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Edgefield County is trying to pass into law a solution for a problem that does not exist, nor is it reasonably expected to exist.
The proposed Highway Overlay District (HOD),
The proponents of this ordinance rightly identify the Merriwether area as the area with the largest growth in recent years. Yet, the preponderance of this growth is in the residential sector. This is great for increasing the census size of the County, but does little to positively impact the rest of the county. With a lack of industrial, commercial and retail growth, these “bedroom” communities do not historically bring improvement to counties as a whole.
One of the biggest challenges raised by these bedroom communities is traffic flow. By definition, these communities do not have the typical retail establishments, medical treatment facilities and the other amenities associated by more urban places. Without immediate and close-in services, residents are forced to drive to get what they need. While the growth has occurred, our roads and infrastructure hasn’t kept up. The same two-lane roads now carry much more traffic than originally built for, increasing congestion and road maintenance requirements.
Although we’d like to believe that the majority of this growth is due to people falling in love with the culture of Edgefield County, the reality is different. People are moving here for economic reasons. People are making a conscious decision to spend less on more than they can get in Richmond, Columbia and Aiken counties. We all welcome the increased tax base, but how are we insuring that the increases in population are balanced against the increased costs in providing public education, law enforcement services, and a cultural shift of the traditions of the County.
The right of property owners to enjoy their property without unlawful deprivation is as much a civil right as any other personal liberty. A ordinance such as the HOD clearly is a regulatory “taking” without the constitutional protection of fair and equitable compensation.
For example, 25% to 40% of all property in a development cannot be developed except as “open space” which requires expensive landscaping and irrigation systems. Owners of the property are forbidden to cut down trees that the Government decides are “significant”. People that want to build something on the property must use much more expensive materials with the Government deciding building materials, colors and size. And these are just some of the highlights of this 21 page single spaced law. There are over five pages just about signs. Over three pages about parking. Pages about architectural appearance, lighting, etc. Cutting down pine trees is forbidden!
This is not the first time that a Government has attempted to control the use of land for the establishment of “open space”. The Washington Supreme Court ruled in Allingham v. City of Seattle, 109 Wash. 2d 947, 957 (1988) that “If the City were to take a portion of certain properties for the purpose of building a road, clearly we would hold that the City must pay for the land so taken. Likewise where, as here, the City takes a portion of certain properties for the purpose of preserving greenbelts, the City must pay for the land taken. To permit the City to accomplish the same purpose under the guise of a zoning regulation would be inequitable and would constitute an unconstitutional taking of private property without just compensation.” Do we really want to open up Edgefield County to costly litigation that could cost us tax dollars in settlements?
There is no problem or problems in Edgefield County that cannot be made better by more and better employment. None. Reducing unemployment generates more retail sales tax revenue in the county, while cutting down on the amount and types of other social services. A good mix of low, medium and high skill jobs enhances the well being of our current residents as well as attracting other productive people to our community. Local retail and other businesses keep tax dollars in the County and cuts down on the traffic flow of people driving away from our County.
These proposed restrictions on the use of private property make Edgefield County less business friendly. Assuming that someone wants to invest their own money in a business along the HOD, the net result of this law is to increase their land requirements by 25-40%, increase their costs due to absurd sign regulations and irrigation systems, and decrease the ability of customers to even see their business due to tree, shrubbery and planting requirements.
As we look at how to improve our County, we need to look at what we have to do now and at least do that well. This ordinance hurts the county, hurts the personal liberty of property owners, and hurts our County’s ability to attract new business. This is clearly a solution to a non-existent problem.