shane Massey and Bill Hixon, SC House of Representative. Also in attendance was William Smith, candidate for County Council District 1.
Ms. Anderson explained the reason for organizing this group came about through attendance at various meetings where familiar words “somebody should” were heard and “we decided we would.” Ms. Anderson stated, “We consider this community to be the gateway to Edgefield County. The main theme of the evening was the need for planning because uncontrolled growth is undesirable.”
Mr. Roger LeDuc, Interim Administrator discussed results of a recently completed Strategic Plan for Edgefield County especially as it pertains to the southwestern portion of the County. A copy of the Strategic Plan can be found on the County website: www.edgefieldcounty.sc.gov . Rails to Trails–extending bike/pedestrian trails throughout the community–43 miles of abandoned railroads similar to Greenway in North Augusta which can be developed over the next several years was discussed. The FATS trail which attracts 100s of visitors each week can be a major attraction for tourism. Growth in population has come from this area of the county and is expected to continue in the future. Citizens identified the need for more public safety, fire protection, EMS, gas lines, sewer/garbage, litter control, more broadband–cellular services. Planning is essential to meet the needs and desires of the community and to prepare for future growth. A 400 housing unit development is planned in the North Augusta Country Club area. Infrastructure improvements such as water and sewer are planned and can be paid for with impact fees. How do we pay for other needs and improvements? Mr. LeDuc explained several options such as TIF (tax increment financing district) and local option sales tax.
While the County has good development standards, Mr. LeDuc stated they could be better.
Most of the Merriwether area is residential. Citizens have expressed interest in grocery stores, restaurants, shopping, and recreational areas. To prepare for these, planning needs to take place with identifying overlay areas where these could be located. Standards need to be looked at and put in place such as buffer zones.
Concerns expressed by citizens include: future needs in educational facilities; where are our tax dollars going in our area or elsewhere in the county; are we as taxpayers getting our share of needs and improvements met in the Merriwether community; do we have enough representation on the county school board and other governmental agencies; and what impact will the North Augusta Park coming to our community at Murrah Rd. and Five Notch have on this community. Concern was expressed for North Augusta incorporating more and more of the Merriwether community.
Dr. David Hughes, Professor and program leader for Clemson Extension Community Development Activities, discussed a strategic plan) his department faculty and students, completed for Fair Play, SC (http://www.clemson.edu/public/ciecd/focus_areas/strategic/fairplay.html). Fair Play is similar in many ways to the Merriwether community. Dr. Hughes supported the importance in planning. He suggested ways he and his department could be of assistance in establishing a strategic plan tailored specifically to our community. He gave various examples of what could be done and ways to seek funding for our community.
Ms. Anderson stated establishing communication is key. When asked “do we want to come together, establish this group and be a voice for our community?” The answer was an enthusiastic “Yes”. Future meetings will be announced. Anyone interested in this group may contact Linda Anderson at: email@example.com